The Dallas-based designer sets her table with modern glamour and ease.
"I have always had wanderlust. As a child, I dreamed of travel, of bringing home what I found in worlds far from home,” explains designer Michelle Nussbaumer. Through her iconic Dallas shop, Ceylon et Cie, and her panoply of colorful, layered interiors and otherworldly entertaining style, the designer creates and embodies an inspired life full of relaxed glamour and modern joie de vivre.
The table she recently set in her dining room using Matouk table linens exudes a passion for creating timeless spaces, dotted with interesting ideas and finds from around the globe.
Dubbing the style, “Autumn in Hong Kong,” Nussbaumer was inspired by the East but added plenty of worldly twists that she is known for. Here, the designer shows us how she creates a table brimming with wanderlust and old-world elegance.
“It’s important to mix things and have choices so you can make the table your own. Nobody really wants to see a whole matching table; it’s so boring.”
Old World Glamour
Nussbaumer pulled out her favorite, most elegant pieces to set her formal dining room table—mixing eras and countries from Japanese porcelain to Swedish crystal to English china. “I started with antique 18th century Imari pieces and mixed it with other high-low things like my Royal Crown Darby plates, Royal Wooster china, Swedish crystal, and my grandmother’s sterling and Mother of Pearl silverware,” she says. The designer created a stylish foundation with Matouk’s Mirasol tablecloth and napkins, brimming with gentle curves and sporting Matouk monogram style 2002. “I thought it went well with the Imari since it’s sort of an Asian vibe,” says Nussbaumer. “I love Matouk linens. I especially love the monograms, embroideries, and appliqué work. The Mirasol with its pale grey color goes with everything.” An added bonus was that the silvery shade was well suited for the designer’s decor. “My dining room is that pale blue and black, it just works perfectly and brings out the colors of the paintings and artwork in the room.”
Nussbaumer has a passion for all things floral. She even did the flowers for her book, Wanderlust: Interiors That Bring The World Home (Rizzoli). “I love mixing flowers and I like to give it a very English-y kind of feeling,” says the designer. “Like you cut these flowers from the garden. In fact, a lot of the flowers here were from my garden.” Nussbaumer added to it sunflowers and other stems that felt handpicked. “I don’t like a real stylized arrangement, I like something that feels a little more free form,” she says. The flowers spring from an Imari tureen, whose pattern mixes rather than matches the plates. “I think it’s great to have different kinds of containers that you can use. I have baskets, terracotta pots, very formal French vases, Ormolu vases, and crystal,” says Nussbaumer. “It’s great to have a big collection and mix it up that way.”
The designer says the key to napkins is having options. “I use so many of the napkins separately from the tablecloths. I think it’s important to mix things and have a lot of different choices in your cabinets so you can make the table your own. Nobody really wants to see a whole matching table, it’s so boring.”
Like her china and linens, Nussbaumer brings in a myriad of accents from around her home to lend an artful, layered look. “I love using things from my family that I've inherited and also things I have collected for years,” she says. “I have over thirty different patterns of china. I’m sort of china crazy!” The designer especially loves mixing fine china with more affordable pieces from shops like Anthropologie, Target, and World Market. “I have a big collection of salad plates that I'll put on top of my antique plates and you can totally change the look,” she continues. “People forget about using their china or just think they have to use it for something very formal when they really can mix it with even a glass plate or so many different things.”
“I love Matouk linens. I especially love the monograms, embroideries, and appliqué work. The Mirasol with its pale grey color goes with everything.”
Nussbaumer loves a simple Italian menu for entertaining, inspired by her time living in Italy. “The thing about Italian food is, the easier it is, the more delicious it is,” she says. “It is just fresh ingredients used in a simple way. I’m also from the south, so I like mixing in something like a pot roast or roasted chicken.” Whether the designer goes Southern or Italian, she keeps the final act humble. “I like a watermelon cut up or a fruit salad with a side plate of homemade cookies.”
Change Up The Charger
"I recently went to a friend's dinner party where she had decoupage chargers with wallpaper from her living room. They were really beautiful and it was a great idea. You could use a wicker charger, straw charger, a silver charger. There are so many different types of chargers that you can use to really switch it up in a room.”
Gift The Guest
"I think it’s really important to have a gift at each place setting. I like to do a taffy that I make in my own kitchen by hand and tie that in a pretty box with a bow. Each person has something to take home that is handmade.”
"It’s really fun to make the table memorable with different place cards. I do one thing that is sort of fun where I’ll take pictures of people’s eyes when they walk in and put that at each person's seat and they have to figure out who’s eyes belong with which person. It’s fun to search for your eyes and you can make a game out of it.”
Mix It Up
"I like everything to be fun when I have people over. I like to mix it up with both high and low pieces. I like to bring friends that are from all different walks of life together—a mix so that people meet new people. And then maybe pair a very formal seated table with maybe a buffet.”
Entertaining Style: Lightning Round
Tablecloth, placemats or both? “Tablecloth.”
Go to entertaining music? “A worldly mix, maybe French 1940’s with Mariachi band.”
Buffet, Family Style or Service? “Depends, really. For casual outdoor dinners, I like to do family-style. I prefer servers for a small, intimate dinner. And for large (over 50) parties, I like a buffet—it makes it fun and easy for the hostess. Whatever it is, it’s important to do what makes you comfortable.”
Cocktail or Wine? “Cocktail.”
Dress code or come as you are? “Come as you are.”
A good party can never have too many…“Dimmers are a must! I like eating by candlelight and usually turn the lights super low. It makes everyone look better and creates a mood. In my breakfast room, we only have candlelight chandelier, there's actually no lighting. It’s great for intimate dinners.”