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Designer Takes a Hike

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The worst thing about Chris McCray leaving town is that he's taking his contemporary mojo with him, leaving his hometown probably forever, he predicts — and closing his high-profile interior design firm here.

This wouldn't be such a big deal in other places. But McCray, 38, knows he's the main guy in town trying to push stodgy Richmond toward a modern look, seen most frequently in Carytown (Glass & Powder, World of Mirth, Ginger, Limani) and in places as varied as Lucky Lounge, the symphony designer houses and the homes of wealthy philanthropists who are bored with tradition.

"I like to think I've made an impact here," McCray says, "and I worked hard to instill a certain kind of aesthetic." It's one that favors humor, often-inexpensive materials and a custom approach that's usually showy and saturated with concept.

Over nearly a decade, McCray has built his business, taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, created futuristic furniture and garnered good press. He was one of Style's "Top Forty Under 40" last year.

But now he's dismissed his design firm's seven employees and will take off in a restored Volkswagen bus for a cross-country trip that circles back by fall to Providence, R.I., where he'll study for a master's degree in industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design.

He says professors there "were a little suspect," about his motives, but McCray assures he's not the star-tripper his shaved head, pointy beard and über-cool persona might imply. This will be one student who's focused to a fault on work. "I'm looking forward to anonymity. It's like joining a design monastery up there," he says. "It is a very reverent place steeped in the history of design," and highly selective and influential.

McCray hopes to parlay his contacts into global markets and carry that master's degree toward a tenure-track teaching post at some later point, in some other place.

McCray says he'll miss Richmond's hospitality, joking that a fellow student warned him, "They stab you in the front up here." Whether Richmond will mourn his absence remains an open question, but his auction, whenever McCray can pull it off, should be a flashy farewell to a modern man. S

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