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Publication Date: 2011-10-02

Behind the Design

Q&A With Michelle Nussbaumer

She whirls around the globe—often—from her home base in Dallas, hunting and gathering design inspiration in everything from the shape of a palace fireplace to the color of a Turkish tile. You never know how those cues might wind their way into her design work, whether it’s an entire house or a single, shapely table. Herewith, even more to know about Michelle Nussbaumer, the quick-witted proprietress of Ceylon et Cie, her jam-packed Dallas showroom where 1930s plaster torchieres cozy up to 1960s chairs, all mixed with her original, colorful furniture and fabrics. Scarlet-hued ikats, anyone?

Q: You’re such a frequent flyer, always hopping continents. What have you seen that has touched off new ideas?

A: I just got back from Istanbul, and seeing the Topkapi Palace. A fireplace there inspired a fireplace surround I’m doing for a client. It’s the same shape and line, but without all the ornate detail of the original—and that makes it more modern. I’ve just done a bed headboard inspired by an arch I saw in India. I’m always going around taking pictures of everything.

Q: In your mind, is there a Michelle Nussbaumer look?

A: I like to think it’s classic, but with a touch of exotic. I love to create something timeless—and worldly. A place that feels like an educated person lives there, someone who really travels.

Q: Has your look changed over time?

A: Of course! I love seeing so many amazing places, places people have lived, because when you see things in person you view it in a new light. The more I see, the more I’m influenced, and the more I keep changing. I look at design as an art. Picasso didn’t just stay in his blue period, you know.

Q: What is the most valuable design advice you’ve ever received?

A: You know, I can’t think of any. You’re either born with an innate sense of design or you’re not.

Q: You do have a very bohemian luxe style of decorating. How do you mix the high with the low?

A: There has to be a sense of order. Pairs of things are good: chairs, lamps, columns. A unifying color scheme is good. Then, all the other disparate pieces calm down a bit, and start to work together.

Q: Take us through the first steps of doing a room, or a house.

A: I look at the overall “bones” first. Sometimes you have to correct things, such as window casings that are too small, doorways that aren’t as wide as they could be, moldings that are wrong. Then I think about color. I have my own mixed, then I go back a lot to look at them on the walls in all the different lights: mornings, afternoons, dusk, even at night. It’s so important to get color right.

Q: In Dallas, you now deliver merchandise in an ikat-covered truck! How did that happen?

A: I’ve sold amazing old ikat fabrics for years, then I started designing my own, when I wanted ikats in new colors or bigger sizes. Well, my husband had one of his racing cars covered in this colorful wrap, so I thought, why not wrap my delivery truck in one of my ikats? Why are we all driving beige or black cars? So that got me thinking: Why not toile-covered cars? Fortuny-covered cars? I think I’m going to wrap my Bentley.

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