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The Art of Living

By Nadia Dabbakeh, Holly Haber and Kristie Ramirez

Photography by Billy Surface and Dania Valdez | Jeffrey Lee photo by Thom Jackson | Swoon photo by Katrina Dickson


The evolving creative landscape of Dallas can be directly related to the seven people on these pages, whose inventive work yields exciting environmental change.

Jeffrey Lee
Here’s the reason Grange Hall is such an experience.

In the dark and mysterious imaginarium that is Grange Hall, among the delicate Nymphenburg porcelain and caviar-topped sandwiches, is the best-kept secret of Dallas’ most discriminating aesthetes. Co-owner Jeffrey Lee is the designer behind most of the decor in the shop and restaurant, having created the brutalist lights above the new bar and the metal, velvet and mirrored installation that lines the wall, for instance. But it’s his art that has collectors vying for a piece of the Jeffrey Lee Project. “I was doing cross-contour drawings on a large scale in charcoal, and I wanted them to become 3D,” he explains of his popular new bailing wire and buoy sculptures, which are being purchased as fast as he can finish them. “I wanted them to be very primitive and simple but take up a lot of space—a play on drawings, but in the air.” The Parsons grad, whose runway pieces will soon be featured in a retrospective in 1814 Magazine, always brings fashion into his work. “A lot of my artwork deals with fabric and construction. A little bit of vanity is thrown in there, the way people view themselves, so some mirrors and stuff like that.” This includes his recent Little Green Dress project, a miniature frock made from outdoor fabric that spent several weeks installed in Turtle Creek (and will soon make a debut in Elle Decor)and the laboriously handsewn pillows stitched with cotton and silk. Soon, we may see Lee make the transition from retail space to gallery. “For a long time, the store has been my outlet for showing Dallas my work, but I think I would like to show my work in a more focused environment.”

William Brown
His striking food illustrations are garnering national attention.

“I went to Osteria when I was in Italy,” says William Brown, referring to the three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Modena. “We were walking around back and ran into Massimo Bottura in the alley, and I showed him my sketches of his lemon tart, so he took my brother and I back into the kitchen and made us each a plate.” The 23-year-old sketch artist (@wbrown34) often finds himself in the kitchens of the world’s most famous chefs—Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern—thanks to his detailed marker and colored pencil illustrations of their most famous dishes. A second-generation foodie (his mother is a pastry chef), the Dallas native started sketching in his notebooks while at culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. From there, he nurtured the habit while interning at the Google offices in New York, cooking for 7,000 employees by day and staging in his favorite restaurants by night. “Instead of being able to eat at Gramercy, I would spend the night looking over the kitchen and sketching—and they’d usually feed me,” he says with a shrug. Until the editor of Food & Wine contacted him to feature his work, it was just a hobby. Now, his days are spent under the tutelage of chef Joanne Bondy at Stocks & Bondy while he works on his first-ever large-form pieces for chef John Tesar, who commissioned work for Knife, Plano. “Eventually, I’d like to be able to fully sustain myself on the artwork,” he says. “I’d love to illustrate a cookbook next.” 

Samantha Reitmayer Sano and Joslyn Taylor in the lobby of The Adolphus, which they designed together.

Swoon, the studio 
The sky’s the limit for this stylish design power duo.

“It’s about creating the best version of a client, sometimes one they didn’t even realize was there,” explains Samantha Reitmayer Sano of the work she and Joslyn Taylor do as the creative forces behind SWOON, the studio, a multidisciplinary design firm. Their personal stamp of style has opened doors for them all over Dallas, where they seem to have a hand on everything deemed cool in the city: They’ve rebranded for Forty Five Ten, done installations at the Dallas Museum of Art and created magazines for Highland Park Village and The Joule. But their most significant accomplishments may be their hotel renovations. “We had never done a hotel, so when Jennifer Littke [Set & Co.] approached us to do The Adolphus, we thought she just wanted some help with branding, maybe a coffee shop.” The biz partners laugh. “But she said, ‘No, I want you to do the lobbies, The French Room, The French Room Bar and Salon, a restaurant, a barber shop, a retail store and a ballroom.’ We said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’” The project was so successful, they’re working on two more—a complete renovation at a hotel in Charleston, S.C., and Dallas’ new Virgin Hotel. “This all happens when an amazing person takes a big risk on you, and advocates for what you do and your aesthetic sensibility.” Maybe. But maybe they’re just the coolest duo in Dallas.

