Everything might be bigger in Texas, but for interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer, the smallness of the Swiss village of Gstaad is magic to her soul.
By Angela Caraway-Carlton
While flat, metropolitan Dallas, Texas and the soaring, snow-draped mountains of quaint Gstaad, Switzerland, could hardly be more different, the two distinctive places that renowned interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer calls home often feel warmly familiar.
“As a Texan, we have a love and a reverence for the land, and it’s very similar in Switzerland with the farmers,” says Nussbaumer. “When we were last in Gstaad, we were walking through the woods to the [Mirage] exhibit, and we passed this family of farmers eating their lunch outside, and they were all yodeling together. The soulfulness of their voices—it was magical.”
“Magical” is a word that Nussbaumer uses time and again to describe Gstaad, an idyllic village in southwest Switzerland known for its powdery slopes, gingerbread-brown chalets, opulent resorts—and a reputation for drawing a flashy, jet-set crowd of royals and celebs. Although Nussbaumer was born and raised in Texas, she’s always had a family connection with the picturesque Alpine village; growing up, her uncle had a home there, and later, she met and married Swiss movie producer Bernard Nussbaumer, whose family owns Institut Le Rosey in Gstaad, one of the most prestigious and expensive boarding schools in the world. All four of their children attended the private school, and since marrying 36 years ago, Nussbaumer has spent every Christmas in Gstaad, often staying through winter, and then summering there as well.
“When I married my husband, no one had even heard about Gstaad. I would say only since Instagram happened did Gstaad come on the map. In all the years I’ve been there, I’d never met an American there until recently,” says Nussbaumer, joking that her children would be upset that she’s telling more people about the cherished escape they wish could remain secret. “It’s a fairy-tale wonderland,” she gushes, “a little village where everyone knows each other, and it feels like nothing bad can ever happen there.”
Sweet Swiss Serenity
What does happen for Nussbaumer in the serenity of Gstaad? The acclaimed interior designer unleashes passions that she rarely dabbles in, due to a demanding work schedule and constant globetrotting. Peek at her Instagram, and you’ll see Nussbaumer has an extreme case of wanderlust, always traveling for new design inspiration—her latest journeys include Morocco and an upcoming trip to Uzbekistan. While at home in Dallas, she’s busy transforming clients’ homes and running her vibrant showroom, Ceylon et Cie, chock-full of her furniture collection of the same name, her beloved line of fabrics and textiles (a modern interpretation of classic ikats and indigenous patterns and prints) and treasures from around the world. Known for as a trailblazer, always immersed in new and various projects, this year Nussbaumer will also introduce a new line with luxe Vervain and expand her Rock Candy jewelry line. Additionally, she’s now writing her second book—about the restoration of a family hacienda in Mexico— that’s due out in 2020. Her first book, Wanderlust: Interiors That Bring the World Home, was released in 2016.
But while visiting her sanctuary in Gstaad, Nussbaumer embraces the village’s signature motto: “Come Up, Slow Down.” She indulges in her love of painting and forages for mushrooms to cook decadent mushroom risotto and plucks fresh vegetables from her expansive garden.
“It’s one of the rare places that I like to cook. The produce is just so fresh and beautiful,” she says. “Life just slows down there, and you always want to be outside. I always have this feeling like the birds in Europe sing more than in America.”
Drawn to the area’s pristine environment, Nussbaumer deepens her connection to nature by riding horses, embarking on sleigh and dog-sled rides in winter or taking long hikes. With its moorland landscapes, deep gorges and valleys and sky-high mountaintops, Gstaad is billed as a hiker’s paradise in summer. Some of her favorites are the Lauenensee Loop Trail, an easy, beautiful walk along famous Lake Lauenen, or Wasserngrat, Gstaad’s smallest ski area recognized for the region’s steepest ski run, “Tiger Run.” Furthermore, Wasserngrat Mountain Restaurant is known for its rustic-chic vibe, breathtaking vistas and delicious fondue. “In the summer, you can hike up and have lunch, or in the winter, you can hike up and ski down if you’re really brave,” she advises.
Like any good European knows, day spas are a valued ritual, and Nussbaumer suggests unwinding at Six Senses Spa at The Alpina Gstaad, a five-star hotel, where the design and treatments are influenced by the Alps and Asia. A day there means alternating between hot and cold plunge pools in the sprawling indoor pool complex or basking in the Himalayan salt room or color therapy room.
Home Swiss Home
Unlike her Dallas residence, which Nussbaumer describes as an English country home, her Gstaad getaway is a 300-year-old chalet with low ceilings, old Swiss painted furniture and Italian antiques splashed with her much-loved patterns and color. “It’s this flowery, crazy explosion,” she says. “It’s often very snowy, so I brought the garden in. It’s so happy in there.” Both homes are draped with fabrics she’s designed, antique carpets and layers of her life—paintings by her children, her husband’s photography and items she’s amassed from around the world. Not surprisingly, years of living in Europe, especially her time in Rome, has inspired Nussbaumer to infuse a sense of easy formality into her design style. “In Europe, rooms are not for show; they’re meant to be used. They have a more personal style. It’s not a trend or something they’ve seen on Pinterest. They use items they’ve collected or inherited,” Nussbaumer explains. “So, I try to help my clients feel like their house is a personal space, created with things they love, their memories and history, yet still a modern house. I think it needs to be personal to them, not personal to me.”
While many nights in Gstaad are spent with family and friends gathered around the dinner table of her sprawling chalet, Nussbaumer always makes time for date night at the landmark Gstaad Palace—a grand stone castle perched on a hill overlooking the village—for dancing and dinner at Le Grill, where jackets and ties are required for men.
“It feels like you’ve stepped into a Cary Grant movie,” says Nussbaumer, adding that lunch on the hotel’s terrace on a sunny day is also a must.
For afternoon tea, or drinks after 5, you’ll find her at Hotel Olden, a boutique hotel where the old bar is always packed with a well-heeled crowd; for dinner, 16 Art-Bar-Restaurant, an off-the-beaten-path eatery (formerly a bell factory) in the village of Saanen, where the entire menu is in German and you must book ahead; or Restaurant du Cerf, known for its dreamy truffle fondue and where beautiful music is played on a saw and villagers pop in to serenade the crowd with their yodeling.
It’s always those extravagant yet simple things that keep Nussbaumer dreaming of her next stay in Gstaad.
“I’m always sad to leave; life is just beautiful and simple there,” Nussbaumer admits. “I always have a little Europe in my soul.”
Nussbaumer’s Other Must-See Activities Mirage: An exhibit by American artist Doug Aitken, this ranch-style house is clad in mirrors and reflects its surrounding landscape. As the seasons shift, so does the art installation, reflecting snow-covered mountains in the winter and green pastures in the summer.
The Hublot Polo Gold Cup Gstaad: In the summer, Nussbaumer says locals spend almost every day at one of the most exclusive polo competitions in the world. Altezze e Musica. Created by Princess Caroline Murat, this music festival takes place every winter and features composers and conductors from all over the world performing in venues from churches to homes.
Altezze e Musica: Created by Princess Caroline Murat, this music festival takes place every winter and features composers and conductors from all over the world performing in venues from churches to homes.