Textiles and Tradition
A woman of many creative inclinations, Mili Suleman has combined her knowledge of graphic design and art with her affection for shibui design, the Japanese concept of understated beauty. In addition, this Indian-born designer created a line of textiles to preserve the craft of handloom weaving. All of her talents came together in the renovation of her Dallas, Texas home, which she completed with her husband.
What traits do you think are important for tackling a largescale DIY project like this?
I think it’s imperative that you, your spouse, or a family member has done remodeling before you take on any large scale DIY projects. You need the knowledge of electrical, plumbing, materials, tools, and more. One mistake and you could spend a lot more than you save. You also need to be a good planner, be patient, and stay objective in some ways. My husband is a natural engineer (and a civil engineer by profession); if it wasn’t for his know-how, I would have never attempted any of it. Being a young couple, we wanted to save as much as possible and found it to be a ton of fun taking a swing at walls and such. We are the archetypal designer-engineer couple—thankfully, the ideal combination for a project of this nature.
What city do you live in? What is the vibe of the city?
We technically live in Dallas, but it’s twenty minutes north of downtown, so the vibe is larger, suburban-style homes. Our neighborhood is an established pocket of older homes that are aesthetically very different from other homes that proliferate the region. While the vibe is quieter than being near uptown or downtown, it’s not a bad compromise.
Describe the house before the remodel:
It’s a 1979 ranch-style home with high ceilings. It’s 2,700 square feet with four bedrooms and three full baths. It has a dominant brick double-fireplace. When we bought it, it felt like tiny doorways led you from one space to another. The kitchen had a line of cabinets along both long walls. Saltillo tile and carpet were everywhere—the bathrooms even had carpet.
Were you able to look past the old style and envision what it could be? What caught your eye that made you want to buy the house?
Dallas is experiencing some kind of gold rush; everyone is pouring in here from the coasts wanting to buy houses. After over a year of looking, we settled for this house because it had no offers and was in an older neighborhood with character. It wasn’t our dream house, per se, but I definitely saw the vision the moment I stepped in. I knew we could turn this ship around. The high ceilings, sliding doors to a view of the backyard, and abundant natural light were big
What style did you envision for the house? What does your planning process look like? What resources do you use for inspiration?
I always look to the architecture of the home to dictate its style. I wanted this house to still have the essence of a 1970s home but with better, updated materials. The house was begging to be opened up in terms of flow, and selecting the right natural materials would make a big difference to how it felt. I also envisioned how I wanted to live and feel in the house: I wanted an open, airy vibe, and I wanted the house to feel both calming and creatively energizing. I have been looking at and studying design since I was a young girl, so, in a way, I have been preparing for this remodel for years. Acute planning involved budgeting and scouring Houzz, Instagram, and remodeling blogs. I also looked to Dwell, Elle Décor, and books on 1960s and 1970s architecture and design. I had a moodboard for textiles, colors, and furniture selection.
How would you describe your current style?
I lean heavily toward vintage modern (particularly midcentury modern) with an emphasis on natural materials. For my house, I went with a mid-mod feel mixed with eclectic antique pieces and used natural materials like wood, jute, clay tile, and stone throughout the build and in decorating. I couldn’t live without my art, books, textiles, pottery, and great lighting pieces; they are my antidote to life itself and inspire me every day.
How did you choose the color palette for the house?
I knew I wanted to incorporate my textiles wherever possible, so I actually started with selecting the textiles as my inspiration point. From there, I chose colors found easily in nature to create a backdrop where everything worked in harmony. I stayed away from harsh, bold, and trendy colors. My guiding question throughout my process was always, “Will this selection lend to a calming but creatively energizing environment?” For paint, I chose Benjamin Moore’s White Down (at 50 percent tint) as the primary unifying color throughout most of the house. It reflects light beautifully and isn’t too stark.
What principles do you keep in mind when you’re creating vignettes or choosing accessories for a room? Where do you like to go to find accessories? What patterns and textures are you drawn to?
I am guided by the principles of shibui, a Japanese term meaning simplicity or understated beauty: of allowing something to reflect the highest quality of its values. For example, I didn’t want to clutter the alcove near the fireplace with books or a big built-in. I simply chose a rustic wood console table, stacked it with firewood, and added Japanese pottery and a small elm tree to create a simple scene.
I am also guided by balance that’s created by juxtaposing styles. For example, my antique Chinese altar table is quite elaborate and decorative, so I chose a vintage but very modern frosted white glass lamp to juxtapose the table. It creates a design dichotomy, which I love.
I have always gone on treasure hunts in antique stores all over the city and when I’m traveling. I also shop on Craigslist and will reupholster or refinish a piece to bring it back to life. The design district has some good stores specializing in vintage modern pieces. I accessorize with books, so Half Price Books and Amazon are my go-to for those. Textiles and curiosities come from travels and my own collections. I also like to support friends who create beautiful things, especially pottery and art.
I’m drawn to natural textures. The rugs in the house are all sisal, jute, or cotton. The floors are wide-plank white oak. All my handwoven textiles are cotton. It’s all very earthy. I do like patterns, but I prefer ones that feel subtle when grouped together or used in combination with something. If I choose large patterns, I prefer them in understated colors.
What is your favorite room?
The kitchen. We spent the most money there, and it underwent the biggest transformation. It has color, but it’s not overwhelming. It is midcentury-inspired but still timeless. The way the light filters in makes it a happy place to eat breakfast or cook. And I get to enjoy using my textiles here every day.
You have your own fabric line called KUFRI. Can you talk a bit about this and the collaboration with weavers in India? How was this idea conceived? Why is it important to you?
I had a full-time graphic design career for a long time and wanted to explore something new. I delved into textiles by taking trips to India and exploring the artisan villages. I fell in love with handloom weaving and, bit by bit, developed a relationship with weavers by trying new designs and having them weave them. It’s a very slow and organic process, and it has taken me a long time to get a grasp of it because I wasn’t formally trained in textiles or interior design. I started selling my textiles through trade showrooms and knocking on doors of big design firms.
It began as just a line of textiles, but it has gained a very deep significance in my life. KUFRI has become an amalgamation or platform for all my passions, from design to photography to travel. Weaving is a very important craft that represents heritage and history; I want to do my part to help preserve this beautiful craft and revive it. Just as important, I want to help support the weavers and their families. KUFRI is my life’s work.
Most of the textiles in my home are from my line—the pillows and throws are all from my own collections, and I use my own textiles for all my kitchen linens; I love how they wash and get softer with use.
When a room isn’t quite coming together, what strategy do you use to make it look cohesive?
I’ll go back to the moodboard and original inspiration images, and I’ll see how I can edit and simplify things.
What is your best advice to people tackling DIY projects?
Don’t get sucked into what’s trendy, or worse, what everyone on Instagram is doing. You have to make sure you will get your money back for the money you spend on the remodel. Your remodel should increase the value of your home but not price it out of the neighborhood. If it’s your forever house, it doesn’t matter, but otherwise you need to stay within a realistic budget. Splurge on one thing you love, and hire a good designer if you feel overwhelmed. Learn how to use tools and be patient with it. Don’t let fear stop you from trying.