After a night of babysitting at age 14, Michelle Adams knew what she wanted to do with her life. Her mom’s friend, who was an interior designer, had hired Adams to watch her daughters. While there, Adams sifted through her woman’s magazine collection, intrigued by designers like Rachel Ashwell (who’s credited with a shabby-chic aesthetic). “I started a binder full of magazine tear-outs of the women I admired,” recalls Adams, now 37. “I still have it.”
Her next life-changing moment happened while flipping through yet another magazine during class at Michigan State University: “I saw this ad for a magazine called Domino, and it looked so cool and different,” says Adams of the then Conde Nast home design publication. I said, ‘This is where I’m going to work.’ ”
Adams not only ended up working at Domino — she eventually became editor-in-chief. The gig was part of a thriving career in New York City, where Adams — who also co-founded a successful online shelter magazine, Lonny — made a reputation as an unpretentious tastemaker.
Playful with a giddy sense of humor and a tendency for borderline-inappropriate jokes, Adams doesn’t shy away from risky moves. That’s why, in 2014, she decided to leave her dream job at Domino and New York and move back to the Midwest (she grew up moving around the region). “I was really burned out from eight years of constant photo shoots and traveling,” says Adams, who has visited everywhere from Morocco and India to Mexico and California. “I knew I needed to take a break and figure out what else there was for me in life.”
Five years since settling in Ann Arbor — “I moved here because my family is close, and because I wanted a house and a yard and a dog” — Adams has several projects under her belt: The Maryn, her online editorial destination and home shop, turns three this year. She has also launched Adams Creative Studio, a design-consulting company whose clients include Zingerman’s Cornman Farms (she also completed an interior redo of their dreamy farmhouse recently, which was part of an ongoing collaboration with Cornman Farms chef and owner Kieron Hales). Then there was the complete renovation and redesign of her 1920s home in Ann Arbor’s leafy Burns Park neighborhood, which inspired much attention when it was featured in publications like Midwest Living and House Beautiful.
Adams may have left New York to slow down, but her life isn’t short on excitement. As editor-in-chief of The Maryn (whose name means woman of the sea), Adams has zigzagged across the United States, and as far as Provence, France, to art direct and produce elaborate home tours, gorgeous style stories, and lush artist profiles. The website, which has more than 11,000 Instagram followers, has spawned a series of collaborations with publishers and lifestyle sites. “The Maryn has been a great excuse to meet people,” Adams says. “I’ve met a lot of people who have brought me into new projects.”
Adams’ taste for adventure has served her well since her undergrad days, when she chased the Domino job by cold-calling editors. “Anyone who answered, I asked for a job,” she says. The plan worked: In 2006, within one week of graduating college, she landed a job as an editorial assistant.
She spent the next two years working 70-hour weeks and “learning from some of the most talented designers on the planet” before the economy — and the publishing industry — collapsed. Multiple design magazines folded, Domino included. “At the time, I was dating a photographer, Patrick Cline, and we were at Chili’s, drowning our sorrows,” recalls Adams. She was lamenting the lack of magazines to read; he, the lack of magazines to shoot for. “We looked up at each other, and said, ‘Let’s effing make one!’ ”
Lonny debuted in May 2009. “We had no idea what it was going to become,” says Adams of the magazine, which featured informal-yet-beautiful home tours. It was sold to a digital media company in 2012. That’s when Domino, revived under the ownership of Domino Media Group, offered Adams the top spot on the masthead. “Going from editorial assistant to editor-in-chief felt hilarious,” she says. “And unreal.”
Years later, Adams’ time at Domino looms large. “That job made me,” she says. Still, she doesn’t regret letting it go. Moving to Ann Arbor “was the healthiest and best decision I’ve ever made,” says Adams, who, on the heels of her Cornman Farms redo, is now eyeing a jump into hospitality design for hotels and restaurants. “That would be amazing.”
In the meantime, she’s embarking on yet another project with her new best friend, a miniature golden doodle named Rufus. They moved into a mid-century fixer-upper because she was hungry for something new. “I’m having a ball shifting toward a Scandinavian style.” Adams, who’s been putting in hours of work into the new place she bought in 2018, is the designer. Rufus is the muse. “We are both very happy,” she says.
Michelle Adams’ Five Fall Design Tips
“Swap out summer stripes and florals for fiery jewel tones and warm, earthy harvest hues. Pillows, throw blankets, and dinnerware are an easy place to start.”
Opt for Odd
“Skip the standard jack-o-lantern and instead go with a grouping of white pumpkins and spotted gourds in rich fall colors and fun shapes. It’s festive, natural, and a bit unexpected.”
Strike a Match
“Add candlelight and burn incense to fill your home with a warm woodsy scent. I’m a big fan of the Piñon Natural Wood Incense by Incienso de Santa Fe. It makes my home smell like a mountain house with a roaring fire, and even comes with a cute little teepee burner!”
“It’s hard to deny the sense of nostalgia every year when it’s time to head back to school. For a crash-course on Ivy League style, study up on classic films like Love Story and The Graduate, then ring in the season with tartan plaids, heavy tweeds, leopard prints, rich leathers, and stadium throws.”
“Drape cozy blankets on sofas, pile on wool bedding, and toss extra slippers in a basket for house guests.”