The internationally acclaimed designer’s interiors combine a fearless use of color and reflect an eclectic yet timeless mix of bold patterns and influences from around the world to create her unmistakable signature style, which Michelle describes as “Old-world elegance with a touch of the exotic.”
With finds from the fabled markets of Morocco to the fleas of Paris and beyond, esteemed interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer creates homes filled with color, culture and great beauty for her clients. Inspired by her lifelong love of discovering far off lands, she brings her well-trained eye and love of rich variety to create layered, nuanced designs. From her home base Dallas studio, she works with her team of designers aptly described as “artists” “travelers” and “dreamers” who together share a vision that “that spaces should be inspired by the world, reflective of the client, and designed to be a stage for living.” This vision began to take shape for Michelle during her college years as a theater major. “I learnt all aspects of stagecraft, from lighting design to makeup. Set design sparked something in me, so I switched gears and followed a career in interior design. After all, what is a house if not a stage for living?”
Images Courtesy of Michelle Nussbaumer
Michelle herself is a fascinating individual who clearly has an abundance of creative energy running through her veins. As someone whose style icons include stars of the golden age of Hollywood (Ava Gardner), Indian royalty (Gayatri Devi) and 1980s era California interior designers (Kalef Alaton), she draws from a deep well of influences. The designer elaborates: “Because my family has always loved beauty, my eye was trained from a young age. My mother was a well-known painter and took me to many museums and galleries as a child; our house was full of art, antiques, and fellow artists.
She and my grandfather had filled their rooms with crazy treasures, bearskin rugs, Asian antiques, her paintings, modern furniture, and wonderful pieces that we found at the Apache reservation nearby, where my love of the tribal was born.”
These early influences have blended with her current fascinations to manifest as her personal design style. She describes it this way: “Old-world elegance with a touch of the exotic. I tend to create dramatically lush interiors, filling the spaces with treasures from around the world. I incorporate worldly materials in multilayered rooms which mix periods and geography. My designs are spontaneous, organic, living.”
Indeed, her designs are rich with not only color and texture, but cultural references and influences from a variety of eras and locations. “My far-flung experiences have given me a unique perspective on the world of design, alongside growing up within a family enthralled by all facets of culture and history… My interiors are about passion and bringing passion into my client’s lives. I want people to live in and enjoy their environment to have their own personal world at home, one that excites, soothes, and pleases all the senses. My goal is to create eye-filling, eccentric, beautiful assemblages – a merging of the precious and the playful with a little bit of whimsy and fantasy. My passion is searching out treasures from around the world and using them to create dramatically lush interiors with multi-layered rooms which mix periods and geography.”
In addition to the inspiration that her travels provide, she is also an avid vintage and antique shopper while on her excursions. “Vintage and antique pieces play a large role in my work… I love to pull together objects and elements that I have discovered off the beaten track and mix them with antiques and modern art to create an atmosphere deep with personality, exotically perfumed and enlivened with a touch of the eccentric… When we discover, select, and bring home objects and art as reminders of our experiences, they are not only treasures, but also treasuries of meaning and memory. I like to present furniture with interesting provenance because I believe every home should have objects with stories to pass on to future generations – possessions and experiences of life. In this way, it is not just about the visual but an aesthetic that engages all the senses – a house stays alive.”
When traveling is not an option, discovering pieces online can offer a wonderful alternative. “I started out with an antiques showroom and buying and selling antiques while living in Rome. I love antiques, and in all of my projects, include them. Buy what you love, do your homework, antiques can be a great investment. Sites like The Local Vault are great as they pre-vet pieces for you.”
The designer’s own home is mix of pieces she loves and has found throughout the years to create a look she describes as “Luxe Bohemian.” “My house in Texas is very personal to me and very much a family home that is very based on collections built over years and inherited pieces from my husband’s family and mine.” One of her best finds to date is a rare piece of art which she treasures. “I was lucky enough to find at auction one of the only paintings that Henry Moore painted. It’s a painting of one of his sculptures.”
In addition to her use of vintage and antiques, her work is filled with gorgeous pattern and color which often result in a dramatic overall look in a space. She offers these words of wisdom for making the most of these elements in a home. “Fabrics and textiles are one of the most essential aspects of the room, and scale is so important. Textiles bring forward the real personality of a room. One thing I’ve noticed that works for starting the decoration process is to buy things you love. Usually when you’re drawn to a print or stripe, they go together. Sometimes unlikely patterns and colours look great together, simply because an individual eye has chosen them.”
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5 Questions with Interior Designer Michelle Nussbaumer
TLV: What is your favorite element of your job?
MN: Working with artisans around the world and helping them reinvent their traditional motifs and bringing new ideas to their craft.
TLV: What are some of your top design/aesthetic influences?
MN: I am very influenced by indigenous cultures and their crafts as they provide such wonder and richness.
The worlds tribal and indigenous peoples all use the same materials, each in their own way and I like exploring that in my work. I take delight in researching and working with craftspeople and artisans who make the material culture of their community – translating their techniques into something new is one of the greatest design journeys of them all.
TLV: Do you have a go to color combination? Or most beloved pattern?
MN: There are so many colors and patterns I like I can’t really choose one. I do love Indian textiles and that really is where all of our English and French chintz started. I love mixing ethnic textiles and handmade prints with modern pieces and my line with Clarence House is really inspired by these ideas.
TLV: Favorite travel destination for design inspiration?
MN: Three of my favourite places are Mexico, India and Morocco which are similar to one another in many ways. Each is a desert environment where colour blooms – they often love bright, saturated colours.
TLV: Favorite way to unwind after a busy week?
MN: Getting on a plane to parts unknown.
Photos Courtesy of Michelle Nussbaumer / Text by Liana Hayles Newton