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Edgy and Posh

This Cool Designing Woman is Changing Houston’s Restaurant Scene

BY // 01.12.17

Elizabeth Ingram is like the cool friend from boarding school who introduced you to edgy things — the latest indie band, a life-changing book by an obscure French philosopher, the Berlin way to style your hair — in a dash-of-New England-prep and splash-of-punk kind of way.

PaperCity’s Anne Lee Phillips talks with the designer of hot spot State of Grace as Ingram ponders her part-time move to Houston.

Elizabeth Ingram is smartly and conservatively dressed, with good posture and a head of blonde curls. Only at second glance do you notice the nose piercing and subtle tattoo on her hand. Raised in Boston by Southern parents, she attended the Winsor School for Girls while her dad served as a professor at Harvard.

Her love of art was cemented at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where her mother was a docent — Ingram calls the museum her childhood playground. Summers were spent in the South, where the Gothic influences of the region left their mark.

“I’m kind of a dichotomy: manor-born, yet I’ve always sought out the gritty underbelly,” she says. “So I think Houston will be a good fit for me.” After founding her design firm, Elizabeth Ingram Studio, this past summer in Atlanta, Ingram opens a Houston studio this month.

Ingram is ready and armed with 25 years of experience in design and a background in art history (which she studied at Vanderbilt). Most recently, she served as in-house design director for Atlanta-based powerhouse restaurateur Ford Fry, for whom she simultaneously designed restaurants Beetlecat, Marcel, and Superica Buckhead in Atlanta and State of Grace in Houston— each celebrated for design as well as excellent food. Fry discovered Ingram during her tenure at Mark Sage’s Bobo Intriguing Objects (the wholesaler for brands including Restoration Hardware), where she designed furniture and styled the 30,000 square-foot showrooms for trade shows such as High Point Market.

Keen on her aesthetic, Fry tapped her to design his own Atlanta home. He soon discovered she had a background in restaurant design as well, having worked for Revival Interiors in Chattanooga. He created a special in-house design director position for her to craft the interiors for the latest additions to his empire.

“Design is personal,” she says. In restaurant design, Ingram strives to avoid a one-note experience so that customers see something new when they return. She crafts a story, much as an actor might create background for a role.

At State of Grace, a majestic oak tree on the property — “a gift,” she calls it — became a focal point. She stumbled upon an image in a French interior design magazine of a deer with an impressive rack of antlers (evoking tree branches) in a field of morning dew, which helped construct the design story of State of Grace and influenced Fry’s selection of the name. Referencing Texas’ hunting and Germanic histories alike, Ingram fashioned the restaurant as an elegant country hunting haus, with a nod to Austrian modernist architect Adolph Loos.

The project was a return to Houston for Ingram. Her ex-husband, a blacksmith with whom she frequently collaborates on furniture and lighting designs, hails from Spring, Texas, and was part “of the whole ’80s skate punk movement,” she says. He sang in a punk band, and Ingram loved visiting Montrose and frequenting Lola’s and Last Concert Café — that gritty underbelly again.

Spending time on the State of Grace project reminded her how much she appreciates Houston. People frequently make Atlanta-Houston comparisons, but Ingram doesn’t really see it. Houston has “more of a sense of grit and glamour,” she says. Houstonians’ appreciation of art, paired with the punk background and the pristine beauty of River Oaks, excites Ingram. Potential projects here, residential and restaurants alike, prompted her to open an office.

In her projects, Ingram opts for custom furniture and lighting wherever possible and has found talented artists and fabricators. While renovating a kitchen, she collaborated on a table with Chad Stogner, owner of Birmingham-based Elegant Earth, which also produces Bobby McAlpine’s furniture.

Ingram and Stogner enjoyed working together so much that they created a collection of 12 case goods (including the aforementioned table) and a few lighting pieces. The collaboration debuts at High Point in April.

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