Having founded her interior design firm in 2011, spends her days crafting striking interiors that have earned her accolades across the country. When it came time to design her own Raleigh, North Carolina, home, she found herself blending everything she loved into a collected and quirky space for her and her family. “As designers, we are exposed to everything!” she says. “This probably explains why my home is a complete mish-mash of styles.” And that it is.
The layered and lived-in feel of Allen’s home is a true tour de force for design—a stylistic technique that lends itself to collecting and editing, adding and subtracting, evolving and transforming. Unexpected combinations of furniture, art, color, and fabrics are what make Allen’s signature aesthetic so alluring; striking a balance of old and new unites the seemingly opposing qualities of unfussy eclecticism. So, how does she do it? "I'm not afraid," Allen says. Having designed and built this home as a new designer five years ago, she started the process with a young fearlessness that continues to fuel her now as an experienced designer. Allen credits many of her vintage finds to , the online furnishings and decor company, which has helped her continue her mission for beautifully blended interiors. "I strive to strike a balance with all that I bring into my home in a way that is completely timeless."
We got the chance to talk all things design with MA Allen, through the project that matters most to any designer: their own home.
As one makes their way through Allen's home, the thoughtful assembly of each individual space is obvious—where a tour of the home feels more like a journey through Allen’s craft. An attention to color palettes and textures tell the story of each room. “Playing with color is one of my favorite parts of the job. I live for it!” she says. “For my dining room, I started with dark brown, almost black, walls and added vibrant Matthew Williamson embroidered fabric for the curtains and let my tabletop collections bring in the color.”
Though MA Allen's interiors are grounded in a modern sensibility, she admits that she gravitates toward antiques, specifically those from France and Italy. Growing up, Allen’s home had a collected vibe, and that’s what inspires so much of her spaces now. “My parents have lots of English antiques mixed with modern pieces, and layers on layers,” she says.
Travel has also had a large influence on her entire design career, and in her own home she carefully curates her collectibles as a way of infusing the space with meaning. A gallery wall of masks above her dining nook was made possible through a years-long process of collecting. “Typically when I go somewhere, I like to study up on the indigenous people of that region and what their crafts are,” she says. “A lot of these cultures have masks or pieces that are used in tribal ceremonies, so I started a collection of those.”
When it comes to color, the brighter the better. "As soon as you enter our home you are greeted by vibrant color." An appropriate introduction, as you'll find saturated shades and unlikely pairings from the dining room to her daughter's room, and everywhere in between. While these spaces evoke an effortless boldness, embracing color with confidence was not always easy for Allen. "As I’ve grown and learned more about expressing myself and my passion for color through my interiors, I’ve become quite fearless," she says. "Initially, I would really only let myself do 'me' in a kids room (pictured). Somehow in a room designed for a child, I felt safe to push boundaries. My daughter Lil’s room is the perfect example with rich navy walls, bright fuchsia custom upholstered beds, and bright lively butterfly-printed Roman shades."
In what feels like a direct opposition to her daughter's room, an office combines modern silhouettes with traditional elements. from Chairish adds movement to the wall, while an adjacent portrait and vintage wooden desk ground the space in a classic design.
Allen’s talent not only lies in interior design, but also in styling, as is apparent in her home's statement bookshelf. “In my bookshelf, you may see that there are French glass finials and a Murano glass paperweight that was my great-grandmother’s,” Allen says. “I decided to place those pieces together because they are all aesthetically similar.” Aesthetics aside, she equally values functionality in a space. “If you have bookshelves they need to have books on them. Whenever we are buying accessories to get ready for an install for a client, I always say that I need to see the kind of books they have—we need old books and we need cocktail table books."
Plus, an attention to detail and a meticulous eye makes blank surfaces—like the top of a credenza or a coffee table—a perfect place for experimentation.
“I mix things and try to sort them in an organized fashion. I love mixing and matching because the things that I really love are vintage or antique, and nine times out of 10, I can’t get a set of 14. I have had to learn to mix and match because I want to be able—and I want my friends and clients to be able—to see something at a flea market or on Chairish.com, and buy it and say, “Hey I love that, I will figure it out later.” If you have an arsenal of options, mixing and matching lets you use these sort of sets, she says.
Mastery of a layered style, while sometimes difficult to achieve, comes down to a few basic principles. "Instead of letting things stack up and develop organically and haphazardly, I take time to take everything down, edit my collections and restyle," she says. And if you're unsure about buying something in fear of not finding a place for it, "Just go ahead and get it," she advises. "There is no worse regret than thinking about the vintage item you didn’t buy and knowing you are never going to find it again."