By the Way: How Chad James Went from Small Town Alabama Boy to International Designer

Written by | Art & Design, Lifestyle

living room

Designer Chad James talks growing up, coming out, design, taste, and Britney vs. Beyoncé.

The great Maya Angelou (among others) has been credited with saying: “People will forget what you say but never how you made them feel.” A huge portion of how we make people feel is attributed to the environment. Think about the level of thought that must have gone into every detail of your favorite hotels and restaurants. This week we had the chance to interview a gentleman who is responsible for those kind of details, Chad James, principal of Chad James Group – an architecture and interior design firm based in Nashville, TN. A member of the LGBT community, Chad shares his story with us from past to present.

Metrosource: Navigate us through your coming out story – do you have
one or did it “just happen”?

CHAD JAMES: I was a late bloomer when it comes to my coming out story. I was very fortunate to have two very loving parents that loved and accepted me for who I am.

I will say looking back one of the most amazing things that I now realize that despite my upbringing – a small town in Alabama and in a Christian home – my parents never judged me or made me feel shame for who I was. (Looking back, I did that all to myself.)

Each of them expressed their true unconditional love for me and proved it daily through their actions. They both said in that moment, “How could we ever turn our back on you? You are our son,” and “We may not totally understand this but because we love you we will support you,” and they did!


Who were some of your role models growing up and what made them special to you?
My third grade teacher, Sue McCulley, was the first true role model that I can remember. She taught me that being left handed was ok and that even though I was different from my classmates we would learn together how to have beautiful penmanship – and I still do! This was the first time that I remember really feeling that I was going to be ok and accepted. (Note: Teachers used to discourage kids from writing with their left hand.) My true mentors happened later in my life.

Interior Design – with its subjective definitions of good and bad taste – can often be intimidating. How do you demystify it for your clients?
Very true. But more than just good and bad “taste” there are fundamental ‘Rights and Wrongs’ in Interior Design. I feel that interior design isn’t just about what I like and dislike, but it’s more of a feeling that is evoked each time I enter into a space. It’s about the ambiance I create. What do I hear, see, and smell? How does the space make the owner feel? And by stimulating these senses, true memories can be made, and remember:w e are creatures of feeling. So, what’s right for me in my personal home may not be right for my client — it’s my job as a professional to make sure that at the end-of-the-day they feel comfortable and happy in their space.

elegant apartment

What is your general design process?
My process always starts with a vision that is translated when the graphite hits the paper. At Chad James Group, we begin all design with hand-drawings of the space. This allows the mind to work though each space with intention. After the space has been developed we prepare a visual representation to present to our clients for approval. Once all items have been designed, proposed, purchased and received, we then Install the project as a whole. It’s very important to me that we don’t piecemeal things together. In my experience, it’s just not the best way to provide success.

Where do you look for inspiration?
Inspiration is all around us. I pride myself in being a sponge. Just last week I was flying, gazing out my window, when I found myself overwhelmed with inspiration by the patterns formed by the plots of farmland down below. If I had to narrow it down to two, I’d say travel and nature are truly my biggest inspirations.

Lighting Round
Dream date location:
Anywhere outdoors. That’s when I feel most loved

Antique or Contemporary: I strongly believe in having both. Life’s too short, we all need versatility.

Minimal or Maximal: The OCD me has always dreamed of a minimal space… however, the collector in me says, “Really, Chad? Get real. You love collections and hunting for the next best find.”

Neutrals or Patterns: My design career has been flooded, with neutrals and I believe that I’m known as a neutral designer… but my personal favorites are plaids and stripes.

Britney or Beyonce: Uh… duh! always Queen B!!!

chad james

More About Chad James
Chad James had a vision. He’d begin a new architectural consulting and design firm in Nashville, Tennessee, centered on a meticulous approach to quality in design. This dedication to detail has become a mark of his reputation.

As the principal of Chad James Group, Chad leads a talented team of trusted designers in creating a uniquely tailored experience for each client they serve. CJG continues to add projects to a rich international portfolio complete with whole home renovations and new commercial construction, including refined office spaces, iconic restaurants, and art-driven boutique hotels. For CJG, no project is too large and no location is too far.

Hailing from the creative town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Chad James was fascinated by all things creative from a young age. While other children were playing video games, Chad found himself constructing fortresses, rearranging his bedroom and even creating his very own art gallery in his parents’ storage room. As a designer, he uses his years of experience working on a range of international projects to create lasting interiors that will resonate for years to come.

Want more design? Check out Byron’s five design mistakes you should stop making now, our guide to finding the best party fashions, or a new way to design public restrooms that’s fairer to everyone.

Last modified: August 7, 2018