It’s important to note from the get-go that Muffin Lemak does not consider herself to be preppy. If we were talking about “old school” preppy, she might have a case. She has a propensity to dress her dogs Coco and Gucci in outfits complete with hats, she collects modern and contemporary art, and then there’s the fact that Hollywood producers for several reality shows have pursued her family with a vengeance in hopes of capturing the Lemaks’ eccentricities on film. Most important, there’s nothing stuffy or staid about Lemak; she’s a whirlwind—always laughing, with a ton of activity around her.
(above left) Muffin Lemak, collector and one-half of the Design Girls, at her doorstep with her pup Gucci who sports a pink sombrero. (above right) Sunlight from the window illuminates a tranquil under-stair nook complete with loveseat and locally crafted starburst mirror. A shell sculpture, a gift from Muffin Lemak’s husband John, reminds her of the East Coast. The space is full of subtle details, including the painted intricate pattern around the alcove and the faux compass on the floor painted by Vivian Elmore.
All that being said, the woman’s name is “Muffin” (short for Eleanor)—and you can’t get any preppier than that.
Lemak and business partner, Susan Palma, are known in Dallas for their fun, eclectic—and, yes, preppy—take on classic interiors. They have a symbiotic relationship—Palma brings the slipcovers and Lemak brings the Lucite. “We definitely listen to the client, but we’re known for mixing things up. We like the idea of fine antiques mixed with contemporary art,” she says. The designers met in 1995 at Christ the King Catholic Church. Both had kids enrolled in the weekly CCD class. “We were both East Coast girls, and we hit it off immediately,” Lemak says. One thing led to another, and they were suddenly in business together.
|Aqua silk curtains pair with aqua leather chairs in the dining room. The room’s European and Oriental influences are evident in the silk Fortuny chandelier, hand-painted designs on the silk wallpaper, a pair of French sconces, an antique mirror from a Parisian flea market, and corals mounted on acrylic.|
That sort of serendipity isn’t uncommon in Lemak’s world. Born and raised in Boston, she came to Dallas in 1973 to study art at SMU, and her days on the East Coast were numbered. She met her husband, John, on campus. He, incidentally, hails from New Jersey. “He came all the way from the East Coast,” she chuckles, “and didn’t even end up with a Southern girl.”
|(above left) The round dining room table is draped in gold and bordered by aqua silk curtains. A large shell contains smaller shells that hail from beaches and oceans all over the world—many of which are treasures from the Lemaks’ travels. (above right) Across from the dining room is the sitting room, Lemak’s favorite room. The English chest is made entirely of papier-mâché and couples with her husband’s latest modern art acquisition.|
The Lemaks married and eventually bought their Park Cities home in 1993, filling it with children (four), antiques, and art. At the time she favored what she calls “faux impressionistic beach scenes.”
After a couple of decades of piling it on, Lemak began to scale back, editing out collections and streamlining her look. “It could be age,” she explains. “Now all but one of my kids is gone. I’m going through this cleansing state. A lot of my friends and clients are going through it, too.”
It could also be explained by a return to her roots. “Everything is so disposable now. When I was growing up, you had a couch for 20 years and you recovered it—well, in Boston, we didn’t even recover it. You had the same kitchen, same living room, same master suite—all of it—everything lasted a lifetime.”
(above left) The recently renovated kitchen blends Lemak’s Boston roots with clean Asian lines and accessories. Her collection of blue-and-white is a nod to the classic East Coast style. The various plates are Chinese porcelain, and the rug is an Oriental art-deco piece. (above right) The dining portion of the kitchen den draws its materials and inspiration from as distant as the Far East and as near as downtown. The focal point of this Nantucket-inspired kitchen den is the array of Chinese porcelain plates above the cream limestone fireplace. Stark Carpet made custom rugs from the design of one of Lemak’s Oriental plates.
The Design Girls’ business might suffer if everyone in town adopted that sensibility, but there’s little chance of that happening.
And even Lemak hasn’t completely given up on collecting. The beach-scene paintings have been relegated to storage to make room for a new passion: contemporary art. So far, she has between 20 and 25 pieces, including those by David LaChapelle and Richmond Burton. Lemak also prizes an early painting by David Bates, the noted contemporary painter. “We went to school together at SMU. We were in the same painting class,” she says.
“The more I learn, the more I appreciate it. I like pieces that make you stop and look—and think.”
Leave it to Muffin Lemak to put modern and monogram together.
|A perfect blend of comfort and practicality, the “kitchen den” was the result of the 2006 renovation. It’s here that the family gathers while the food is cooking. Lemak transformed an old vase into the lamp. She wishes she could take credit for the needlepoint pillows that complement the sofa.|
|(above left) The Richmond Burton painting is a perfect complement to the nautical-inspired guestroom’s bedspread and headboard. It’s currently Lemak’s favorite piece of art. (above right) The sunroom was designed to make Lemak feel as though she were “sitting in an arbor.” Lemak restored the faux ivory feet on an Oriental wedding chest and elevated its height in the room. Actual bamboo frames the space, while a delicate vine design, the work of Vivian Elmore, adds an element of the jungle to this private suntrap.|