Michelle Nussbaumer’s name is synonymous with style. The Texas-born talent has built a legacy on timeless, exuberant interiors—an instantly recognizable brand of maximalism she’s honed over decades as interior designer, antiques dealer, and director of Dallas design galleryCeylon et Cie. She’s brought her eye for aesthetics to thousands via a self-managed Instagram account and most recently as author of her first book, Wanderlust: Interiors that Bring the World Home (Rizzoli New York, 2016). Nussbaumer, perhaps better than any designer today, understands how to incorporate a vast treasure trove of extraordinary handcrafted and one-of-a-kind pieces into her personal interiors and those of her clients. Global travel started at a young age for the designer. “My family has always traveled— both the family I grew up in and my family now. We’ve lived all over the world, and I’m married to a European man, so it broadens horizons and helps you see how other people live; it makes you so much more accepting of the world and understanding of the world,” she explains. “When you go to these exotic locales, you see how people live, and you always take some moment of inspiration from it in some kind of way.”
Nussbaumer began assembling her Dallas home decades ago as a spry twentysomething, but shortly after their marriage, husband Bernard beseeched her to move abroad, and Rome became the forum for her proverbial design childhood as she ferreted out fine art and antiques for the couple’s two Italian homes. Many of her finds returned to Dallas 20 years later taking up residence in their original home, a circa-1940 Wilson McClure–designed dwelling—and the creative process continued. “A house should never be done. It is always evolving and alive,” she says. “In the human mind, we always want to create beauty. We’re always looking for beauty and thinking, How can we make something beautiful?” This soulfulness is something her clients have experienced time and again, learning that her visions often won’t make sense until later in the project.
Her spaces are not showrooms, but stages for living. And to the lucky clients who call upon her talents, they are highly personal refuges that please all the senses. Nussbaumer’s rooms are replete with unique textiles and punctuated by decorative objects gathered up along her near-constant excursions around the globe. The items procured on her pilgrimages range from a Persian shoe picked up in Paris to hand-painted flowers made from recycled Coca-Cola cans by African hands. Her affinity for stylish souvenirs is as much about aesthetics as it is her immense respect for indigenous handicraft; preserving these precious art forms and perceiving their influences on modern motifs is of the utmost importance to the designer.
And, of course, a Nussbaumer creation would not be complete without color—saturated, sumptuous color. Hues such as vermilion red, azure, and even Schiaparelli pink are packed in her potent arsenal. Another signature is the proliferation of flowers. She enjoys growing them herself at each of her homes—in Texas, Switzerland, and Mexico—and is wont to carry them indoors in tremendous bunches, her casually fashioned arrangements infusing intoxicating fragrance and grandeur into every alcove. “My favorite flower is always a peony or an old-fashioned double rose,” she says. “I like a very big, opulent bloom.”
In Dallas, that might mean voluptuous roses, but since they tend to scorch in the Southern sun, Nussbaumer loves to bring the bushes inside in terra-cotta pots. In Mexico, her cutting garden teems with blossoms such as delphiniums and dinner-plate dahlias (“they grow brilliantly there”), while in Switzerland, the plants prove so prolific, she has to cut things back. “I’m not a snob about flowers,” she professes. “I don’t really like a thought-out bouquet. I like it to feel very natural like it’s just picked from my garden.”
There’s no excuse to live without flowers, asserts Nussbaumer, who frequently brings tulip bouquets back to her hotel room during trips, simply sticking the stems into odd glass bottles. “We all need to be around nature I think. Nature makes us feel healthy, happy, and grounded,” she says. As for floral prints, her passion is equally palpable. Whether it’s a peony-punctuated Gracie wallpaper, a Persian rug embellished with geometric tulips, or piles of ornate Suzani pillows, she pairs patterns with aplomb, even mixing disparate motifs with an unrivaled effortlessness.
Fittingly, Nussbaumer’s next big venture will be a fresh collection of textiles complete with five floral patterns inspired by her exotic sojourns. “I’ve been telling people for 10 years that floral is on its way back,” she says with a laugh. And with the maestra herself leading the charge, others can’t be far behind.
By Kate Abney
© WANDERLUST: INTERIORS THAT BRING THE WORLD HOME BY MICHELLE NUSSBAUMER, RIZZOLI NEW YORK, 2016.