Susan Smith has designed home interiors for clients in Lake Tahoe, Sun Valley, Vail and Santa Fe, but ironically, her most challenging long-distance project was right here in Dallas.
“I didn’t get to meet the clients until we finished the project in early September,” Smith says of the couple from Knoxville, Tennessee, who commissioned her to turn their uptown Ritz-Carlton apartment into a comfortable second home. “We did everything by phone, by Facetime, email, text, and ‘FedExing’ things back and forth with drawings and fabrics and overall ideas. That’s really how we came up with the space.”
The couple came to her through a referral from a friend and local realtor, who specializes in luxury properties. They had seen Smith’s work on the website for her namesake company, Susan Smith Designs, and felt her focus on soft, contemporary spaces suited their lifestyle. Aside from requesting a neutral palette with pops of color in art and pillows, the new owners turned over the reins for the renovation on their Dallas hideaway. “They just wanted me to use my imagination and create something really special for them,” Smith says.
The special touches started with a complete kitchen makeover, which included putting in Dekton countertops and hardwood floors, painting the existing cabinetry and choosing faucets and hardware with a satin brass finish. To accommodate the shape of the adjacent living room, Smith installed a custom rug that follows the angles of the space and is cut out around the fireplace. “That might sound a little funky, but it really works great,” says Smith, who has a 14-year track record in interior design. A curved sofa, rounded ottoman and two club chairs create a mix of fluid shapes that offset the room’s strong angles.
The furnishings all were custom made locally to ensure they fit the apartment’s smaller dimensions, Smith notes, adding that she believes strongly in supporting Dallas design showrooms. She also commissioned a custom sleeper sectional upholstered in light stone-gray fabric and a pair of leather ottomans for the study, which doubles as a guest room for the couple’s two teenage sons. A hair-on-hide rug made in Argentina adds an unexpected touch of luxury, while vibrant orange throw pillows, and vivid pink and yellow flower photographs on wrapped canvas by artist Carolyn Brown give energy to the otherwise subdued space.
“Unless the client wants something different, I like soft contemporary design,” says Smith, adding that she tries to marry clean lines with comfortable furnishings to create spaces for entertaining and sleeping. She generally will meet with a client several times throughout the design process to collaborate on choosing colors, furnishings and fabrics, and frequently includes the client’s favorite pieces into a newly reimagined space.
“I think people at times are reluctant to use designers, because they might sponsor a complete do-over,” says Smith. “I really do like to incorporate the existing items that are important to the client, and keep that their home, not just my project.”
For the couple moving into the Ritz-Carlton, however, Smith was given carte blanche to design the apartment as she saw fit. The result is a serene, welcoming residence that has a Zen-like quality. Every detail of the space has been carefully thought out, from lined draperies that ensure a sound night’s sleep to textured wallpaper from French maker Élitis that adds visual interest to the living area without detracting from the bold artwork above the fireplace. Smith was equally meticulous in her choices when it came time to show the clients her handiwork.
“Before they came in we outfitted their apartment with everything, from linens and utensils to their favorite liquors and wines and gourmet food. We did the whole concierge service for them—even monogrammed towels—so it would be like walking into their personal hotel room; frankly, they were blown away,” she says, gleefully reminiscing about the grand reveal this past fall.
Adds Smith: “It was so fun to walk them through the space and tell them why I did things. As a designer, I don’t always get that kind of freedom. And, they have truly fallen in love with Dallas!”
Leslie J. Thompson is a Dallas-based freelance writer with a passion for interior design and profiling notable personalities.