McCray and Hall

by Layne Lynch • Photography by Melanie Grizzel

It’s hard to believe that a serendipitous stop at the Hotel San José in a restored 1972 camper van ended up rewarding Austin with two of its most creative minds in the local design industry, but that’s the way married couple and interior and graphic design artists Chris McCray and Grace Hall narrate their tale. “We were driving through here on a road trip and ended up backing into a [Hotel San José van] at the hotel,” says Hall. “It’s funny because that accident actually convinced us to stay a bit longer and explore Austin, and we ended up falling in love with the Hotel San José. We honeymooned there, have mini-vacations there and, to this day, it’s our favorite place in the city. There was such creativity here at the time, and even in the past five years, it has grown tremendously, especially in the food world.”

McCray and Hall have honed their artistic skills over the years through formal education and collaboration with makers, but most importantly, by immersing themselves in hands-on labor via their business, McCray & Co. “I’ve never been one to sit around and dictate ideas,” McCray says. “I like to work with [clients] side by side. It’s a delicate dance, and you have to check your ego at the door, but there’s a beauty in working in a team of artists that believe in your ideas as much as they do their own. There’s a level of trust that’s formed during that process.”

Before the couple relocated to Austin three years ago, McCray worked as a director at Syracuse University at the COLAB—an academic program that promotes creative collaboration between education and business sectors—while Hall labored as a graphic designer, creating works for such businesses as Toyota and Proctor Silex. Bound by their love for thriving cultures and a mutual distaste for 16-foot snowfall, they decided to pack up and move to the city with which they had formed a deep love affair years before. “It always came back to Austin for us,” Hall says. “We always knew that if we were going to move, it would probably be here.”

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And when it came to securing that very first Austin client, the duo couldn’t have stepped into a luckier turn of events. After unpacking their moving van during one of their first nights in the city, McCray and Hall were invited to an impromptu dinner party hosted by a friend of a friend. As outsiders, the couple made conversation among the attendees, and in true kismet fashion, were introduced to Jessica Maher, co-owner of Lenoir, which is now a much-revered, award-winning restaurant, but at the time, was in the early stages of planning and development. “When Jessica started talking about what she and Todd [Duplechan] were planning with Lenoir, I just felt like that was something we should be a part of,” McCray says. “For Todd and Jessica, their work and art are directly connected to food. They have such a respect for local farmers, local ingredients and being very conscious of what you’re using, and that you’re using every part of it. For a designer, that’s something you have to admire.”

After a series of meetings, Maher and Duplechan eventually granted McCray and Hall their first restaurant commission—trusting they’d take the small, intimate South First Street space and transform it into a chic home away from home. Acutely aware of Maher and Duplechan’s budget, McCray and Hall worked meticulously to create a charming, serene dining space, and the results are nothing short of breathtaking. Using repurposed and recycled materials from Austin Habitat Re-store, the couple weaved together a color scheme of bold black, worn white and peacock blue. And the backdrop of bright lighting fixtures, tall wood furniture, heavy draperies, vintage-like storage containers and vases, and a collection of other minute details have made the restaurant one of the most admired gathering spaces in town. “Working on a restaurant is a challenge, but I love that it’s a space that people across so many different parameters and experiences get to share,” McCray says. “I never expected the response to Lenoir to be so strong.”

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Once an abundance of curious diners, ambitious restaurateurs and budding chefs took in the view at Lenoir, McCray & Co.’s client roster expanded, and their work can now be seen in the repurposed Red Lobster restaurant tables at Ramen Tatsu-Ya, the checkered floors at Métier Cook’s Supply, the office at local public relations firm Bread & Butter, the sturdy bar stools at Odd Duck, Uchi’s corporate offices and the leather bar at the soon-to-open St. Philip. And the list only continues to grow; an unannounced Cedar Creek wine bar and a remake on a classic Mexican cantina are two of the newest projects in development. 

While restaurants have undoubtedly become their signature project, McCray and Hall have immersed themselves in an array of others, including a host of residential and commercial spaces as well as fixing up their East Austin bungalow and managing an antique booth out of town. But nothing quite tops the perk that comes with working in the hospitality industry. “It’s nice when you’re working away and someone just stops by and asks you to taste something,” Hall says. “Who knew food could taste that good?”

To view McCray and Hall portfolio, visit mccray-co.com