By MeLinda Schnyder - Photography by Aaron Patton
Rachel Thomas-Murphy is working on her first project that is driven by a client’s desire for an environmentally friendly home. As the interior designer on the rural home east of Wichita, Thomas-Murphy is researching concepts like sustainably harvested flooring, window and door placement for natural lighting and optimal air flow, paints containing low or no volatile organic chemicals, natural stone that is already in stock locally so additional transportation isn’t required.
The project will be reclaiming wood from a tree that was knocked over in a storm at the build site. It’s being repurposed into a 12-seat dining table, and other furnishings inside the geothermal house will be made from upcycled materials.
As the owner of Thomas Grey Interiors, Thomas-Murphy doesn’t bring a green style to every project. In fact, while working on this home she is also working on other custom homes for clients looking for styles ranging from urban farmhouse to coastal to traditional.
“By listening carefully during a consultation I can pick up on preferences and get a good sense of what style is most appropriate for their vision of the space,” she said.
Creating living and working spaces that work well for people and making professional interior design accessible are what drive her.
“Everyone deserves access to dignified design,” Thomas-Murphy said. “It shouldn’t be reserved only for those living in million-dollar houses.”
She opened Thomas Grey Interiors – the name comes from her maiden name and one of her favorite colors – after several years of daydreaming of starting her own business.
Thomas-Murphy was born in Kansas City but grew up in McKinney, Texas. She earned a bachelor’s degree in interior design and started her career as an intern at GLMV architecture firm. She then worked as an interior designer at Cessna Aircraft Company, where she once put together a sample board for the Queen of England, and Koch Business Solutions, where she handled space planning and office remodels.
She started the business as a side hustle in 2012, which gave her time to test which services the Wichita market most needed. She began operating the business full-time in 2015. A turning point, she said, was participating in a program for entrepreneurs offered though the U.S. Small Business Administration. Thomas-Murphy attended weekly classes for seven months as part of the Emerging Leaders Initiative and it gave her the business background she needed to complement her interior design experience.
She now has a team of five and plans more growth. While low startup costs make it easy for interior decorators to enter the market, Thomas-Murphy said being an accredited interior designer and hiring accredited interior designers sets her apart.
Another differentiator is Thomas Grey Interiors’ use of 2D and 3D renderings. “The software is costly so this isn’t something that is usually accessible to the average consumer,” Thomas-Murphy said. “We have figured out a way to make it affordable, and it’s been a great tool. Having a 3D rendering takes the guesswork out of whether they will like the space because they can see it before we start.”
Through Thomas Grey Interiors’ residential division, services range from 90-minute consultations to handling new custom homes and remodels. As a full-service operation, they also can help identify general contractors and subcontractors.
Although they do not have a showroom, the firm operates a retail division where they create furniture plans for customers and source furnishings through partnerships with local retailers.
A third division works with businesses on space planning for new construction and remodels as well as selecting interior finishes such as flooring, countertops and wall and ceiling treatments.
Last year, Thomas Grey Interiors created a civic initiative Thomas-Murphy calls the Passion Project. Her team donated more than $10,000 in time and materials and coordinated donations from business partners for a remodel of a local non-profit that shelters victims of domestic abuse. She is doing another Passion Project this year and is currently seeking donations to help a local non-profit that works to empower women to achieve economic independence.
Thomas-Murphy’s mother earned her master’s in education while a single mother, and Thomas-Murphy said that has inspired her as a single mother of three to work hard on building Thomas Grey Interiors.
Family is a clear influence throughout the 35-year-old’s life, from her three children aged 9 to 13, to her mother and her father, who died when she was 12 years old and he was 39.
Using her maiden name in her business name, she said, created a new emotional connection to her father.
“I didn’t intend to do this, but as the years have gone by it’s made me feel like I’m doing business with my dad,” Thomas-Murphy said. “I’m proud to have created something that has his name on it and to keep building it into something my kids can be a part of down the road.”