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Meet Your New Neighbors, Dallas

These five families recently came from the far corners of the country to make Dallas their new home. Boy, were they surprised.
By Haley Arnold, and | |Photography by Elizabeth Lavin
Megha-and-Nirav-Tolia-sitting-living-room
Elizabeth Lavin

We started out wanting to understand why so many people are coming from the far corners of the country to make Dallas their new home.

Of course, we already knew what these outsiders had come to appreciate: that it’s easier and cheaper to play tennis here, get great queso and margs here, and find a 12,000-square foot house with a pool, riding stables, and parking for 37 here.

So maybe it wasn’t so much about understanding why people might choose to live here. Maybe it was more about confirming something we hoped was true: that we were right. That we were right to move here and stay here despite rising temperatures, the desecration of the Lakewood Whole Foods, and the destruction of the Village Tennis Center. That the existence of El Rio Grande Latin Markets, the opening of Meridian, and the fact that four out of every five friends have their own pool and are happy to share are consolation enough.

We sat down with five families in their spectacular homes to talk about why they chose to move to Dallas in the last year or two and confirm our own life choices.

What we learned? You can make more friends here, buy a bigger house here, find more quiet and creative time here, and get more help with carpool here. No big surprises, but it’s nice to hear that when people who could literally live anywhere in the world are given the choice, they pick here.

So, yeah. We were right. Now, how about we introduce your new neighbors? — Kathy Wise

Casa Nostra

Megha and Nirav Tolia

Megha and Nirav Tolia could live anywhere in the world. But after two years in Italy, they chose Highland Park.

Megha and Nirav Tolia decided to hit reset on their fast-paced lives in San Francisco in 2019. At the time, Nirav was CEO of the wildly popular neighborhood social network Nextdoor, and Megha was an executive with consumer goods manufacturer S.C. Johnson. They packed up their house and, along with their three sons, moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Florence, Italy. Nirav stepped back from C-suite duties to teach a class for Stanford, his alma mater, and Megha studied Italian. The entire family immersed themselves in European culture and, they say, loved every moment of it.

“It wasn’t that we were looking to migrate or that we were unhappy,” Nirav says. “It was more the realization that while our kids are young and growing, we wanted to give them an environment that’s really geared toward family.”

“I don’t know that Dallas was ever our original plan,” Megha says. “But there’s a silver lining with COVID. We had a wonderful opportunity to think deeply about what’s important to us and where we could be.” After two years living abroad, they chose the Park Cities to be closer to Nirav’s family. 

The modern-day power couple wasted little time jumping back into their successful careers. For Nirav, that meant becoming a guest investor on Shark Tank. For Megha, that meant landing a gig as the first president and COO of Shondaland, Shonda Rhimes’ television production company best known for hit shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and Bridgerton. But, they say, moving to Dallas has meant an emphasis on spending time together—and many more family dinners around the table.

“We feel very welcomed,” Nirav says. “We’re not just coexisting in different houses. There’s this shared sense of belonging and community.”

The Tolias cite great schools as another factor for their relocation. Their kids have been enrolled in three different schools the past three years; in the fall, they’re enrolled at St. Mark’s. 

“One of the things that has been so wonderful to experience in Dallas is this sense of community, tradition, and family first,” Megha says. “It’s not that these components don’t exist in California. But here the ‘It takes a village’ mentality is real. We’ve found that everyone’s willing to chip in and help—whether it is picking up our kids from school or riding bikes in the neighborhood. It is something we’ve embraced and we feel very lucky to be a part of.” —Brandon Call

Flowers & Styling: Brianna Larson
Baubles in the Bubble

Lele Sadoughi

Lele Sadoughi moved to NYC to build her accessories brand. Now she’s back—and experiencing much of the city for the first time.

Lele Sadoughi’s colorful, maximal jewelry creations are a clear indication that the accessories designer long ago embraced a go-big-or-go-home philosophy. But when she decided to open a retail store to showcase the statement-making earrings, headbands, and other bold baubles for which her New York-based brand is known, the Dallas native went big and went home. 

Last May, Sadoughi debuted her inaugural namesake boutique at Highland Park Village, filling it with her celeb-approved embellishments—many of which have been worn by the likes of Jill Biden, Lady Gaga, and Kate Middleton—as well as exclusive Texas-themed pieces such as a Lone Star headband adorned with longhorns, cowboy hats, and boots. But opening the Dallas outpost wasn’t just about business. Within a couple of months of the store’s launch, Sadoughi and her husband had left New York City in the rearview mirror, purchasing a home in Preston Hollow and enrolling their two kids at Greenhill School, Sadoughi’s alma mater. 

