Something Old, Something New

Lisa Allen has energy to spare. She’s the owner of Ivy Cottage Collections and a thriving residential and commercial interior design business, and is mom to two teenagers. Her boundless energy is evident immediately upon entering her home, which has a lively and upbeat atmosphere that reflects her personality.

Having lived in New York, Boston and Chicago, Allen credits big-city style as one of her design influences. And she’s an expert in the art of mixing — old and new, floral and geometric, color and texture. The Ivy Cottage bears witness to it all, but also creates a challenge. How does an interior designer, with a vast knowledge and deep love for home décor, design her own home? Let’s take a look inside.

Allen designed the bedroom to be a bright and airy retreat. Starting with a neutral color palette, she injected colors in the pillows, accessories and art. A tray table nestled in the window holds some of Allen’s favorite family photos.

Emily Uhland: How did you customize your house in the beginning?
Lisa Allen: We built the house 13 years ago. I found the exterior that I really liked, and then went through tons of magazines, architectural and decorating. I would pick out certain things, especially with woodwork. That’s a relatively inexpensive way to get something really interesting architecturally going on in your house. For instance, the built-in shelves in my husband’s office and the arch for my china hutch in the dining room.

Was it more difficult designing for yourself than for a client?
I’m definitely my hardest client. I’m so picky for myself. I have access to anything that I want, which is a wonderful thing, but to have to edit it out to fit into one house — I could probably have about 27 houses and that would make me happy. There are a lot of different styles and looks and colors that I love, so I had to pick my very, very favorite.

How would you describe your style?
I try to have a somewhat elegant look, but very relaxed at the same time. I want it to be beautiful, but I’m pretty low-key about it with three dogs and two kids. You have to be or else I feel like you’re spinning your wheels doing nothing but cleaning and picking up.

When the bathroom needed refreshing, Allen designed the new space top to bottom, including custom cabinets, countertops and tile. The stained glass window became a functional focal point.

“I wanted it to have a pretty design, but still allow for privacy and light to come in,” said Allen. “I found these glass pieces to play off the light and give it shimmer. I love the bamboo blind as a contrasting rougher texture.”

How long before you felt the house was finished?
I’m never finished, this is my business. I’m forever tweaking and pulling things out and editing. It’s what I do, so nothing is ever permanent in my house. Although the big bones of things, like my upholstered pieces, I’ve had those for quite a long time. I just might change out the fabrics or pillows.

I do try to pick styles for myself and my clients that are classic with a little bit of an edge. So it’s exciting to look at, but it’s livable for a really long time.

Have you made any changes recently?
I actually not too long ago traded out some fussier, dowdier pieces that I’ve had for a while for cleaner, edgier lines. Just to juxtapose my antique pieces with newer, edgier pieces. I love that transition from old to shiny and new. I think that just wakes your eye right up.

“Red is my color. I love it in almost every room in my house,” said Allen. “It just makes me happy. To me it’s almost a neutral.” Valances leave the view unobstructed but bring in Allen’s signature color and lots of pattern. Grasscloth wallpaper adds warmth and texture and ties in the woven dining chairs.

Your dining room makes a statement.  
I love color. I’ve tried to not do color; it just never works. Color makes me really happy. To me, it’s a very emotional thing to walk into a room and feel something because of color. I tend to go toward the warm hues.

This room had quite a few antiques, and I recently changed out the artwork, lamps and chairs to slightly more modern. 

How does your husband feel about all the color?
He is 150 percent on board. He loves the total effect. He knows he’s good at what he does, and I’m good at what I do. We have a nice partnership — he’s a numbers guy and I’m a creative person.

Do you use a lot of antique pieces in your spaces?
It’s fun to go out there and hunt around. When you’re first starting out, antiques are a great way to go. Sometimes they can be more affordable. Now I do much more of a mix, new with old. I’m tending to go toward cleaner lines versus fussier lines.

Do you think that’s a trend overall?
Yes, I definitely do. When we first opened the store, it was French country all the way. That’s all anybody wanted. Fringe and crystals, red and yellow and toile. I don’t think I could give that away now, but it’ll come back again.

Which came first, The Ivy Cottage or your design business?
The store evolved into a design business. It was nothing but a small, 1,000-square-foot  gift store in the beginning. We did have some accessories. People kept coming in with swatches of fabric, and that’s what was really selling right off the bat.

I always loved to do interior design. … So it became a no brainer, I went back to school for interior design at Meredith (College). We expanded and added furniture, expanded again and added window treatments and flooring and bedding. It just really evolved around the need of the community more than anything else. A nice surprise on my end was that this was something not only that I loved, but I happened to have a knack for.

How do you know when it’s time to make adjustments in your home?
I probably do it every five years, but in general you should think about refreshing every eight to 10 years. There’s nothing frivolous about it. It’s your home, you should love it. It makes me really happy to look at an area in my home and say ‘that looks just right.

I think a lot of people overthink the whole process, and they get afraid of the idea of using a designer. They end up doing nothing, or they try to fill their homes with ‘safe,’ which many times means browns or neutrals. There’s nothing to wake up your eye and nothing to warm up the space.

Anchored by a treasured antique rug, the living room is a comfortable spot for the family to gather, including dog Lily.

“We just hang,” said Allen. “It’s not a museum by any stretch, nor do I want it to be.”

What’s the hardest part about designing?
Really trying to get a client, who might be very traditional, to try some things outside of his or her  comfort level that will give her a bit of an edgier, sassier look without making her  feel like this isn’t her  home anymore. That’s what I love to do. When I show my clients how to do it and they start trusting me, we’re off and running. Your home doesn’t have to just be safe. As a matter of fact, it’s a lot more fun if it’s not.

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