Curator of the Contemporary – Dallas Modern Design Icon Emily Summers
January 22nd, 2014 | by The Update
In 2014, a new reality has taken root in sophisticated Dallas, and interior designer Emily Summers is at the forefront of creating spaces with a contemporary, artfully curated appeal. The designer, recently named to Architectural Digest’s “AD 100” for the fourth time, is known for blending period elements, textures and finishes into a vision that combines clean and crisp with soulful and elegant.
On a recent trip to Dallas, I had dinner at the modern, light-filled home that Summers shares with her husband, Steve. And as I got to know the designer better, my appreciation for her only grew, as did my fascination. How, I wondered, did this woman born and raised in Kansas City become such a passionate modernist? And how was she able to advance this passion in a city known for its grandiosity?
At first, Summers describes her teenage self as “just a normal high school student,” but a little probing reveals that she was a member of the National Honor Society, a volunteer for Red Cross and – this took some teeth-pulling – the “yearbook queen.” A scholarship to Southern Methodist University took her to Texas, and there she stayed, working in the fashion office of Neiman Marcus and striking up a relationship with the legendary Stanley Marcus – known to all as Mr. Stanley.
By this time, she was married to Steve Summers, a hedge fund manager whom she met at SMU. They wed in 1966 and had three children, Stephen, Caroline and Laura. Today, all three live in the Park Cities. Caroline has followed her mom’s style beacon, assisting with the sale and purchase of homes of architectural distinction as a Realtor with Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty.
Summers’ design: Lobby at Highland Park Village
Summers’ career as an interior designer began in earnest when she returned to SMU for graduate school, studying art history and design. “My professor, Alexandra Comini, was an expert in 20th century Viennese art, especially Wiener Werkstätte.” A trip to Austria proved a breakthrough experience for Summers. She became aware of Koloman Moser, Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffman, Klimt and Schiele, which further led her interest in Knoll, Mies Van der Rohe, Eileen Cray and Jean Royère.
That trip was a big movement for Summers, who until then had been living with traditional furniture left over from her family. However, Sarah Medford, who had written about one of the designer’s projects for Town & Country, believes Summers is not a modernist in the strictest sense. “She loves clean lines, but it is much more than that,” she explains. “Emily’s a curator of the best in decorative arts, regardless of style or period. And while her work always looks comfortable and of its time, it possesses real cultural resonance.”
Summers started designing interiors in 1979 and has been in business ever since. Her staff is small and the projects have been mostly in the South and West, although lately her direction has turned eastward, to the point where she has opened an office in New York City. The Summers family owns three houses – in Dallas, near Palm Springs and Colorado Springs – all built 1968. (A coincidence? Not likely.)
Initially, Palm Springs was more appealing for avid golfer Steve than for Summers herself. But she soon became involved in the community and its architectural legacy. (Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, Paul Williams and Donald Wexler all built there.) And what could be more seductive to a designer like Emily Summers than having a home in a place where there is an 11-day celebration every February called Modernism Week?
Summers loves the thrill of the hunt and will scour the planet to find just the right whatever for her clients – or for herself. “I’ve never met a designer as indefatigable as Emily,” says Medford. “She will go to the ends of the earth to find the next great object, whether it’s in a warehouse in Milan that all the furniture fairgoers have overlooked or in some Japanese village where they’re still dyeing fabrics according to an ancient technique.”
Her personal style, as you might expect, is no less exacting. Labels of choice include Alexander McQueen, Prada, Narciso Rodriquez, Lanvin and Mary Katrantzou. Mary who? Summers explains: “She is from Greece, works out of London and specializes in digital printing. You should really pay attention to her.”
Of course, I will – for no other reason than that Emily Summers told me to.
— By Pamela Fiori (Reprinted, in part, from 1st Dibs, May 2013)
Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty is Dallas’ luxury real estate leader, with more than 200 agents serving the Metroplex from our office at 5600 W. Lovers Lane, Suite 224, Dallas, Texas, 75209. CEO Robbie Briggs independently owns and operates Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, which has access to the global Sotheby’s network, including more than 11,000 agents in 600 offices worldwide. For more information on escapes and second homes, ranch and land, and luxury homes in the Metroplex region and beyond, go to briggsfreeman.com.