Rene Gracia has a knack for architecture and design, in particular the interplay between a building, its natural surroundings and its inhabitants. He’s also a pretty quick study of people. It’s the combination of these talents that led this Mexico City-bred Dallasite to pursue a new venture in residential real estate: Rene Gracia Design+Build.
Gracia, who has more than 20 years of experience in architecture and design for commercial, hospitality and high-end residential projects, started a branding and design firm, Lucid, in 2001. He has since shaped the identities and built environments of businesses throughout Dallas, including Dallas Chop House, Accenture, Go Fish, Urban Wood Grill and West Ave.
He says the process of creating a brand and designing an environment is similar, which is why he combines those two disciplines at Lucid. “We peel back the layers of understanding who the clients are, where they’ve been and where they’re going in their life,” he says.
“I love the way materials age over time,” says principal Rene Gracia. “You can take a pristine material, and it takes on its own character and personality.”
But it wasn’t until he designed a house for a friend of a friend in University Park that Gracia decided to pursue residential work with his new company. “I enjoyed the more intimate aspect of working on a house,” he says.
His second project was perhaps the most intimate of all: his own house in North Oak Cliff. Although he found the 1950s split-level ranch in terrible condition, Gracia and his wife, Amber, purchased it for the lush lot saturated with trees.
Gracia, and his builder partner, Todd Arnold, kept the foundation of the original structure and added tall glass to let in a lot of light. Through the juxtaposition of new and old or repurposed materials, they created a modern design that honored the beauty of the natural surroundings.
He says that working on his own home was particularly rewarding, especially because it was in such poor condition to start. “It was kind of like seeing a puppy on the side of the road that nobody loves,” he says. “You want to take it in as your own because you see something there. That’s how this house was for Amber and me.”
On all projects, Gracia stresses the importance of working with the site itself — the surroundings and topography — and allowing natural light into the home. His style leans modern, but it is comfortable and livable.
He is also a fan of using reclaimed materials such as wood and steel. For example, instead of a white ceiling, Gracia put distressed wood in the dining room of his own house to add warmth.
“I love the way materials age over time; you can take a pristine material, and it takes on its own character and personality,” he says. “I think that’s important to allow certain pieces to speak to one another.”
Once he understands the client, Gracia says it’s easy to begin reimagining a house and finding the best way to showcase its natural surroundings.
“It’s about finding harmony between design and the client, and opening up your eyes to see what’s in front of you. There are so many beautiful things out there.”