An Interview With Designer Sam Allen

Sam Allen has been front-and-center recently in the media, his fame spurred on by the unique story of this 19-year-old man who left a prestigious college to pursue his dreams as an interior designer.  Imagined House had the chance to sit down with Mr. Allen and interview the design sensation and get a little more insight into what it is that makes this charming and charismatic individual so compelling.  As Imagined House‘s editor Aaron Everitt found out, it’s much more than the novelty of his story that keeps clients flocking to his design studio.

Imagined House: Can you give us some background on your design career?

Sam Allen:  My mom has been an interior designer for 25 years and has worked at several magazines including American Home Style and Gardening, Country Home and House Beautiful, so I just grew up around the industry.  I can remember getting off the bus and coming into the house to rearranged furniture for different photo shoots and just loving the whole feeling of that.  I liked going with her to her clients’ houses and I would leave the elementary-aged kids that were in the house and find my way to the kitchen to hang out with the moms and would move furniture around with them, changing throw pillows and making the space better.

I just became immersed in this culture of design and creativity. I grew up in a very creative family.  My dad was in the fashion industry and the music business and being in this family of creatives was really inspiring.  From there I began to develop a relationship with Sarah Kaplan, the owner of a store called Dovecote.  When I was 12 I asked her to hire me and she told me I was too young, but I just kept pursuing her and showing up and she finally hired me to work on the sales floor doing retail, then I moved into the design firm and accompanied her to clients’ homes and helped her first-hand in working on jobs.  I really had the chance to learn the business from the retail side of things as well as the creative interior design side.  Dovecote is a great example of all the different design elements and styles I like to mix in my designs. I have always just loved working with and interacting with people who were older and have always been a very social person.  People began to know me through my work at Dovecote and at another boutique retail clothier that I worked for, and more and more opportunities began to present themselves.

I had the chance to intern with Martha Stewart Living Productions for the television show in the spring of my junior year in high school. Then the summer before my senior year I interned at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in Chelsea—that is the headquarters for her magazines and product lines. Working there I got to see all parts of her design world.  I got to see her fabrics and her crafts line, see the retail side of what she had to offer.  While the internship program required Junior standing in college, I was fortunate enough to be the exception to that rule. I was the youngest one to intern there ever.  Being surrounded by older people has really been impacting on my career and on my work.  I really got to see how to build a brand.

Two years ago, however, I had the chance to have my first independent interior design project.  I was contacted and asked to design a suite of teenage girls’ rooms at the age of 16!  It was a gorgeous old home in Southport, Connecticut that had a quarters over the garage that the family wanted to convert into a suite for their three daughters to go and have sleep overs in and for their own private area within the house.  So I started showing them all the ideas that I had and it was wonderful to have a project, for my first one, that wasn’t constrained by a budget.  Once I finished the project, I pitched it to the editor in chief, D.J. Carey, of Connecticut Cottages and Gardens, who then published the work. That’s when I started to see more work.

But prior to that I posted the project on Facebook and received many inquiries  about my interior design services, one of them being another teenage girls’ bedroom.  So the family had me over to their new home and she showed me the bedroom.  I thought that would be the extent of the project, but much to my surprise, she started leading me around the rest of the 7000-square-foot home and telling me her hopes for the other rooms in the house.  That one small project had suddenly turned into an entire house project!  Two days later I got another call from another prospective client who lived in a very modern house on Fairfield Beach and they were looking to have me design the daughter’s room, but the same thing happened again and they started touring me around the rest of the 6000-square-foot home asking me about designing for the whole house.  So with just some photos and a post on Facebook I had these two huge projects.

Imagined House:  What’s your favorite part about being a designer?

Sam Allen:  Being able to get up everyday and not think of what I am doing so much as work, but rather surround myself with things I love.  Being around amazing fabrics and furniture pieces—stuff I get really excited about.  Also being able to implement my ideas and designs and things I love to create and make them come to life.  I think of the fact that I get to design these beautiful homes where people love to live in the spaces that I’ve created a vision for.  Having people love the job I’ve done and seeing them happy with the end result—that for me is the most rewarding part of my job.  My favorite clients are those who initially might not seem to care about how something looks but by the end are wanting to refine the space more and more because of the work I have done.  I love listening to my clients and assessing their needs and likes. It’s one of the great gifts of being a designer is having happy clients and having them love what it is that you create for them.

Imagined House: Is there a design style that you find yourself gravitating towards?

Sam Allen: I think each client is different and they all have unique tastes that help drive the overall design of a space.   My style runs through each project, for sure, but is heavily influenced by what the client wants and needs are.  I tell them “at the end of the day, I might love something but YOU need to love it because it’s your home.”  My initial design aesthetic is a hybrid of Parisian and Hollywood Glamor, but with a mix of Mid-Century modern flare.  So Mary McDonald, David Hicks, Miles Redd.  Also, Kelly Wearstler—some of the ways she uses patterns and mosaics along with color and bold graphic designs.  I also love though the bigger picture of her design world in that she has her own fabric and product line, all things that down the road I would love to achieve for my own name.

I love mixing in Lucite coffee tables and chrome accented furniture, and maybe mixing in a George Smith, English three seat sofa. But I like listening and assessing what it is that my client likes.  If they are more modern or more traditional, it helps me narrow down the choices that we might make for any given project.  I want to make it as “Sam Allen” as possible but all within the context of what the client likes and wants.

Imagined House:  As a younger person in the industry, how do you see generational and cultural influences translating into your design ideas?

Sam Allen:  I am seeing more and more clients moving away from antiques.  They don’t necessarily like “old things,” but rather are looking for clean lines and a “new” feel in the design.  A few years ago, you were seeing the trend of heavier French Country with an emphasis on antiques.  Today however some clients are not comfortable buying vintage pieces or antiques and are more comfortable buying reproduction furniture.   For example, in a man’s “handsome” library I like the use of a pair of vintage leather club chairs—the leather is beat up and worn in and I think it looks great, but a lot of people don’t get that because its not “new.” I also am seeing that some of the trends this year, although I think they have been trends before now too, are Ikat prints, Suzanis, Moroccan-type patterns.  Paint colors have definitely turned grey and animal print will always be in!  Maybe it’s because it’s something I will always be drawn towards to help bring a room together, but animal prints and sisals just seem help to do that for me when I am designing.

Imagined House: What are the goals you have for your design career as you see them today?

Sam Allen:  I want myself to take on more commercial projects, but I also want to expand my sphere onto the national scene.  Down the road I would like to develop my own line of furniture and products.  I’d love to pursue building my own brand and just keep working on all things related to design.  I actually have a project now that I am working on that is a curated event for a site called Joss & Main.  It is a daily flash sale site for the home that marries the lush look and thought-provoking feel of a Shelter magazine with the ease and convenience of online shopping. These are compelling collections curated by design and lifestyle visionaries.  They will be creating a Sam Allen Collection for an event in February.  I am really excited about continuing to build my own brand and trying to involve myself in anything and everything I can with the design industry.

Sam Allen is a captivating individual who is taking an unconventional approach to building a design brand and company.  He has a great ability to see space and transform it into something unique and beautiful.  His website Sam Allen Interiors has an extensive collection of portfolio pictures showcasing his talents.  You can also find him on his Facebook fan page or you can follow him on Twitter (@samperryallen).

Photography Credits: Peace Symbol – Keith Scott Morton . All  other photos – Hilmar Meyerbosse.

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