Dallas’ Design District isn’t on everyone’s radar. But that’s about to change. That’s because it’s developing in the same fashion as some of its cool, industrial-turned-fabulous predecessors—New York City’s SoHo and Meatpacking District, San Francisco’
s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood, Chicago’s West Loop, Denver’s LoDo district, and The Flats in Cleveland.
Inside the Dallas Design District, you’ll find more than 300 design industry showrooms, dozens of antique dealers and art galleries, 1,500 residents, a trendy restaurant (with more to come), and, soon, the 7.8-mile Trinity Strand Trail that will connect Highland Park via the Katy Trail right through the Design District and over to American Airlines Center.
Just outside the District, you’ll find a relatively new exit from the Dallas North Tollway, Santiago Calatrava’s Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge over the Trinity River, long-term plans to build the largest urban park along said Trinity, and closer-than-you-think proximity to the Dallas Arts District.
This may all be news to you, but the Design District of today has been more than half a century in the making.
When the Trinity River was rerouted and a levee system created in the late 1920s, Dallas’ founding families began developing the newly usable area. Trammel Crow and Leslie Stemmons (and later Stemmons’ son, John) built warehouses on the land, creating the 450-acre space filled with brick buildings that we now know as the Design District.
Crow’s Decorative Center Dallas opened in 1955, one of the country’s first design centers outside New York City. Bob Darrouzet, now director of Trinity & Design District Real Estate, remembers being in the District as a Jesuit freshman doing a 25-mile walk for a health challenge from President Kennedy. “It was interesting, and I never forgot it,” remembers Darrouzet, who now runs three websites for the District and has been a long-time leader in its development. “It was so much more refreshing to talk to someone who was into antiques or furniture. They knew things. They’d been to Europe. When I saw it later, it wasn’t a big jump in my mind to see what we could do with all these red brick buildings.”
The area morphed into a more exclusive design center—too exclusive for the general public. Lloyd Scott remembers when Crow was trying to make the area more popular to Dallas residents.
Scott, co-owner of Scott+Cooner in the Decorative Center, says Crow’s “Design Experience,” which opened in the mid-1990s, was a gimmick to get the public down to the District. Research showed the terms “designer” and “decorator” scared the public away with thoughts of high-falutin’ industry talk and huge bills. For $25, you could get an annual membership to the Experience, which came with a “facilitator” (who was really a designer) to walk and advise you through it.
The public didn’t bite.
Wendy Krispin remembers her early days in the Design District, when she worked for another caterer before opening her own business in 1992. “Taxi cabs wouldn’t bring or pick up guests for lunch because they couldn’t figure out how to get there,” says Krispin, who is opening a new restaurant, Royal 60, in the District. “To see people walking, riding bikes, and shopping even on Saturdays is like I woke up in a different city.”
For decades, the Design District was a bit of a black hole within the city limits—partly because of physical inaccessibility, partly due to a lack of emotional accessibility. The Oak Lawn Avenue exit off the Dallas North Tollway, which opened in the fall of 2008, changed the first; zoning changes to bring in multi-family living and more designers opening their doors to the general public are changing the second.
When Dallas started the Trinity River Project, City Councilman Ed Oakley advised Darrouzet and others to get a zoning change for the Design District, an idea that took four years of monthly meetings but ended with PD621. That kept tattoo parlors and strip clubs out while encouraging more neighborhood appropriate development. Darrouzet was instrumental in getting PD621 through Dallas City Hall, eventually making it possible for the District’s four apartment home projects to be built and an area to be rethought as a neighborhood.
Michael Ablon, principal of PegasusAblon Properties, has been in the District for the last several years of the transition and started a blog two years ago to reflect the activity of the increasingly multi-purpose neighborhood. His focus is this: “How do you take that—what is a really neat space and a piece of Dallas—and preserve it for another generation?”
There is more than one answer to that question, of course. Ablon has his. Darrouzet has another. The designers have their own. Local residents and business owners certainly have opinions, too. Overall, however, the growing pains seem to be resulting in a unique neighborhood that is good for Dallas on a local and national scale.
