|Nussbaumer prefers unusual color combinations such as this custom pea soup wall color with turquoise blue vases.|
Michelle Nussbaumer’s newly expanded home dcor shop deserves a standing ovation.
|LOUNGIN’: Michelle Nussbaumer pictured in one of her favorite areas of her store, a sunken room where she can meet with clients and customers. The sofa is of her own design, with 18th-century rose sash pillows. Also shown: mid-20th century brass-and-glass topped table; coral screen, hand painted by Richard Holton of Holton Arms.|
Like many decorators and store owners, Michelle Nussbaumer buys what she loves and then figures out a way to make it all work together. The difference at Ceylon et Cie, which has moved from its former 3,000-square-foot-space on Market Street into a massive new 10,000-square-foot-space on Dragon Street, is that it’s less like a store and more like great cinematography. Or better yet, theater. Ceylon et Cie has the drama and sweep of an opera set, with space divided by large hanging panels of Zuber wallpaper and chunky, angular white columns that Nussbaumer designed herself. This is not a store for merely shopping, but for experiencing. She really ought to sell tickets. One can imagine Madama Butterfly’s heroine Cio-Cio San weeping among the blanc de Chine porcelains, and at any moment Aida riding in on her elephant through the exotic Indian and African artifacts. La Bohème’s impoverished (but beautiful) heroine consumptively lies about everywhere, hand pressed to brow, dying among the peeling white French furniture and painted European wallpapers. These are passionate rooms. If Ceylon et Cie is not art, it is at least commerce at its most grand and creative.
|MIX IT UP: “Use items and furniture that you love, mix inherited pieces and new pieces, and it will all come together,” says Nussbaumer. The gothic chair is from Ceylon Portfolio and the commode is French Regency. Hand-colored 17th-century engraving by Basilius Bessler. The lamp is petrified wood and is said to be more than one million years old. Also shown: 1960s-era chrome and upholstery chair.|
“I’m an artist with objects and the store is my medium,” says Nussbaumer, quickly admonishing not to make her come off sounding pretentious. No worries here. Pretension is for dilettantes, and Nussbaumer is a pro when it comes to interior decoration. She’s been designing and producing a line of Hollywood Regency-inspired furniture for years, and her interior design business is booming. “My first store was just an antiques shop,” she says of the previous incarnation, which was crammed with objects and furniture. “Here, I can express myself more openly and play with design and scale and architecture. “
Free expression is rampant at Ceylon et Cie, where dozens of dramatically different room vignettes coexist with each other, and unusual color combinations are understated rather than garish. “My store is about the unexpected,” says Nussbaumer, who scours estate sales and flea markets all over the world to bring back one-of-a-kind pieces. A recent inventory of her stock included fine 20th-century furniture by Paul T. Frankl, Billy Haines, Jean Pascaud, Mies van der Rohe, and exotics like a 19th-century African currency collection, carved antique Indian mirrors, 17th-century Thai Buddhas, and a carved 19th-century Chinese wedding bed. Some of her favorites are an eglomis table by Jean Cocteau and a hand-painted Gustavian daybed. Staples at Ceylon et Cie are a large collection of old Chinese blue-and-white and blanc de Chine porcelains, Murano glass lamps and chandeliers, and white plaster torchiers, sconces, and lamps.
|THE PERFECT LOOK: Nussbaumer mixes many styles and eras in this ethnically inspired room. The bench is 19th century Burmese; Suzane Turkish tapestry from the Ottoman Empire. French Regency desk, Billy Haines chair. Also shown: a Buddha from Burma in the 16th century.|
What she buys is fine quality, but to her eye it must be a little off to work. “If it’s too perfect, it’s not really interesting,” says Nussbaumer, who covered a classic Louis XV armchair in an irreverent shade of split pea soup-and-white fabric that she designed to go with walls painted the same green. Things get even more off-kilter when she mixes different cultures and styles so that ornate pieces are made more casual and rustic pieces get a little more refined. She decorates in the layered way that Europeans live, with things inherited and collected during many generations. “In Europe, everyone stays in the same house, but in the United States, we change jobs, move, and change cities all the time, so we need to create a sense of history,” she says. That’s where Nussbaumer comes in, to help clients get a look that isn’t a look. “I don’t like the draperies to match the carpet. I don’t like looks, really. In Italy, no one has a house they decide to decorate Italian. It just doesn’t exist. Houses just evolve.”