When it comes to designing and building, Michelle Butler of the award-winning Design Studio says it’s in her DNA.
As co-owner of the interior design firm and retail store located at Camana Bay, she credits her family as well as her husband and business partner, David Wilson, as a constant source of encouragement.
“My parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents were involved in the industry,” she says. “It was inevitable that I found my way to the construction site.”
Michelle’s father is real estate developer Brian Butler. Michelle’s mother, Faye Ellingson, is an accomplished interior designer who worked alongside Brian on his various projects. She also started Design Studio in Turks & Caicos where Michelle previously worked.
“I feel fortunate to have experienced both sides of the fence,” she says. “From my parents, on the development front, I have gained an invaluable level of knowledge about the practicalities of running a business and being an entrepreneur. On the design side, my mother taught me from day one to appreciate and carefully consider how people live in and use a space and to design accordingly.”
In addition to being brought up in the world of design, Michelle also studied it extensively, having completed a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Toronto before working for world-renowned interior design firm, Yabu Pushelberg.
Family pedigree and education aside, Michelle feels that interior design — like most creative fields — is a calling that requires a lot of commitment.
“It is a specific type of mind that can conceptualise spaces and see balance in objects and surfaces,” she says. “Then you need to combine that poetic ability with the literal nuts and bolts, which make things work.”
Her husband David also trained in interior design and worked in the industry in Toronto before the couple moved back to Grand Cayman, where she grew up; he remains her biggest inspiration.
“We work together and collaborate on every project. We make sure to travel and keep our minds open to every new experience, every chance for inspiration,” she says. When it comes to the retail arm of Design Studio, Michelle loves researching and finding interesting products. “I feel that I can tap into a whole other more playful approach when sourcing for the store,” she says, adding that social media sites like Instagram, Houzz and Pinterest are great for design inspiration.
As far as trends go, the Design Studio team has been moving toward a warmer palette this year, using more neutral, sandy tones combined with crisper whites and washed woods; however, Michelle is quick to point out there are no rules when it comes to design.
“Each project is unique but certainly the use of organic textures and materials is still strong,” she says. “I am also happy to say that wallpaper is still on the rise and the prints and textures now available are incredible.”
Many of Design Studio’s commercial projects include creating intimate spaces for spas and lobbies, while residential projects mainly comprise luxury homes from the ground up. Michelle especially loves projects that involve extensive renovations.
“There is something immensely satisfying in giving a space a new life and I love the challenge of it,” she says. One of the most important factors Michelle considers when designing a client’s home is
“My first questions are about their family, their pets, their hobbies and what makes them happy in a space,” she says. “I always keep a completely open mind when starting a new project and let the client paint the picture for me before I begin tackling the specifics. Once the basics are down, I feel that my job is to seek out opportunities to introduce the magical elements, the features and the layers that make the project unique.”
Michelle and David live in a traditional 1920s Cayman cottage on Boggy Sand Road in West Bay. When it comes to their own living arena, they prefer a simple design aesthetic.
“I see so much during the day that I tend toward a more minimal approach in my own home,” she says. “Our biggest splurge is definitely art, and the rest of our furnishings and lighting serve the art rather than compete with it. I seem to keep painting everything white these days. Perhaps once everything is done I will feel ready to revisit colour in my own space.”
Michelle’s favourite room is, surprisingly, the front porch. Surrounded by Cayman’s natural beauty, her design instincts persist, even while at rest.
“It is a cosy spot to sit and watch the world go by,” she says. “I can hear the waves and glimpse the ocean and there always seems to be a magical kind of light coming through the garden. I have also perfected the seating to allow for a nice afternoon nap.”