“My office is still in New York, so I wanted some connectivity to the brand,” says the designer, who previously worked for Tory Burch, J. Crew, Rebecca Taylor, and other top brands before launching her own line in 2012. “It was important to foster the first store and be there in person, so that’s why Dallas was a big initiative for us.” 

Sadoughi was so certain that she wanted to move back to her hometown and open her first boutique here that when she got the call that a spot had become available in Highland Park Village, she signed a lease without ever entering the space. The move paid off. Not only did the Dallas store just celebrate one successful year of business, but it has led to a second location in Newport Beach, California. Sadoughi also hopes to launch up to a dozen additional stores over the next two years. “We have big plans to roll out,” she says. “We’re doing very well in Highland Park Village, so we’re going to see where else we can do that.”

On the personal front, Sadoughi has enjoyed being close to her 40-plus family members who also call Dallas home, as well as working with local charities such as Salood, which provides financial aid to families dealing with pediatric cancer. 

Finding her social circle in Dallas has also come surprisingly easy for Sadoughi. “Normally when you move in my stage of life, meaning my kids are 7 and 9, it might be harder to meet new people,” she says. “However, there are so many other people who also uprooted their lives and moved here. So it’s almost like a sorority rush because there are so many new people who are wanting to become friends.” —Rhonda Reinhart

Improved Terroir

Danié Gómez-Ortigoza and Nicolas Guillant

Multimedia artist Danié Gómez-Ortigoza and wine exec Nicolas Guillant are old pros at breaking new ground.

Since they met, Danié Gómez-Ortigoza and her husband, Nicolas Guillant, have gone through six moves together, living in cities such as New York, Madrid, Toronto, and Stockholm. “We’re used to moving,” Gómez-Ortigoza says. “We’re nomads.”

For seven years, the couple and their two sons—opera-singing Dominic, 8, and science-loving Sebastian, 10—called Miami home. But last August, the family headed west to Dallas when Guillant’s job as a wine executive required a relocation. “Every time I have a new assignment, we end up in a new city,” says Guillant, who was born in Paris and directs U.S. operations for the French wine producer Gérard Bertrand. “It’s easier for me because of my work. Danié has to re-create her world.”

In Miami, Gómez-Ortigoza, who originally hails from Mexico City, was best known as a fashion influencer and journalist, working as a correspondent for Glamour Mexico. But she also co-founded The Bazaar for Good, an annual event that raises funds for children in need around the world, and launched Journey of a Braid, an art practice focused on hair braiding as a means of societal connection.

Through her photography and in-person braiding ceremonies, Gómez-Ortigoza aims to trace the “invisible thread” that braids us all together. “I believe in our connection to our hair as an extension of the soul,” she says. “It’s so easy to tear each other apart and to put people into boxes. Braids are the best metaphor for togetherness.”

Over the past year, Gómez-Ortigoza has found life in Dallas to be slower-paced than what she’s used to, a welcome change that has boosted her creativity. “The silence that I’m getting here and the space to create is awesome,” she says, “because in Miami, everyone saw me as an influencer, and that pulls you to all sorts of events. You’re here and there, and there’s no silence. And to bring all the things I want to bring to life, what I need the most is precisely that.”

Though life in Texas might be a little bit slower for the former Floridians, they’ve wasted no time getting to know their new environs. The couple settled in North Dallas to be close to Dallas International School, where their trilingual sons are enrolled, but they’ve discovered inspiring outlets throughout the city. 

“I used to come here a lot for business, and it looked, to me, like typical suburban America,” Guillant says. “Then, since we moved, I’ve been very happily surprised. There is much more culture here than a lot of cities across the U.S. And Texas is the only place where you have such a strong state love. Florida doesn’t have the same spirit.” —R.R.

Drawing Room

Donald Robertson

Drawing Room Artist Donald Robertson discovered an unexpected creative wellspring in the Park Cities.

When Donald Robertson rolled into Dallas early last year with his wife and three of his five children, the California transplants hit the ground running—quite literally in the case of 8-year-old twins Charlie and Henry. “I think they started playing football the day we arrived,” says the Estée Lauder creative director and artist, whose 225,000 Instagram followers go wild for his whimsical “tongue-in-chic” works. “We couldn’t even get a game organized in Los Angeles. Now I have a quarterback and a receiver.”

