MA Allen Interiors
photo by Anna Routh
MA Allen is a celebrated designer and tastemaker based in Raleigh, North Carolina. She founded MA Allen Interiors in 2011, and her signature maximalist style has captivated the design community. She's been featured in Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Flower Magazine, and The Washington Post. A classically-trained interior designer and well-traveled mother of four, she brings people’s personal stories to life in their homes in unexpected and bold ways.
In Her Words...read on to get to know MA!
How did you get started in Interior Design? What is your background?
From the moment I was born I was encircled by the interior design industry, with parents in the furniture and design world as well as my grandmother, a Pratt Institute graduate and talented artist, doing art projects that involved mixing patterns, textures, and materials. So, it only seemed fitting that I would follow in their footsteps as a principal and interior designer at MA Allen Interiors. As a child, I was always working alongside my mom, decorating and redecorating my room, dorm rooms in high school, apartments in college, and on to my first home. Before taking on the design world, I had very different plans. With a dream of going to law school and becoming an attorney, I attended the University of North Carolina. During my junior year at UNC, I took a trip to Budapest. It was there where I was reminded of my true passion. I spent so much of my time on that trip going from antique store to antique store and loving every minute of it, I realized that law would not be my career path. Once I made the decision to go back to school and pursue a career in Interior Design, I have never looked back. I graduated from UNC in 2006 before entering the Interior Design program at Meredith College. I graduated from Meredith in 2010 with a B.A. in Interior Design and a minor in Studio Art.
photo by Anna Routh
What inspires you today? Who are your design “crushes” or favorite instagram accounts for inspiration?
I am inspired by everything, from fashion to fine art. It’s through these forms that we commonly see bold colors and unexpected color pairings, so why not apply the same within our home?
Of course, our @maalleninteriors Instagram is a source of inspiration that we use everyday to explain various concepts to our own clients and industry partners. We only post photos of our own work and often highlight functional design decisions that aren’t always the types of photos that land in publications. It’s also a place where I can reflect on so many ways design influences my life - fashion, entertaining, travel. @beataheuman is a fun follow for her use of color and pattern as well as the overall quirky and eclectic rooms she creates across the pond. @Mieketenhave is another favorite. A stylist and writer/editor who offers endless inspiration for our own pre-shoot styling by blending gorgeous casual and natural floral arrangements with eclectic tabletops that speak to my soul.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
In dressing and designing interiors, it's a balancing act of contrasting elements like traditional furniture with a backdrop of bold walls, fun patterns and unexpected color pairings creating a visually pleasing end result. A juxtaposition of old and new, traditional and modern allowing the collection of family heirlooms to coexist with the new and shiny.
photo by Stacy Van Berkel
What do you love most about including original art in your designs?
Original Art is a tool for us. It can be the starting point to developing a palette for a room or the device that unifies various colors dotted throughout a space for the perfect cohesive finish. Art is so personal, and allows us to show the individual tastes of our clients.
I’m really excited by luxury, boutique hotels. The opportunities to influence a fully immersive experience and get into the nitty gritty details - scents, bedding, reception, branding - would be a dream come true. We successfully pull together large concepts for residential interiors by intentionally considering every detail, I would love to bring this same design thinking to the public.
Favorite thing about living in the south?
I love so much about Southern culture! From the traditions stems so many branches integral to my design style. From setting a formal table with china and silver to designing a new construction home with the intent to entertain, the welcoming side of the south is always inspired.
photo by Anna Routh
Current design trend that you think should take an early retirement?
My eyes are growing tired of the overtly clean farmhouse interiors: bleached oak, white walls, and black metal accents.
What is your favorite room in your own home?
It's a tie between my ladies’ lounge and our butler’s pantry. The ladies’ lounge is a glorified office. Glass front cabinets with pleated fabric panels disguise neat rows of shoes and bags, while Gracie wallpaper paired with matching fabric panels envelop the walls. It's a haven. The butlers’ pantry is home to many of my most coveted collections. China on display, silver in locking drawers, crystal and colored glass placed on brass and glass shelves. It's a jewel box space with FPE hollandic lacquer walls and cabinets, wallpapered ceiling, and brass countertops. Because I am always function first, even as the maximalist that I am, everything for entertaining can be turn keyed in this space with an integrated brass sink, hidden crystal and china dishwasher, and bar appliances connected between the kitchen and dining room.
What are your three “must haves” in order to create an inviting space?
- COMPREHENSIVE LONG TERM DESIGN PLAN - It may not seem like a “must have”, but every so often, I see people lacking in the upfront investment of their project to create a holistic plan for their space. Whether it’s been piecemeal together overtime or by discounting the value of hiring an Interior Designer. When families make the mistake of designing one room at a time, rather than creating a whole house/holistic concept before beginning a project, the process of bringing together these spaces becomes limited and almost impossible in the long run. While most individuals are eager to buy new and exciting pieces, they sometimes make the mistake of buying without a plan. They may not think through the process and end up with conflicting styles and stories as you journey through the home. These mistakes may seem minuscule at first but can disrupt the welcoming, inviting space you intended making it a project must.
- WINDOW TREATMENTS! This can be a tough pill for many clients to swallow because yes, they are expensive and no, they likely will not move with you (although we have successfully transitioned window treatments from one home to the next ). Incorporating decorative details alongside functional solutions that offer privacy and light control not only impacts the efficiency of the home, but the overall aesthetic. Many times the decorative solutions tie together the layers of color and pattern found throughout the space.
- A WELL DESIGNED FOYER - Serves as the perfect introduction for what's to follow and sets the tone for the rest of the house. Whether large or small, we make the available real estate pack a punch. We often find no floor space for furniture, but can make the room impactful by activating the walls, ceiling, and floor. Wallpaper that sets the tone, oversized lighting to catch the eye, a statement stair runner... it just depends on the space.
What are some design upgrades you recommend to clients that won’t break the bank?
- Reframing artwork can be impactful. Add a double layer mat for a pop of unexpected color or even a fillet. I love adding a fillet next to a frame to get a combination of finishes, making it easy to further blend metals within a space like unlacquered brass and sterling silver.
- A can of paint is always a bang for your buck! Whether painting a piece of furniture for a fresh new take, switching the trim from white to wow within a room, or painting walls or ceilings - it's all good!
photo by Stacy Van Berkel
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