Michael Reagan is regional manager at The Rug Company, which is based in London and opened its Dallas location in May. Reagan sees the developing neighborhood as a boon to Dallas. “The area enjoys a very convenient, interesting, but long neglected location in our city,” he says. “One could argue that Dallas as a city needs to learn how to facilitate urban infill and density to broaden its languishing tax base, and the Dallas Design District is providing a positive model. The Design District was, for many years, a place that people drove to at 9 and left at 5. Great urban areas require 24-hour activity with people living, working, and playing in close proximity.”
Allan Knight, founder of Allan Knight & Associates, has had various businesses in the Design District for the past three decades. His current showroom is located at Irving and Turtle Creek. He’s more interested in what the Design District has to offer the design industry. “We have a high concentration of multi-line showrooms, which actually makes it easier for people to concentrate their shopping,” Knight says of the District in comparison to others nationwide. “We actually are one-stop shopping for some due to our diversity. That is a great service to designers with limited time constraints.”
When Shannon Wynne, the restaurateur behind Flying Saucer, Flying Fish, and 8.0, first met with Ablon about opening a restaurant in the District, he assumed rents would be too high. The Meddlesome Moth, known as simply “the Moth” to locals, opened in March of 2010 in the space that formerly housed the Artemide lighting and Ann Sacks tile showrooms. Wynne appreciates the “long line of intelligentsia” the changes in the District are bringing as well as the cheaper rents. “You want to locate in a place that has the right vibe,” Wynne says. “There are people who have lived in Dallas their entire lives who don’t know what’s going on there.”
Peacock Alley moved into the District in April after researching the neighborhood. Most of CEO Jason Needleman’s friends had never even been to the Design District before the transition. Now, many of his friends know where the Moth is, as the restaurant gives the District a point of reference. “There’s a lot more awareness with people coming down here, even if it’s just to have a drink on the weekend at the Moth or having friends living in the neighborhood where they might shop on the weekends,” he says. “There may not be a direct business impact, but it’s definitely a mental paradigm shift.”
For planners and Dallas residents, the Design District ties together Oak Cliff, Uptown, Victory Park, and the future Trinity River development—a completion of what the Crows and Stemmons families started so long ago.
“We will be where you come to see artists and their galleries,” Darrouzet says. “The District will serve as the art and cultural neighborhood; not so much in terms of performing arts but where the stuff will be made. We will provide the real cultural and crafted, custom work.”
For designers, the change from pure industry makes the District unique in the trade. Many design districts do not welcome the public. Now Dallas is inviting the public in to eat, drink, live, walk their dogs, and throw their Frisbees on a Sunday afternoon.
Krispin, like others with a long history in the District, thinks the area was already one of the top-tier industry districts in the country. Bringing in the public just adds a new and improved layer. “Like any great city, we have an area where tradesmen, artists, craftsmen, and the people who sell their wares are working and now living together,” she says. “That says that not only do we mean business, but we as a city understand that what we make says so much about who we really are.”
Those planning, creating, and living in the Design District may not agree on every element of its transition. They do, however, agree on the subject of its possibilities and place in Dallas’ history and future. “I hope very much that we have done here will contribute to the Design District being here in 50 years,” Ablon says. “Cities lose the mythology and history when they scrape. This is one of the most prolific design districts in the United States. We want it to stay in Dallas. If it’s also fun and cool, then it’ll have a life.”
Where to Shop
Adele Hunt’s European Collectibles
Adele Hunt’s European Collectibles specializes in English antiques and fine reproductions. They also have a wide range of unique styles for that eclectic look. You’ll find a superb selection of occasional tables, dining tables, sofas, upholstered chairs, bookcases, books, wooden boxes, majolica, imari, and much more.
Art of Old India
From skyscraping antique columns to vibrant textiles fit for a Maharajah (and Dallasite alike), Art of Old India has it all and more. For 37 years, Pankaj Dalal has been spicing up the Dallas design community, importing the finest architectural antiques, furniture, accessories, and textiles from India, Africa, Central Asia, and beyond.
