Estate of the artist: Mid-century modern meets cheap motel?

Above, artist Erin Michaels’ home is filled with items that remind her of her family, travels and heroes. The abode is a museum of sorts, yet loved and lived-in, by, for example, her dog Hank, hiding under a granite coffee table. Below is jack-a-lope, “Poots,” who keeps watch over a long hallway. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)
Above, artist Erin Michael’s home is filled with items that remind her of her family, travels and heroes. The abode is a museum of sorts, yet loved and lived-in, by, for example, her dog Hank, hiding under a granite coffee table. Below is jack-a-lope, “Poots,” who keeps watch over a long hallway. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)

Inside the home, and mind, of an unapologetically whimsical fabric designer

A pad’s worth of prescriptions for psychiatric medications, scribbled by doctors in the 1950s, mounted on a faintly smudged white canvas underwrites a stop-in-your-tracks entryway. The outré design is one of homeowner Erin Michael’s own creations.But even as admirers express curiosity, she dismisses that sort of art as hobby and moves along to the next thing — a lanky cut of driftwood that resembles a headless eunuch who, she says, casts an eerie shadow across the blank wall at dusk.

“Art can be expensive,” which is her reason  for self-producing a portion of the fantastical items that adorn her mid-century contemporary-style abode. “Most of [the décor] is just what I like and what makes me happy.”

Rooms are festooned with a combination of unique collectables and remarkable derivatives of famous, otherwise unattainable, items: a version of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” a violent depiction of suffering and death during the Spanish Civil War, spans one master-bedroom wall. Above the bed is a reproduction of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Nude.” A drawing in a children’s book inspired a mural in her 9-year-old son’s quarters.

Color, irony and nostalgia, employed with precision, symmetry and disaffected whimsy, influence the home’s every element — strung together, it all looks like a Wes Anderson storyboard.

The room-roaming dog, donning a plaid bowtie collar, only adds to the effect.

A jack-a-lope called “Poots” overlooks the hallway (“That was Hank Williams’ nickname,” she explains); an entire guest suite imitates a 1950s motel room complete with “bad art” and vintage TV set; shelves of records, an old Crosby player and vintage cameras fill one nook; a Joseph Cornell-esque assemblage (in a glass dome rather than a box) showcases a mouse wearing a scarf riding a saddled partridge. “That one creeps some people out,” Michael says, “so I keep it off in the bedroom.”

Michael works as “right-hand man” to renowned photographer Laura Wilson, who, though famous in her own right, also is mother to actors Owen, Luke and Andrew Wilson (all of whom have starred in at least one movie directed by the aforementioned Anderson).

But that isn’t Michael’s actual job either, she says.

“I’m there mostly to learn from her and have a mentor. She is an amazing woman.”

Michael suffers from a touch of what she calls “Artistic Attention Deficit Disorder.”

Her main gig, if you must pin her down, is as designer for Moda, a Dallas-based fabric company that her family owns.

Her line shines in its quirkiness — bucking horses, sock monkeys, cats, geometrically shaped cats, cats wearing the cone of shame, all in bold colors and often representative of pop culture throughout the decades. She’s in an equine-loving, Texas-proud phase right now, she explains, pointing to a paint-by-numbers pinto, left drying in her workshop. (Note: That paint-by-numbers smell may produce an intense rush of childhood memories.) Her customer, in general, is the quilting community. “It is a small but passionate industry, with loyal and lovely buyers,” she says. Moda sells only to brick-and-mortar stores, so, in Dallas, items are available at Urban Spools in Casa Linda.

Michael purchased her home in 2011. Before construction even wrapped, she knew it was perfect.

Clockwise from top left: Michaels’ home embodies her witty, charmingly deranged sensibilities. A replica of Picasso’s “Guernica” monopolizes one wall in the master bedroom, where a faintly anatomically correct heart of gold serves as an accent pillow. The kitchen area is sleek, uncluttered, monochromatic — cozy enough for a quick dinner with her young son, with a bar that stretches into a party-accomodating dining room. The mouse in a scarf riding a saddled quail? She concedes there is no real explanation for that one. A cat wearing the so-called “cone of shame” is central to one of her current best-selling fabric designs. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)
Clockwise from top left: Michael’s home embodies her witty, charmingly deranged sensibilities. A replica of Picasso’s “Guernica” monopolizes one wall in the master bedroom, where a faintly anatomically correct heart of gold serves as an accent pillow. The kitchen area is sleek, uncluttered, monochromatic — cozy enough for a quick dinner with her young son, with a bar that stretches into a party-accomodating dining room. The mouse in a scarf riding a saddled quail? She concedes there is no real explanation for that one. A cat wearing the so-called “cone of shame” is central to one of her current best-selling fabric designs. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)

The Old Lake Highlands development where she lives originally was built to hold four 2,000-square-foot homes, but now will feature three slightly larger dwellings; construction has yet to commence on the third. Architect Cliff Welch’s “small and specialized” firm designed the entire enclave. He also advised Michaels as she added a garage and studio behind the home, as well as a back wing including a bedroom and play area for son, Finn, whose clear affinity for vintage Star Wars, dinosaurs and astrology plays well off his mom’s sensibilities.

Welch says he draws architectural inspiration from modern structures of the last century — “regional materials, local climate, and surrounding context … natural light, clarity of form … honesty of materials” are fundamental to each project.

“Our hope is that the architecture we are creating today may someday be worthy of restoration by future generations.”

Michael previously lived in a mid-century built home, but maintenance became cumbersome for the hardworking single mother. This gave her the style she loves (“Can you tell I love the 1950s?” she asks rhetorically. “It always comes back to that.”), with modern materials.

It is always a work in progress, she says. Though the big things, like the studio and other expansions, are complete, her affinities are ever evolving. Therefore, the tapestry that surrounds her will continue to morph.

“My house is my sanctuary, my identity,” she says.

Taking a risk, she has agreed to participate in next month’s White Rock Home Tour, where ticketholders will be allowed to explore her abode. “It’s terrifying letting people into your most vulnerable space,” she says, “but I also want to share it, and it’s for a good cause.”

The guest room (left) resembles a dive-y 1950s motel room, right down to the old analog alarm clock. As in the bathroom (right) clean lines and natural woods are tempered with a touch of offbeat sculpture and splashes of color. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)
The guest room (left) resembles a dive-y 1950s motel room, right down to the old analog alarm clock. As in the bathroom (right) clean lines and natural woods are tempered with a touch of offbeat sculpture and splashes of color. (Photos by Danny Fulgencio)

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