Fashion / Style File

This Dallas Interior Designer Rises to the Moment in a Presidential Meeting

Muffin Lemak Takes Us Back to Being With George H.W. Bush and Her Favorite Guy With Bomb Girl Gusto

BY // 02.15.19

I’m sure the majority of you would be a little confused if the title of this page was She’s the Bomb: Eleanor Jean Smyly. WTF?

Well, that’s Dallas’ own Muffin Lemak. Eleanor was the birth name given to the Boston-bred Catholic schoolgirl. So, why is she known as Muffin?

“I was born the oldest of four and was apparently an adorable toddler,” she says. “At that time, the response to seeing a precious baby was generally ‘She’s as cute as a muffin.’ ”

Back a moment to the Boston Catholic schoolgirl. Those three words sum up her foundation in life. Of all my girls, Lemak and I perhaps have the most in common. We both spent almost our entire youth at religious schools, wearing uniforms, which prevented us from showing our personalities through clothing. All the while, we voraciously read fashion magazines and wished for glamorous lives.

Again, like me, Muffin is not the alpha. She’s not Heather Number One or Regina George. She wasn’t head cheerleader — she was just happy to be on the squad. Muffin shies from the spotlight and instead enjoys being close enough to the light to experience its warmth and glow. And, like me, she’s a celebrity lover. I recently received a gleeful text when she spied actress Kate Bosworth shopping at Forty Five Ten.

Muffin is a Dallas girl, but occasionally you can see her New England roots peek through. Most of that accent was lost when she moved South and went to Southern Methodist University, where she earned her degree in studio art. It was shortly after graduating that she met the love of her life and partner, John Lemak. Dallas has been the couple’s home ever since.

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Muffin’s love of fashion is most apparent, when she recounts how the decades of her life informed her wardrobe choices.

“The ’70s, for me, were all over the map,” she says. “I was torn between my East Coast upbringing and my bohemian art side. I could often be found wearing Pappagallo shoes and Lilly Pulitzer dresses. I also had a lot of Annie Hall moments.” Don’t even get her started about her fascination and adoration for big hair and even bigger shoulders of the 1980s.

Muffin’s roots in studio art inspired the enviable art collection that she and John have amassed. She shared with me early memories of trips to New York City to visit artist studios. Those early years of her marriage were also when she began a career in interior design. Her aesthetic has always been classic and traditional, but she enjoys the juxtaposition of traditional with cutting-edge contemporary art.

Given Muffin’s accomplishments as a beloved interior designer (she was one half of the Design Girls firm for 30 years), her cult-like social following, and her countless volunteer hours devoted to causes including The Crystal Charity Ball and the Dallas Contemporary, she says her greatest accomplishments are her relationship with her husband and raising their children.

However, now that all those children have flown the nest (Muffin is waiting patiently for grandchildren), she has launched a new business, Little Sits, with her former interior design partner Susan Palma. The one-of-a-kind, child-sized heirloom chairs, which are produced in Italy, have started to pop up in fashionable nurseries. I’ve become a fan of #littlesits and can’t wait to plant my bum in one at her next cocktail party.

During one of our conversations on contemporary art, she shared the quote embroidered on a pillow on her couch: “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.”

Those words, credited to Katharine Hepburn, are certainly ones Muffin follows religiously — both when it comes to art collecting and, more importantly, to life.

Approximate date of this photo.

I think the late ’80s. Maybe early ’90s.

The occasion?

I cannot remember. I’m pretty sure it was a fund-raiser for the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. I was just so excited to meet President Bush. I was a nervous wreck about what to say to him. And, of course, I can’t remember what I did say.

What were you wearing?

I loved the dress. I was channeling Jackie O, of course. I think it was Tracy Reese. I loved the baby-doll style and the mohair fabric along the bottom. Of course, I have on my classic Stuart Weitzman shoes. Everyone wore those! Still sporting the badly permed hair.

What price fashion?

Fashion has never had a price tag for me. It’s a feeling. Some days, I’m very conservative, and others, I need to rock it. I can have on a Zara top and Marni pants with an Hermès belt and Vans sneakers.

All one designer with big price tags doesn’t work for me. My decorating is the same. You can’t take yourself that seriously.

After having my first child, I was going to a black-tie New Year’s Eve party in the early ’80s. I had shed my baby weight and was so happy to go shopping. I bought a peach bubble-bottom dress with a lace top by Texas designer Victor Costa.

At the party, a handsome man came up to me and said, ‘I love how you look in my dress.’ I told him thank you, not realizing he had said ‘my dress.’ He then went on to say, ‘I counted 11 more of my dresses in the room tonight.’

As he walked away, it dawned on me that it was Victor Costa, and it made me feel very special.

Why is this a picture of you?

This picture represents me in a couple of ways. I am in an outfit that cost very little but made me feel like a million bucks. I am with one of the most famous men in the world. And I am with two men I admire deeply, President Bush and my husband of now 40 years! Doesn’t get any better than that.

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