Young Tupelo designer turns older home into metropolitan showplace

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

When Chris Rakestraw says interior design has always been a passion of his, he’s not kidding.
“Even when I was a child, I can remember taking all my grandmother’s pictures off the walls and rehanging them,” said Rakestraw, 31. “In the summer, when my mom was at work, I’d take everything out of my room and repaint it and rearrange all the furniture before she got home.”
Nevertheless, Rakestraw went to Mississippi State University and got his banking degree in 2003 and pursued a career at BancorpSouth. But on the side, he started buying homes and renovating them to resell.
“I just needed to express my creative side,” he said. “So while I was working at the bank, I started flipping property. It’s partially what helped fund my return to school. I probably flipped 10 or so properties in Tupelo.”
In 2010, Rakestraw earned a second bachelor’s degree from the college of Architecture, Art and Design at MSU, which enabled him to open his own business, Christopher Ryan Design Studio in Tupelo.
Rakestraw figures he’s lived in about half the houses he’s flipped.
“That’s what sets me apart from other designers,” he said. “I actually live in the space, see how it works and how I can change it to make it better.”
While looking for a house to renovate in 2010, he came across a 1950s property on Magnolia that was home to Dick and Marguerite Johnson for more than 30 years.
“It’s one of the first houses I ever looked at that I thought, ‘This could really be my home,’” he said. “I love this house. I’ve lived in it longer than any other property, about 14 months. I can see this being my personal residence. That’s why I’ve put in upgrades that are more to my taste.”
Different perspective
The first thing Rakestraw did after he bought the house was tear out a bookcase partition that was just inside the front door.
“The funniest part is the demolition,” he said. “That really opened up the space in the living room.”
He also removed a traditional-style mantle over the fireplace and built a surround to house the flat-screen TV that’s hidden behind a piece of original artwork.
He also refinished all the floors in the house and had some work done on the central heat and air-conditioning unit. The plumbing and wiring, Rakestraw said, were in pretty good shape.
“The room where I did the most work was the kitchen,” he said. “I removed the carpet, increased the counter space by 40 percent and installed shaker-style cabinets.” He also purchased new appliances and used a white penny tile for the backsplash.
In the dining room, Rakestraw removed paneling to expose Sheetrock, and tore down wallpaper that covered the top half of the walls. Then he painted those walls black and chose dark blue drapes for the windows.
“I went dark with the walls, which I’ve never done before, but I could get away with it because there’s so much light in the house,” he said.
For lighting, he hung a large white drum pendant over the 8-foot dining table – which he purchased for $30 and refinished – and trimmed it in yellow yarn to tie in with the yellow in the drapes in the living room.
“Some people look at my style and say, ‘Chris, you must hate traditional,’ and I say, ‘No, I love traditional. I just bring a different perspective to it.’”
Upstairs, downstairs
Upstairs, Rakestraw took on three nice-sized bedrooms and two baths. All the rooms flow seamlessly from one to the next.
“All the walls in the house – and on the outside of the house – are shades of gray,” he said. “I work with color all day. With neutral-colored walls, I can change out accessories as I need to. Neutral walls serve as a backdrop for all my furnishings.”
Rakestraw leans toward yellows, greens, blues, oranges, browns and reds in his accessories.
“If you look at the whole space, I can take something from one room and move it to another and it still looks new and fresh,” he said.
Rakestraw admits he’s a bit of a packrat. In one of the two guest bedrooms, he has a collection of cameras that belonged to his grandparents displayed on one wall.
“It’s hard for me to dispose of things that were my family’s,” he said. “So I just made a collection out of them.”
One of the most stunning features in the newly remodeled home are the window treatments and drapes in every room. They were all made by his mother, Shelia Ryan Rakestraw.
“Mom is a pivotal person in my design business,” he said. “She keeps me grounded.”
The last area Rakestraw tackled in the 2,800-square-foot house was the basement. He began by removing the carpet – and discovering three layers of epoxy paint beneath it.
“I rented a grinder and it was an arduous process,” he said. “I thought it would take an afternoon and it took three days. Some of it is still there, but that’s part of an old house, part of its character. I guess it’s like wrinkles on people.”
Rakestraw turned the basement into a second living area, with a couch, chairs, TV and game table for entertaining.
“There is a lot of space in this house, but it wasn’t necessarily being used in the best way,” he said. “Everything I’ve done to this house works. It all works, or at least I think it does. I consider my style to be comfortable with a modern feel. It’s not fussy or too traditional – it’s more clean lines. But I do think there’s a feeling of whimsy in my spaces.”