In celebration of Dallas Design Week 2023, and a new collection of fabrics and wallcoverings inspired by Texas, Cabana gets under the skin of the Lone Star State, discovering its unique seasons, colors and culture through the eyes of Dallas-based designer, Denise McGaha.
BY CAMILLA FRANCES | 30 SEPTEMBER 2023
Dallas Museum of Art © Elizabeth de Montfort Walker
Walk through the Dallas Design District and you’re sure to feel the buzz of a thriving cultural center, an artistic, sophisticated metropolis where shopfronts reflect the style of the city’s glamorous, well-heeled residents. Vibrant Dallas - along with other Texan cities, like Houston and Austin - is booming as more companies relocate their headquarters to the Lone Star State, and domestic migration continues to increase.
Beyond the cities there lies another Texas: a world of cattle ranches, cowboys and cacti where communities, often spread across vast geographies, gather in large numbers for church and college football. This dichotomy of town and country, each of great cultural importance, is just one of the many things that makes Texas, and Texans, so unique, says Dallas-based interior designer, Denise McGaha.
“Texan culture is very grounding," Denise explains. "Dallas is a hustling, bustling artistic city, but most of us are also very connected to the land, to our families and communities, and our warmth and comfort comes from this. It’s really important for Texans to ‘come home’ and that often means being connected to nature and agriculture, to entertaining and cooking. It’s woven into our culture.”
An interior designer for more than 20 years, via a career in fashion, Denise has seen the Design District evolve into an exciting, urban enclave, which now attracts the great and good of the international art and design world. Her studio is based in Dallas, where she and her family live, but her early life was decidedly more rural, and quintessentially Texan; Denise grew up on a cattle ranch a few hours from the city, part of a large southern family full of strong, enterprising women.
Her grandmother, Anna Mae - a charismatic multi-hyphenate whose various skills included gardening, bookmaking and sewing - was a cattle rancher, and an experimental grower. “She had these amazing blackberry bushes, which she grew and harvested, and it’s really down to people like my grandmother that, decades later, Texas has all these huge, incredible blackberry bushes,” Denise says. "My grandmother made sure I understood that mother nature and her bounty is everywhere."
Anna Mae’s impressive work ethic and relationship with nature was a great inspiration for Denise, as was her grandmother’s love of large-scale entertaining and hosting. “She would host a big meal every Sunday. We’d get dressed up, go to church and then the rest of the day would be spent cooking, eating and gathering with friends and family. It’s the Texan way, hospitality is extremely important to us,” she reflects.
Berrymore fabric and wallcovering, Denise McGaha for Vervain © Vervain
Denise herself entertains and hosts “all the time” - “big barbecues, pizzas in the pizza oven, big salads” - and the details of the table setting are always key, even for more casual occasions. “I love layering the table with different textures, shapes and colors, reflecting the seasons; I never lay the table the same way twice,” she says.
When asked to design a collection of fabrics and wallcoverings for Vervain - which launches October 2023 - Denise returned to the vivid colors and evocative landscapes of her native Texas. She drew inspiration from its wildlife, and flora and fauna, as well as the richness of its sunsets and the terracotta tones of its dry, dusty earth.
Berrymore (pictured above) is an homage to Anna Mae’s horticultural legacy, with its plump, ripened blackberries and brambles, while Capistrano recalls the wild ferns that grow beneath the oak trees at the family’s ranch, which they bought when Denise’s daughter began to show cattle. The colors of the collection are also inspired by Texas; the blues are reminiscent of Fall skies - “we have these really sunny, incredibly bright blue skies here in Dallas” - while the reds and oranges conjure the dusty, terracotta earth you tend to see in West Texas.
Grouse, inspired by the colors of West Texas, Denise McGaha for Vervain © Vervain
The designs reference the unique characters of East and West Texas, which each have a very different topography. “West Texas is very Italian-influenced in terms of its decorating and architecture, there are a lot of warm colors - reds and oranges - and its terrain is rust and terracotta too," Denise explains. "It’s rocky and craggy, dusty and arrid, with lots of cactuses and oil. East Texas is fresher and greener, with a lot of pine trees, lush gardens and towering oak trees.”
The natural growing patterns in Texas, which allow farmers and growers to "read the land", have also been realised in fabric. In the collection's Liana design, climbing vines of a native Texan thistle create an elegant stripe, while the graphic lines and patterns in Till echo crop fields, creating an oversized chainlink motif.
"There are so many natural layers and patterns in nature, and some are quite unique to the parts of Texas where I grew up, and now have a ranch," Denise says. "As we clear the land, we see how the natural trees and crops grow, and if you stop to read the land it will tell you how to layer it. The natural growing patterns over here show you where to harvest, or build, or grow. In nature, there are patterns, and also in fabric. Both can be layered to create harmony and balance."
- - - - - - - - - -
Denise McGaha for Vervain launches October 2023