Jun 14, 2016

By Edie Schmierbach

NEW ULM  Christine Carmichael was an interior designer with a zeal for enlivening run-down structures. Her decorative talents helped preserve the historic value of the Anton Gag House, and she spearheaded the interior renovation of the residence of Minnesota's 14th governor, John Lind.

This photo of Christine Carmichael shows her in the solarium of the Governor's mansion in St. Paul, where she selected the furnishings. (Submitted photo). 

Carmichael was 56 when she died about a year ago at her home in New Ulm, not too far from the historical houses whose beauty she had restored. Her 30-year career in design and consulting, which began at Kay's Interiors in New Ulm, incuded several years as the owner of Design Directions LTD.

HGTV’s “Restore America” once tapped her knowledge about South German Street. The humble interior designer, however, usually avoided the spotlight.

“Christine never wanted to be front and center. Clients and the designs came first and foremost,” said Charis Carmichael Braun of Sparkill, New York.

Braun said her sister's uncomfortableness with public attention stemmed from her struggles with poor health. Carmichael suffered rheumatoid arthritis and bladder cancer, which made her sensitive to others' frailties. "Christine fought through the illnesses and used them as fuel," Braun said. Her sister's obituary described a focus on designs to help people stay in the places they loved, no matter what their age or ability. Carmichael had dealt with auto-immune disorders throughout her life.

After moving to Minnesota from Wisconsin with her family, she graduated from Martin Luther Academy in 1976, pursued studies in psychology in Rochester and earned a degree in interior design, environment and urban studies from Mankato State University.

Carmichael was very active in the New Ulm community. Martin Luther College and area churches consulted with her, she served on the initial board for the Wanda Gag House, and she was the first chairperson for the New Ulm Heritage Preservation Commission.

"A Life by Design" show

What: Exhibit focusing on interior designs by the late Christine Carmichael

Where: Four Pillars Gallery
Grand Center for Arts and Culture, 210 N. Broadway, New Ulm. 

When: Friday through July 8. Reception 7-9 pm. Friday. Gallery hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Outside of New Ulm, Carmichael served on the Governor's Residence Council and was Designer of Record for the restoration of the Dayton House in Worthington. Carmichael was the researcher for a renovation project that gutted the home of Gov. Mark Dayton's great-grandfather, George Draper Dayton.

Braun said her sister accessed all sorts of historical documents to determine the furniture and paint colors used in the restoration. The information gathered was not complete, so Carmichael creatively filled in the holes. "She had to put herself in Dayton's shoes and imagine what his life would have been surrounded by and what his choices would have been, the lamps, the wallpapers. "For example, Christine chose a horsehair sofa," Braun said. "As a result of the Dayton House project, she was asked to select furniture for a sun room in the governor's mansion for Tim Pawlenty."

Braun will be in New Ulm Friday night to unveil her oil portrait of Carmichael, during a reception honoring the late interior designer. Painting her sister's portrait was a challenge to navigate psychologically. "It was a groundbreaker for me," said Braun, who also is a director for an outreach program through the Art Students League of New York. "Doing the portrait was very difficult. I'm using the painting as a catalyst. Life is too short and my to-do list is too long.

"I've always been able to view her as my mentor," she said. "I watched her carry her own banner of pride for her community, her family and her associates. Now it's time for me to pick up my own banner."

Braun's husband, Andrew, a wood-worker, created a plaque that also will be displayed at 4 Pillars Gallery during the exhibit, "Christine Carmichael: A Life by Design."

Carmichael served as lead interior designer and project coordinator for The Grand Center for Arts and Culture. The art gallery uses space on that building's second floor.

This first appeared on the Mankato Free Press' website and print edition:
Schmierbach, Edie. "Exhibit honors New Ulm interior designer." Mankato Free Press. 16 June 2016: www.mankatofreepress.com. Web. 16 June 2016.