Five Questions for... Michael S. Smith

Famed interior designer Michael Smith is known for his work on such clients as Cindy Crawford and Steven Spielberg as well as in Los Angeles’s Shutters on the Beach and the private residence of the Obama’s White House. His work is categorized by modern takes on traditional style, with a healthy dose of international influence gathered from his travels. With Michael’s partner, U.S. Ambassador to Spain James Costos, the pair split their time between LA, Madrid and the rest of the world, traveling frequently around the Iberian peninsula and farther afield. Indagare spoke with Michael about the Spanish capital, which has been a part-time home since 2013.

Which European cities inspire you the most as a designer? I’m really inspired by all parts of Europe. The places I always find most interesting are the cities that I have never been to before that end up being completely unexpected and charming. There are towns, certainly in Spain, like Salamanca, Bilbao and others in the north that are not on your normal route that are inspiring to me. Everyone goes to London and Paris, but to go to a town like Dublin is an adventure, and it surprises with aspects you don’t expect.

What was your most surprising discovery in Madrid? The fact that it is such an incredibly easy city to live in. You can walk almost everywhere. It’s immaculate, safe and incredibly welcoming. Though it’s super active—it’s a major European capital—it has a gracious ease. When you walk around the streets, as opposed to those in London or Paris, there is a bustle and speed, but it is not as intense. The pace of Madrid is extraordinary relaxed and the people are so incredibly charming.

What are three of your favorite boutiques in Madrid? Madrid has multiple small auction houses that I love like Goya Subastas ( and Abalarte ( They have a big range of items up for sale that run from amazing to junky. I love the big Corte Inglés department store, which is quite close to where we live. It sells everything from yogurt to harmonicas to Hermès scarves and there’s even a place where you can have your teeth cleaned. It’s a child-like idea of what a department store is like, where you can buy anything. I love the magic of having everything—including restaurants and a food court—under one roof. Zara Home is also amazing. It is always interesting to me how they put together pieces.

What other places in Spain do you love? Mallorca, especially the capital town of Palma, Cáceres in the Extremadura region, which has a great hotel we love called Atrio ( I really love the north, particularly Galicia and other towns in that region, which are all so different and beautiful.

In all your travels, what would you consider your most transformative travel moment? Probably the first time I went to Mallorca because I didn’t have any concept of what it would be like or what the island was like. In France or Italy, because I have been so many times, I could tell you which hotel to stay in and which restaurant to book in each city. But Spain is this dark mystery. For someone like me who does so much research and cross-referencing before traveling anywhere, still, I’m completely surprised in Spain. There’s an incredible hotel outside of Madrid called Le Domaine ( that is set in a 12th-century abbey but I don’t know anyone who has ever been there. It’s the most extraordinarily beautiful place.

I have to say, that happens to me every time we leave Madrid (and it certainly happens in Madrid, too). Spain is so untapped, so exposed and there are so many different entities to it. The country is home to amazing artisans, shops and cultural institutions, especially museums. So for me, the first time I started spending time in Spain, which started with time in Mallorca, I was opened up to the idea of this entirely different world—which isn’t over-advertised or really “out there” in the world—and in which I didn’t know what to expect.

Published onFebruary 24, 2016

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