What a lucky find is Graylyn Estate and Conference Center. Built in the years 1928-1932 by Bowman & Nathalie Gray (he was Chairman of the Board for iconic RJ Reynolds Tobacco— can’t swing a bat around here without the “Reynolds” name coming up!) ….it was their dream home at the height of the roaring twenties….
They travelled the world finding and rescuing things of beauty with which to complement their home—-it became a testament to travel, taste, and family. The front door is 15th century French stonework; the walls and ceiling of the “card room” were purchased from a demolition, and are hand painted on poplar. When purchased, the Grays were told it was 19th century Ottoman Empire…later investigation of the Arabic panels showed it is actually dated from 1703 and is Syrian. It’s detail and motif are simply stunning!
The home boasts an indoor pool with charming, whimsical Art Deco tiling and painted walls; the Living Room is stunning with hand carved paneling; everywhere is salvaged iron or custom designed fretwork, lots of stonework, and details such as important family motifs interwoven into the general splendor— dogs, tobacco leaves, ships at sea.
The estate grounds (some 56 acres remain) were designed to complement the French country aesthetics of the home—including formal gardens, generous lawns, a wandering stream with stone bridges, and charming outbuildings of stone and shingle. Unfortunately, Mr. Gray passed away just three years after completion. It remained in the family well after Mrs. Gray’s passing in 1961.
Graylyn stands today a beneficiary of the stewardship of Wake Forest University, to whom the Grays’ sons donated her in the 1970’s. She has variously functioned as a medical school hospital/treatment center, an event center, a conference center, and today, offers event/conference/hotel/dining. The best part? They welcome visitors, and if you request a “Butler’s Tour” in advance (I got a small taste of this with generous docent, Herb), you will be treated to a private tour (about 2 hours!) and learn all of Graylyn’s history and see all of her charms. I will be back for more!