Allison V. Smith 
Photographer Allison V. Smith revels in artfully documenting her home state.

Longtime photojournalist Allison V. Smith has a boldface client list and assignments ranging from documenting domestic violence in Dallas to shooting Barbara Bush’s hush-hush wedding in Maine. But her personal work—which she intends to publish in a book by 2020—is all about Texas. “I’m a proud Texan, like Texans are,” she says. Her godfather, historian A.C. Greene Jr., sparked her interest in the state’s vast outback. When she left her newspaper position in 2004 to freelance, she and now-husband Barry Whistler hopped in a car and headed for Marfa, photographing along the way. “It ended up being a series that I continue to work on all these years later,” she reflects. “The big sky, the big empty sky is key, and the light and simplicity. I really work on composition to make them kind of quiet.” Unlike her media work, she captures these scenes on film with a Hasselblad. “This camera really slows me down,” Smith says. “You have to frame and compose each shot because there are only 12 frames on each roll, so each one is precious.”  

In addition to the Guadalajara base of Cerámica Suro, José Noé Suro has recently acquired a new factory in Monterrey to keep up with demand.

José Noé Suro
The man behind so many Dallas projects finally steps into the spotlight.

If you’ve eaten at Sassetta, shopped at Forty Five Ten or been stopped in your tracks when walking Main Street downtown by the site of the blue tile-covered Commissary, you’ve experienced the world of Cerámica Suro. Whether it’s the plates you’ve eaten off of or the glossy tile you’ve walked across, José Noé Suro’s Guadalajara-based manufacturing company played a part in your experience, which we guarantee was elevated because of it. His late father founded the business in the 1950s, and Suro himself came on board in the ’90s with one of his first Dallas-connected jobs, Rosewood Hotels’ Las Ventanas al Paraíso with Tricia Wilson. But his passion for art and collecting led him to expand the business to include wildly creative projects with artists. “This sounds like a joke, but it’s not,” says Suro. “My father would fire me every Friday and rehire me every Monday.” Decades later, Cerámica Suro regularly hosts contemporary artists from around the world for residencies at its base in Guadalajara and has grown to include residential projects, many of which are in Dallas. “I love Dallas,” says Suro. “The city has offered me so many opportunities and I’ve made some of my closest friends there.” Did we mention that the buzzy Mexican restaurant called José on Lovers Lane is named after him? See, we weren’t kidding when we said you’ve been a part of his world.

John Sughrue
Art is a driving force in all of Brook Partners’ projects.

John Sughrue’s Boston accent betrays his roots, but when people ask where he’s from, his response is “Dallas.” In 29 years of residence, the founder and CEO of Brook Partners has done more than embrace his adoptive city—he’s enhanced it. Now, the co-creator of the Dallas Art Fair, Fashion Industry Gallery and Magnolia cinema has a new project: River Bend, a 70,000-square-foot center freshly renovated for galleries, offices and eateries in the burgeoning Design District. Fronting Irving Boulevard and Manufacturing Street, River Bend will present a pop-up gallery featuring dealers who exhibit in the Dallas Art Fair, which is moving its office to the property but not the fair itself. The center will also house James Cope’s And Now Gallery. Emphasizing its proximity to the Trinity River, River Bend’s facade displays an 11-part tile riverscape by London artist Clare Woods, plus eight river city maps. “We have a great natural resource that, like so many cities, we’ve neglected,” Sughrue says. “We’re trying to make that connection with the river.”