Franklin designer Michele Saulson welcomes us to her lush, modern Thanksgiving table.
Lynne Konstantin Arts & Life Editor | Brett Mountain Photographer
Michele Saulson doesn’t just love beautiful things.
She loves to make things beautiful — and she has a gift for it. She has even made a few businesses out of it.
Armed with multiple degrees, Saulson has worked in urban planning and restoring historic properties, as an interior designer and, most recently, as a jewelry designer with flourishing success.
“I’ve been a lifelong crafter and maker of things,” Saulson says. “My mom is an artist. I learned how to knit from her mother, my grandma Fara. I’ve painted furniture, and I worked with polymer clay when I was younger.”
“Making people happy is where it’s at for me, and the connection you get when you work with people.”
— Michele Saulson
About eight years ago, she took a class in jewelry design and fell in love. Friends and family clamored for a Michele Saulson original — exquisite combinations of metal, stones and glass with an intrinsic sensibility of faraway lands. Eventually, she launched Michele Saulson Designs and has gained a loyal following, locally and beyond — Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair and other fashion-forward celebs wear Saulson’s designs.
“For me, the act of creating jewelry is very cathartic. I get in the zone and love working for hours,” Saulson says. “And I love helping people select the perfect piece for themselves or someone else. I also love picking out the perfect gift for people based on their style and what I think they would like to wear.
“Making people happy is where it’s at for me, and the connection you get when you work with people, whether they buy something from you or not.”
Which is why we asked this artistic visionary to set a Thanksgiving table for us in her Franklin home.
“I wanted to highlight some metallic elements — it’s so hot right now, and I don’t see that going out of style,” Saulson says.
She also played around with mixing modern with vintage and heirloom pieces. “Sometimes we forget what we have if it’s stored away, so a good place to start is just to pull things out and try making little vignettes on a table or sideboard,” she says. “Most importantly, you have to have confidence and not second-guess yourself when you’re trying it. Same with using something intended for a different use — like a wall mirror as a tray and placing small accessories on it. Go with your gut — or snap a picture and send it to a friend for advice.
“I get that not everyone has an eye for putting things together,” Saulson says. “I have friends who call me for advice on what type of vase to put flowers in, or what type of flower to use — we all have our strengths. Mine is not math so don’t ask me to help your kid with their homework!”
When it comes to creating a room or a table setting, Saulson says, “There is something very rewarding about having a vision or an idea, playing around with it to create a beautiful setting — and then watching people respond to it.
“Again,” she says, “it goes back to making people happy — creating a beautiful environment that makes someone want to sit, linger, enjoy what you have prepared for them, and enjoy myself. Surrounded by beauty. We can all use that.”
“I love supporting local artists,” Michele Saulson says of her spectacular choices. The exquisite chandelier — handblown glass globes in various shapes, sizes, patterns, textures and tones, including milk glass, smoky topaz, plums and ambers — was commissioned from April Wagner, owner of Epiphany Glass Studio in Pontiac, and suspended at varying heights. “Every time I walk by the dining room, I look at it and it makes me so happy,” Saulson says. The painting resting on the sideboard is by local artist Ilene Kahan. Saulson first saw it six years ago at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center and finally purchased it just before this photo shoot. “When I put this up, I had a visceral reaction and thought it looked amazing. It’s a bold, strong contrast to the chandelier,” she says. A bowl of clementines pop against the salmon-colored walls.
“Get your kids involved,” Saulson says. “Look outside for twigs, acorns and pine cones, have them slap some paint and glitter on and put a bunch in a glass vase or bowl.”
Saulson designed the custom tablecloth, crafted by Chanee Vijay, an artist she found on Etsy, with a metallic screen-print leaf pattern. Simple gold flatware from West Elm picks up on the gold in the Lenox china, a wedding gift to Michele and her husband, Eli. Silver leaf is swirled into the tumblers by April Wagner.
Sumptuous and shimmering: Mini white pumpkins, pine cones, acorns and sprays of eucalyptus from the Birmingham Farmers’ Market line the holiday table, punctuated with golden-toned votives and Simon Pearce glass bowls overflowing with grapes.
Family dog Daisy, a rescue from the Grand Traverse Humane Society — an unintentional match to the dining room chairs.
A carafe of sparkling clementine juice from Trader Joe’s — a luscious addition to the table’s palette.
Sweet! On a sideboard custom-crafted of laminate made to look like zebrawood (and hardware that Saulson thought resembled David Yurman jewelry) sits the spread: Zingerman’s pumpkin pie and chocolate apples from Plum Market and sparkling blood orange juice from Trader Joe’s. The antique sterling-silver trays were wedding gifts from an aunt of Michele’s husband, Eli; she purchased them from Connie Jacob, who used to sell antique pieces from her home in Franklin. Lengths of Chinese Lanterns, Red Stick Dogwood and Ilex berry stems tied together bookend the buffet.
Zingerman’s rugelach from Plum is mixed with Mitch Album’s made-in-Detroit Brown Bag Popcorn.