The Bright Group
At The Bright Group (thebrightgroup.com)— with showrooms in Dallas, Chicago, New York, and Boston—you’ll find a refined collection of transitional furnishings from top U.S. designer manufacturers such as Manheim-Ruseau, Douglas Jennings Collection, Bright Chair Company, Jiun Ho, and RB Gorman. Plus, discover lighting collections by Jonathan Browning, Charles Loomis, and Salgado Saucier and artwork by Lisa Ariotti. The collections are all designed and produced in the U.S., and all items are customizable.
Craighead Green Gallery
Craighead Green Gallery, established in 1992, is recognized as one of Texas’ finest contemporary art galleries. The gallery is located in the Dallas Design District on Dragon Street and showcases more than 50 artists ranging from emerging to established regional, national, and international artists.
Dahlgren Duck, a special markets distribution and marketing company, provides design-integrated china, crystal, flatware, linens, and accessories, as well as unique giftware and furniture from the world’s finest manufacturers. Dahlgren Duck is widely known for its turnkey services for every area of the home to meet individualized client requirements.
E.C. Dicken, Inc.
E.C. Dicken, Inc. strives to supply the interior design community, architects, and hospitalityindustry with the finest products possible to meet both client and project needs. E.C. Dicken is wholesale to the professional design trade only.
Glasshouse is a full-service glass company serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Products provided include all kinds of art glass (stained and leaded glass, cast glass, sandblasted, painted, and antiqued) along with the most innovative showers and mirrors in the industry, in addition to commercial and residential storefront glass.
Horizon Italian Tile, Inc.
What do the Stoneleigh Hotel, Cibus at NorthPark, and the locker room at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium have in common? Horizon Italian Tile. Visit the showroom in the Decorative Center to see in-stock porcelain tile, stone, and glass mosaics. Not your average tile company, showcasing unique materials for your unique space.
International on Turtle Creek
Located in the Design District, the International on Turtle Creek was redeveloped in 2005 to house an elite collection of designer showrooms, including those owned by the International Tenant Association. The Association is made up of Bausman & Company, The Bright Group, Carlin and Company, Innovations, and Tufenkian Artisan Carpets. Professional design trade only.
Laura Lee Clark Interior Design, Inc.
“The shop”—also known as Laura Lee Clark Interior Design—features a collection of furnishings (upholstery and case goods), along with a selection of fresh, eclectic accessories, gift items, and fine art available from the Talley Dunn Gallery and Barry Whistler Gallery.
TKO Associates’ creation was inspired by the contemporary products introduced from Europe and Asia. TKO turns 30 this month, and although a bit older now, remains committed to the creativity of the industry by uniting design and precise construction so all products are a TKO.
Where to get the Scoop
Dallas Design District Marketing Center
The Dallas Design District Marketing Center is the Design District home to PegasusAblon, the real estate development, investment, and management company driving the urban redevelopment of Lower Oak Lawn. Whether you are looking for available space or simply have questions about LOL, it is safe to say that the Dallas Design District Marketing Center is the place to get the scoop. This is also where you’ll find the folks who handle property management and leasing for the Dallas Design Center, Decorative Center Dallas, and several other Design District properties.
Where to Dine
The Meddlesome Moth
The Meddlesome Moth, located in the Design District, is known for its progressive menu and stylish design. Chef Chad Kelly serves lunch and dinner beneath incredible stained glass windows which fly over the dining room. This former warehouse and showroom is now Dallas’ most fun place to take lunch with associates, or dinner with friends. Sunday Brunch a must. Reservations a good idea.
Royal 60, a new restaurant by Wendy Krispin Caterer, Inc., will open this fall at International on Turtle Creek. Since 1992, Wendy Krispin Caterer has provided food, staff, and party planning services to hundreds of clients. The company has finessed the boundaries between desire and budget for many hosts while maintaining a clear vision with expert standards. You can count on Wendy Krispin Caterer to create, plan, cook, and execute any kind of event.