Meanwhile, 17-year-old son Teddy wasted no time settling into Greenhill School’s performing arts program, recently playing Prince Eric in a production of The Little Mermaid and earning a nomination for a coveted Schmidt and Jones Award. “I’m like, Texas, are you kidding me? This was my kid that I was going to write off and just be like, ‘Oh, well, you’re just going to have to deal,’  ” Robertson says. “We had low expectations for musical theater in Texas. But the theater at Greenhill is crazy. It’s like Broadway theater in the middle of Addison.” 

Robertson’s new home base has also been kind to wife Kim, a decorator who quickly found a kindred spirit in fellow interior designer Cathy Kincaid, who has been busy putting the finishing touches on the family’s Highland Park home. “The two of them are getting on like a house on fire. Every time I go home, Cathy is standing in my living room with some horrible thing that I can’t afford,” Robertson jokes.

As for Robertson himself, Dallas seems to have fully embraced his signature wit, clamoring for the humor-infused pieces he posts frequently on Instagram (@drawbertson), as well as the works he produces for local art shows. After Robertson was in town for just a year, in fact, Park House staged a sold-out exhibition of cheeky, Texas-themed paintings by the artist, including Haute Cowture (featuring a herd of longhorns sporting stripes, polka dots, and vibrant hues), Texas Caviar (an ode to Ro-Tel), Mustang Sally (inspired by a certain university mascot), and Peggy (starring everyone’s favorite winged red horse). A recent show of Robertson’s work at Cerulean Gallery was also a sellout. 

“Dallas is a really good town to sell art in,” he says, noting Dallasites’ particular fondness for his commissioned family portraits, as well as the abundance of big, blank walls in the city’s voluminous new builds. “It’s just been incredible to watch all the houses come down in Highland Park. I think every single person is moving here. We weren’t early, but we got in here before there was nothing left to get. Now every other property is a blank lot. It’s a boomtown.”—R.R.

Local Color

Sharon Lee and Max Clark

Designer Sharon Lee left Los Angeles minimalism behind to embrace her maximalist Southern soul.

Though former West Coaster Sharon Lee had lived in California all her life, moving her family and business to Dallas felt like coming home. The founder and CEO of textile and home decor company Krane Home says the move just made sense for her work. Her design aesthetic, which fuses her Korean heritage with her American roots, has always meshed more with the maximalist, color-loving designs of Southern interiors. So when she was welcomed with open arms by local designers and clients even before she unpacked her first suitcase, she knew she had made the right choice.

Since settling in to her University Park home with her husband, Max Clark, and two sons in December 2020, Lee has embraced a bolder color palette in her design choices, a sharp contrast from the modern minimalism heralded in her former hometown of Los Angeles.

“I’ve noticed that people in Dallas really love to entertain in their homes,” she says. “Everyone has been so inviting and so warm. The social aspect is more approachable and inclusive.” 

She’s also noticed that Dallas women take serious pride in their wardrobes, a particular source of excitement for the fashion lover, who delves into her creative side when dressing up. And, she’s discovered, the sheer number of local affairs gives her plenty of opportunities to do so.

“There’s always a charity element to all the fashion events, which are two of my biggest passions,” she says. “There’s so much creativity, especially with the women in Dallas, and I love the fact that I’m able to go to something every day and meet new people and make meaningful connections through these events.”

Recently, Lee collaborated with Coach on a philanthropic endeavor of her own, painting bags with the help of children who walked the runway at the Children’s Cancer Fund’s “Color Out Cancer” gala in April. The one-of-a-kind accessories were then available for purchase at the gala’s auction. 

On a professional level, Lee’s relocation to Texas has felt like a natural opportunity to thrive. “It’s funny,” she says, “because more often than in L.A., people will recognize me in the wild.” And on a personal level, Dallas has also offered her family plenty of room to grow: as a result of the move, they went from 1,500 to 6,000 square feet. 

“We found a town that is just such a good fit for both me and my husband and our family,” Lee says. “We feel so lucky to have found a little neighborhood that we love.” —Haley Arnold


This story originally ran in the July issue of D Magazine with the headline, “New Kids on the Block.” Email [email protected].

Authors

Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

Brandon J. Call

Brandon J. Call

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Brandon J. Call is the executive editor for D CEO magazine. An award-winning business and data journalist, Call previously served…
Rhonda Reinhart

Rhonda Reinhart

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Credits

Produced by Kaylah Key

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