R5 A Profile of Pelham Resident Mike Gracie of Gracie Wallpapers

Where faux finishes once ruled, papers in new textures

and patterns are back in vogue big time. Pelham’s

Mike Gracie of Gracie wallpapers explains.

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Photo by Cathy Pinsky

Mike Gracie of Gracie Wallpapers in his Pelham home

Mike Gracie is the fourth generation of his family to run Gracie, Inc, a prestigious Manhattan firm specializing in exquisite handmade wallpapers along with beautifully crafted lacquer furniture and select Asian antiques. He lives in Pelham with his wife and two young boys and runs the firm with his sister, Jennifer Gracie. From Chinese scenics to American- and European-inspired murals, their company’s papers adorn walls around the world, from the White House to The Venetian Macao resort-hotel in China. Here,Gracie talks shop and shares tips on how to decorate with handmade wallpaper.

Why is your company’s wallpaper so unique? Gracie has been making hand-painted wallpaper in China since 1927, when my great-grandfather created a partnership with a studio in Beijing. So we have a long history in reproducing antique, hand-painted Chinese wallpapers and, recently, reinterpreting them for more modern and transitional settings. Everything done there is hand painted—every leaf, every bird, every line and detail. We don’t have any printed or silkscreened coverings, and even our plain tea leaf and silk backgrounds are done by hand.

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What is Gracie wallpaper made out of? We use an acid-free artist paper for all of our backing. Traditionally, antique Chinese papers had paper backgrounds and most of our designs do as well. However, we now have many designs with metallic and even silk backgrounds.

How is the industry—and Gracie in particular—trying to combat wallpaper’s old-fashioned image? I think the perception that wallpaper is too fussy and only seen in dated interiors has been sufficiently refuted by the fact that there are so many great, hip, and colorful designs available. At Gracie, we’ve adapted our designs with more modern palettes that appeal to a new kind of interior. We’ve had a lot of success with bold colors recently, including lavender and blue backgrounds with silver and gold design tones. Plus, we’re selling some really sleek-looking papers, like a gray silk background with a tonal gray flower and bird design on it that blends into the background beautifully.   

So, is wallpaper the new trend over paint? Early in my career, there was a concern that faux painted finishes were eclipsing wallpaper sales to a certain degree. That trend has gone one hundred and eighty degrees, and wallpaper is definitely back in. I feel the reason is that wallpaper gives you a huge variety of options in terms of design.

What type of furniture and accessories are best suited for Gracie wallpaper? Traditional European pieces have long been used in rooms with Gracie paper, but more and more we see people using our papers in transitional and modern settings. Also, Asian furniture—beautiful in its form and in the tones of the wood—makes a great complement to the wallpapers.

Any celebs you can mention? Our wallpaper is in the entryway of Tory Burch’s apartment in The Pierre hotel, and was the backdrop for her Fall 2012 runway show during Fashion Week at Lincoln Center. We also did a master bedroom in Ali Wentworth and George Stephanopoulos’s Upper East Side apartment, and the dining room in Matt and Annette Lauer’s home in the Hamptons.

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What should your “Average Joe” expect to pay for Gracie wallpaper? Retail, a dining room could start at five thousand dollars and go up from there, depending on the size of the room, the level of detail in the design, and the level of customization—we once created custom scenic wallpaper with thirty-eight species of birds indigenous to the Texas area for a client in Houston. But the most expensive project, which cost seventy-five thousand dollars, was the entryway and stairways of a Manhattan townhouse with four floors.

Who should install this type of high quality, hand painted wallpaper? It should be put up by an experienced installer who’s worked extensively in high-end wallpaper. Lining up the paper perfectly is not as much of an issue, because with any type of wallpaper you have to match up design. It’s more about not getting paste on the paper because we’re talking about water soluble paints that could run. Also, you need to use lining paper underneath to absorb moisture that could otherwise bubble up to the front.

What is the best way to clean/maintain the wallpaper, and what about restoration? The wallpaper should be dusted regularly—perhaps once a month—but it can’t be cleaned with any kind of cleaning material because there’s a risk of making the paints run. We often restore papers when there’s damage from plumbing accidents or just wear and tear around light switches where oil from people’s hands has rubbed off.  I’ve even seen kids’ drawings on the walls!

Why is it so darn tough to remove wallpaper? It’s not so much that it’s hard to remove as that it is hard to remove intact. Our valuable scenic wallpapers can be removed successfullyonly if they are installed over a muslin backing.

What do you see in the future for Gracie? I think it’s borderline miraculous that we’ve kept this business going for four generations, and it would be pretty cool if we could go for a fifth generation. Our business is in the early stage of a good growth period and we’re expanding our partnerships with a number of important designers throughout the country. Where it all goes, I couldn’t tell you for sure, but I’m prepared for us to continue to grow for the foreseeable future. 

Laura Joseph Mogil (lauramogil.com) is a freelance writer residing in Briarcliff Manor. She is sorry to say that she did draw on her parents’ wallpaper as a child.

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