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Michelle Nussbaumer’s Moveable Feast

The interior designer throws a summer party in her Dallas home, inviting guests to explore rooms filled with captivating treasures collected from years of travel and floral arrangements that celebrate the bounty of her garden
Wearing luxurious, brightly colored pajamas and robe, designer Michelle Nussbaumer stands in her entry hall, painted pink and filled with house plants. She tends to potted plants on her entry table. Her dog stands at her feet.
Michelle Nussbaumer’s more-is-better decorating aesthetic transfers to her entertaining style; she stages multiple rooms with a mix of antique and new tableware and bountiful floral arrangements.

“Walking into an entry should be like stepping through a stage set. It’s really the opening act that establishes the mood for what’s to come,” says interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer.

The moment you enter her 1940s Hollywood Regency-meets-Dallas house, you know you’re in for a glamorous adventure that will be vibrant and unexpected, with just the right dash of drama. Peony-pink walls and a profusion of potted flowers worthy of an English country-house conservatory will be your first tells, as will the hostess who greets you dressed in a flowing caftan and looking every bit the part of a glamorous movie star (she did major in theater at college, after all).

Michelle Nussbaumer’s house, mantel covered in vases of lush floral arrangements, gilt mirror, pink walls, oriental rug, and drapery panels with horizontal strips of pink, green, and chocolate brown
Michelle’s drapery fabric, Neapolitan Ice Cream, will be available in her shop, Ceylon et Cie and on her website.

Michelle’s stylish flair reflects a life spent cultivating a global perspective. With houses she and husband Bernard own in Texas, Mexico, and Switzerland, and decorating projects at points in between and beyond, the designer seemingly spends as much time in the seat of an airplane as she does in a chair upholstered in a fabric of her own design in her living room.

It’s not surprising she titled her first book Wanderlust: Interiors that Bring the World Home (Rizzoli, 2016), as her personal environs brim with saturated color, plentiful pattern, and a mix of cultures and design periods, all expertly brought into harmony and focus through her maximalist lens.

dahlia floral arrangement by Jimmie Henslee
Dahlias, black-eyed Susans, Japanese maple, garden roses, wild grape vine, and more tumble from Old Paris porcelain on the mantel. Floral design and styling by Jimmie Henslee.

When Michelle does find her feet firmly rooted in one place, she indulges another of her passions: gathering friends for a party. Although she’s been known to host Thanksgiving for 75 and cocktail soirées for throngs, and has a more-is-better philosophy that extends to a dining room table that seats 32, “That doesn’t feel right for the moment we’re in right now,” she says.

blue-and-white ginger jars, table lamp, and blue-and-white bud vase
A few blooms are all that’s needed to embellish Michelle’s collection of blue-and-white porcelain. 

On this summer day, she plans for a much smaller group and, as usual, there will be no hint of pretense on the menu. “I really don’t have a lot of rules about decorating or life in general, but I don’t enjoy giving or attending parties that are too formal—that’s just not interesting to me,” she says. And as for a table (or room) where everything matches? “It drives me to tears,” Michelle says, with a laugh.

When Michelle does find her feet firmly rooted in one place, she indulges another of her passions: gathering friends for a party.
Michelle Nussbaumer’s moody red dining room, decorated with floral arrangements by Jimmie Henslee
A centerpiece of garden roses, cockscomb, and strawflowers. The chair fabric is Cartagena, one of her designs for Clarence House.

That doesn’t mean details won’t be carefully considered. Michelle scripts every element except for the cocktail chatter, and even that is sure to be lively, as she maintains that bringing an eclectic mix of people together is absolutely key to her success as a hostess—bland and boring simply won’t make the cut, whether in a design scheme or on a guest list.

“I’m also a big believer in engaging multiple areas of the house,” she says. “People can mingle freely, perch on the edge of a living room sofa with drink in hand or a plate in their lap, and then move on to the library or outdoor patio to join another conversation.”

A blue-and-white ginger jar, a large salad, shallow bowls of summer tomatoes, and a pair of lush red and orange floral arrangement fill a mosaic patio table
The patio table features zinnias, Mexican marigolds, coleus, and roses from the garden.

Although it would be virtually impossible to upstage the decor, Michelle is always game to gild the lily with a generous layer of flowers and greenery. “Flowers inspire me,” she says. “I look to nature for my design work, whether it’s the crazy color combinations and patterns in coleus leaves, which I love and grow so many varieties of, or the vibrant yellow and orange fields of cempasúchil [Mexican marigolds] near my house in San Miguel de Allende.”

While Michelle enjoys creating arrangements herself, she frequently turns to her dear friend Jimmie Henslee, a floral designer and stylist, to kick things up a notch. “He just gets me and the vibe I want to achieve,” she says.

“My garden never looked better than last summer, because for once I was actually home to tend to it.” — Michelle Nussbaumer
Michelle Nussbaumer's patio, outdoor furniture
On the patio, the peacock chairs are from Michelle’s Dallas design gallery, Ceylon et Cie. Pillow fabrics include Joseph’s Coat, (the stripe on right chair) and Fez Embroidery (left chair, front pillow) from her Clarence House collection.

“I like wild mixed with refined, and that sums up Michelle’s magical style,” says Jimmie.

His interpretation of Michelle’s aesthetic includes vines dripping from chandeliers (“that’s one of her signature moves,” he says) and the contrast of high and low, a philosophy they both embrace. Controlled masses within a singular palette or flower variety appear in casual baskets and pottery, while more humble clippings from Michelle’s garden spill from elegant containers such as Old Paris porcelain.

dessert table
In the living room, Michelle puts out a spread of desserts. 
overhead view of the dessert table, including a bouquet of pink roses and a lidded blue-and-white chinoiserie jar
A mass of pink roses provides additional eye candy.

“When people come to my house for a party, they probably go into a bit of sensory overload,” says Michelle, “but the idea is to have plenty of beautiful things to look at, flowers that smell fabulous, good food to eat, and a place to feel relaxed and happy.” As she turns up her playlist—one that includes African beats, Portuguese morna, and a little Johnny Cash for good measure—it’s evident her wandering spirit thrives even at home, and she relishes taking her guests along for the journey.

By Karen Carroll  |  Photography by Nathan Schroder  | Interior design and select décor by Michelle Nussbaumer  |  Floral design by Jimmie Henslee

This story originally appeared in Flower magazine’s July/August 2021 issue. Find Flower in a store near you or subscribe.

Flower magazine 2021 July August cover

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