Mary Anne Smiley had big plans for herself as a young woman. During childhood, she began drawing house plans and dreamed of a career in architecture.
Several years later, she tried to begin architecture studies at Oklahoma State University. But it was the 1960s, and the dean informed her, “Women do not enroll in architecture.”
That unfortunate turn of events led her to a different kind of adventure—she decided instead to study interior design and fine art. This began a successful career as an interior designer, and today, Smiley is recognized her as one of the top designers in Dallas. She received a Best of Houzz 2014 award for service, and a Best of Houzz 2015 award for design.
“I went to college with the intention of being an architect, but I am so glad the dean told me women could not enroll in architecture, as I think that would have been so limiting for me,” Smiley said. “I also wanted to be an artist so bad, but realized I did not have the raw talent required for that at that time—during the 60s, if you were not angry, and interested in phallic symbols, you did not have what it took! I think all-in-all, I landed just where I needed to be.”
Smiley’s love of bright color made her a pioneer of its use in Dallas interior design, and a signature of hers is bright spots of pure color against soft pearl-finish backgrounds. She’s also known for her ability to mix antiques and lavish textiles with cutting-edge products, from metallics to recycled plastics.
“I love to mix elements,” she said. “For instance, in the Highland Park contemporary study, for the desk, I used two contemporary chrome bases for a custom acrylic ‘tray’ top with honey onyx insert. The unique thing about this desk that you do not see, is that the onyx has a hollow space that encompasses an LED light grid that lights the onyx top without any evidence of a light source or wiring, as the wiring is concealed inside the chrome base, running directly into the floor, with the transformer for the lighting mounted beneath the floor.”
Today, she brings her talents to clients with her company, Mary Anne Smiley Interiors, creating carefully curated spaces for a range of clients. Her work is simply stunning.
Smiley has lived all over the country, making her way to Texas via Athens, where she did interior design work for recognizable names, like Ginny Linthicum, the widow of Clint Murchison Senior; George and Laura Bush; and Barbara Thomas Lemmon, among other notable Dallasites.
“Marriage originally brought me to Athens in East Texas over 30 years ago, where at that time the big rich of Dallas still had huge ranch spreads and getaway homes,” she said. “I was very fortunate to gain a wonderful Dallas clientele while in Athens doing their ranches and getaway homes, which eventually led to doing their Dallas homes, which eventually led to my relocating my business to Dallas in 2000 due to divorce. I came to Dallas with an enviable [local] clientele.”
Once in Dallas, Smiley’s career flourished, setting herself apart not only for a unique way of marrying elements, but also through technology. In 2002, she learned AutoCAD, a software application for 2D and 3D computer-aided design. This gives Smiley the ability to create her own furnishings and products and she has been recognized for her product design.
A few of her creations include:
- Glass bar countertop with Richard Bettinger photographic art printed on underside of glass for an explosion of color on countertop
- Acrylic drapery rod with custom 22-karat gold Greek key finials and 22-karat gold rings
- Acrylic display cabinets with LED light grid beneath frosted glass for Judith Leiber bag collection display
- Stainless steel countertop with photographic art printed on the steel
- Acrylic base for bathtubs backlit to give impression the tub is floating
- Custom front doors of freeform bronze design banded with iron fretwork all inside polished stainless frame
- Custom staircase of polished stainless steel, stainless steel mesh, and Larry Whatley white bronze and quartz flowerettes
- Custom bed suite including headboard, night stands, and bed base of metallic auto paint, stainless steel bands with triple rows of hand set Swarovski crystals, and acrylic block feet on bed base
- Custom dining room table with antique verre églomisé gilded glass panels on top, banded with 22-karat gold leaf, with a tigerwood apron embellished with 22-karat gold fretwork band, acrylic tapered legs, and 22-karat gold tapered bronze feet (this took seven different craftsmen to construct)
Her exquisite use of color is evident throughout these photos of her work. Bright color takes an expert touch, and Smiley manages to incorporate plenty of it without ever wandering into garish or kitschy territory. Her advice? “Always have a very organized space with soft colored backgrounds and keep the strong colors in small amounts, due to the strong impact they create.”
Smiley says her artistic journey with color has been ongoing for years.
“Since earliest childhood I have loved color and beauty in all things,” she said. “It has taken me many years to tame my love of color—in my early years as a designer, I accomplished that by exploring how I could layer and use textiles, wallpapers, and fabrics that contained colors together without overdoing. Then I began to simplify my backgrounds and really explore using pure strong colors, but in small amounts. It has been a journey.”
Some of her “go-to” materials are acrylic, glass, and metal.
“I have been designing things using acrylic since Allan Knight had his first acrylic showroom over behind the Anatole almost 30 years ago,” she said. “I have always loved the clean lines of acrylic, the translucence, and brilliance. I used to be one of the few using it—now it’s being used by everyone, so I am about to be over it. I also love glass used in every way possible, from hand blown, to thick-cast glass—always exploring ways to use it newly. I love every kind of metal and love to use them juxtaposed with other products.”
Smiley incorporates antiques in her designs in a fresh and unexpected ways.
“On the Highland Park Tudor project, I repurposed an antique, hand-painted baptismal cabinet for a bathroom vanity, and for another Highland Park Tudor guest bedroom, I used a round, hand-painted French game table with four legs, cut in half, to make two demilune bedside tables,” she said. “In the Highland Park dining room, I used a round Tibet drum table cut in half to make bases for two demilune consoles. In the other Highland Park Tudor dining room, I used an antique iron balloon to create a chandelier dripping with crystal. In the same project, I used an antique birdcage to create a display cabinet for a shell collection, adding an “X” style bronze base, antique mirror, and half-inch glass shelves.”
All this has led to a lot of recognition for Smiley. She has been on the “Best Designers in Dallas” list for the past nine years, and was celebrated in 2013 as one of the “Fab Five Top Designers in Dallas” by Luxe Magazine and Roche Bobois. D Home named her a “Best Designer in Dallas” for 11 consecutive years and she has received multiple awards in Design Ovation and Legacy of Design.
When she’s not creating lovely interiors, Smiley spends time at home with her family, a grown daughter, three mini dachshunds, and a golden retriever. She and her daughter share a passion for of all forms of art and nature, and enjoy dabbling in watercolors. In fact, Smiley recently illustrated the children’s book, Sam’s Birthmark.
“I love finding new products and looking for new ways to do things using the new products,” she said. “I am thankful that God gave me the eyes to see the beauty in nature and in all things around me, and a desire to want to embrace that beauty and somehow make it my own.”