In advance of his Paris Regency collection, curated exclusively for Joss & Main, we chatted with designer Sam Allen about his auspicious beginnings, precocious style, iconic influences, and words of wisdom for those starting out in the industry.
While most 19-year-olds spend their days in the library, classroom, or their dorm room, designer Sam Allen can be found redecorating chic homes in Manhattan, being interviewed by The New York Times, or entering Albert Hadley’s “Rooms with a View” as its youngest contestant to date. Allen’s vibrant blend of youthful design and old-soul talent have gained the teenager growing acclaim, making him one of today’s hottest up-and-coming talents.
Raised in in Westport, Connecticut, Allen spent many of his early days accompanying his mother Leslie Allen, an interior designer, to clients’ homes, design centers, and photo shoots. “It shaped me hugely,” he says. “Growing up in a very creative family, going with to meetings with my mom to clients’ homes… I’ve always loved it. I instantly knew that one day I wanted this.”
From a young age, Allen found himself emulating his mother, and eventually creating his own distinct style. “I was always rearranging my living room, my own bedroom,” he says eagerly. “Switching out a pair of lamps from my parents’ master bedroom down into the living room, changing throw pillows from different rooms.” He recounts fondly, “We have this great butler’s pantry in my house, with these great big black cereal jars. I switched up the different brands of cereal to get just the right color, and my mom was like, ‘There’s no point in taking the cereal out of the box and just leaving it in jars, sitting there getting stale,’ and I was like, ‘I just don’t care, it just looks so nice.’”
At the age of 12, Allen started frequenting Sarah Kaplan’s trend-setting Connecticut store, Dovecote. Within a few years, he had landed a clerk position and was accompanying Kaplan on trips to Paris and the south of France, visiting flea markets and antique shops for one-of-a-kind inspiration. He says those trips were a huge influence in learning “the French way.”
“The architecture in Paris, all those different types of windows and gorgeous doors, the beautiful archways and the gorgeous French linens in my hotels. I just can’t get enough,” he says with excitement. “And some of my favorite shops in the south of France, in Avignon, in Léon, Bevy, all those little charming towns where I can find all these great antiques from all the different antique fairs and flea markets. Getting these pieces truly brings together a room.”
Back in the States, Allen began amassing clients and eventually started his own design firm, Sam Allen Interiors. “[Now], it’s less me going out and finding people… I’m getting a lot of clients by referral. I’ve been lucky that there’s never a stale period,” he says, sounding less like an excited teenager than a humble young man who realizes just what he’s created. “It’s all been word of mouth.”
When starting a project, Allen says, he meets with the client, assesses the space, listens to the client – and the room. Fabric is also a starting point. “You’ll tell a lot of inspiration from a fabric sample. It can be the pattern, the color, the texture of the fabric, or it could have all of those three components in it. It really leads to the wall color and the furniture.”
Allen’s clientele enjoy his signature look – a decadent blend of elegant Parisian and glamorous Old Hollywood. “If I had to describe my aesthetic in five words, I’d say fresh, clean, Parisian, Old Hollywood, and glamorous. I definitely think that a lot of these women are more into this glam look.”
Naming Miles Redd and Mary McDonald as his design inspirations, Allen says he’s particularly drawn to McDonald’s “signature Old Hollywood glamour” and her ability to seamlessly mix in other styles like Moroccan or Bohemian. “I also really love the use of her colors,” he adds enthusiastically.
For other teenagers and young designers just starting out, Allen suggests that, “Confidence is key, and just because you’re a certain age doesn’t mean you can’t start pursuing whatever your hobby or interest is.” He says don’t take no for an answer and don’t be too particular with your first design jobs – get experience where you can. And, he adds, speaking beyond his 19 years: “Have a lot of courage.”
View Sam Allen’s exclusive Curator’s Collection.