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Shelly Rosenberg | Photo: Nathan Schroeder | July 9, 2013
Former fashion designer Mike Mousel’s rooms blend edgy with refined for a youthful sense of luxury.
Unconcerned with doctrine or pedigree, Dallas designer Mike Mousel frees himself to bend design rules. He delights in an artful mix of ready-made, custom, vintage and avant-garde furnishings, and while his spaces are serene and ordered, they vibrate with a playful energy that makes you smile. A delicate pair of gilt French chairs hold court with a robust settee wrapped in graffiti-print fabric. Zebra hide—real or faux—mingles with midcentury paintings, and high-end heirlooms play off of carefully curated flea market finds. Bookcases become walls for art, and wallpaper goes on ceilings. He’s mastered effortless chic. Ask Mousel and he’ll tell you there’s a carefree joy behind it all: “This is a new chapter in my life. It’s not focused on success. It’s not about money. It’s about passion.”
Authenticity is the mother of reinvention. A new twist on a familiar phrase describes this up-and-coming tastemaker’s inspiring path toward self-discovery. A two-time cancer survivor, Mousel understands the power of the proverbial second act. The multitalented creative already enjoyed a successful—albeit under-the-radar—career with a boutique, private-label clothing line. It was easy and comfortable. Yet, Mousel’s double bout with illness that began more than a decade ago, clarified a latent interest in interior design; realizing that has challenged his life choices ever since.
“It’s the classic story.” Mousel laughs, “I was the child always moving furniture around” in the numerous homes and cities his father’s career required. The family landed in Houston by his high school years. His significant interest in art and design drew him to SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. The BFA graduate loved his newfound city and the idea of becoming a painter, but was deterred by the notion of the “starving artist.” The complementary world of fashion, however, offered familiar comfort—his mother owned two Houston-area clothing stores at the time. Armed with industry connections, Mousel ventured to New York and quickly secured a position with Ralph Lauren’s wholesale division. The garment industry fostered his love for textiles, but he was more interested in dealing with people than products. He wound up in retail sales doing lots of traveling, and later launched his own clothing company. After seeing Mousel’s own homes, supportive peers often encouraged him to steer his expertise in a new direction—interiors. But, it wasn’t until he faced confrontation with mortality—a second time—that he had the courage to turn satisfied into happy.
This profound experience is the essence of Mousel’s design philosophy. He notes that most people yearn to live well, but don’t know what they want or how to get it. Earnest about “helping people discover themselves,” he admits it takes a bit of patience. Decades in sales honed his ear, as well as his keen eye. “I listen carefully to my clients and have a knack for hearing what is said between the lines.” For instance, Mousel identified with a Lake Highlands neighborhood couple’s desire for a transition in their lives. The empty nesters wanted to adopt a more modern style, but had no idea how to begin. Discovering their love for nature, Mousel identified textural fabrics, serene color schemes and updated accessories that perfectly exemplified the earthy simplicity the couple sought. The kicker was a vintage painting that Mousel found on a local hunt. “The large work had amazing, watery colors and the strokes suggested reeds in the wild,” he says. “It pulled the entire master suite together—they were thrilled and it became a favorite room in
A young Highland Park couple enjoyed a similar experience. Their favorite piece, by local photographer Jeff Scott, became the catalyst for Mousel’s entire design scheme and generated much-needed energy for the nondescript room. It’s this very jolt of life that characterizes Mousel’s talent. He serves as both enthusiastic team player and insightful coach. All clients participate in their projects, but ultimately they look to him to “guide and refine their choices,” he says. The necessary architectural elements, furnishings and fabrics are all part of Mousel’s winning playbook, but original art will always be the MVP. “Art is a foundational element in my spaces. It’s deeply personal and is a form of emotional expression; I want that for myself and my clients.”