Friday, October 25, 2013

Allison Hennessy

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch

Up-and-coming designer Allison Hennessy was listed in 'Traditional Home' magazine as one of the  best of the “New Trad” designers. She has skillfully decorated a tiny West Village rental, turning it into a charming home for herself and her husband, Robert Hennessy who started DashLocker, a business which places and then services lockers in non-doorman buildings for package delivery and laundry. Relatively new arrivals to New York, it was cheering to see how they’re making their lives and their businesses work in just the way bright young people in this city are supposed to.


This is the dream small walk-up West Village apartment of romantic people who want to move to New York!

I love the West Village and I value location over square footage … and amenities, obviously! But I’d really like an elevator.
Looking across the living room into the study.
A vintage Suzani that Allison found at an Atlanta flea market covers the living room sofa. The pillows are made out of Amy Karyn fabric from Jerry Pair.
So you were in included in a list of “New Trad Designers”—I wanted to know what you would have in a “new trad” room that you wouldn’t have in an “old trad’ room.

To me “new trad” means traditional elements that have been updated and are a bit more streamlined. For example I would do very simple curtains rather than lots of pleating and fringe and tassels. You could have a traditional sofa-shape but have it upholstered in a contemporary fabric.

Would you ever use chintz?

I do like chintz but I wouldn’t do a whole room in chintz. You could combine it with a modern geometric pattern.
A hanging fixture from Visual Comfort lighting is reflected in the Venetian-style wall mirror from a flea market in Atlanta. Allison cleverly disguises a wall of storage with linen fabric from Mood.
A memo board displaying family photos hangs above a pair of slipper chairs and a small side table from Oomph. The ikat pillows are from Bermingham & Company.
I read somewhere that you loathe recliners, which made me like you. Sian and I often talk about how men love to have a comfortable chair but it’s inevitably an ugly chair. Do have any suggestions as to how to work around that?

[Laughs] [The guy] usually comes with his recliner that was inherited into the marriage from his bachelor pad and then I’m hired. So what happens is that I’m pretty laid back about the recliner at first. I let it exist. We decorate the room with the recliner and then he usually says, “You know, this recliner is looking pretty bad compared to all the other beautiful things in the room.” So his taste becomes more sophisticated once he gets used to all the other nice things in the house.

Well that hasn’t happened to me. Is that only possible with younger men? We have older husbands who are set in their ways.

[Laughs] Most of my clients are on the younger side. Usually when they’re hiring me, I’m not often hired to do re-dos of homes– it’s usually clients upgrading to a larger space. And there’s always a home for the recliner in the basement. And [if there isn’t a basement] I say “in my experience the proportions of apartment rooms don’t allow for such a large, bulky piece of furniture.”
On the far wall is a bar that Allison originally made for a Southport, Ct. showcase, 'Rooms With A View'. The showcase paid tribute to legendary designer Albert Hadley. 
Tucked behind the barware is a rendering of the room Allison designed for the Southport showcase 'Rooms With a View'.
Open city views, including the top of The Empire State building can be seen from Allison and her husband Robert's West Village apartment.
And they buy that? Good for you! I also think I’ve found a kindred spirit in you because you don’t like sectionals. Oh God, they’re everywhere—I even have one!

I’m not a fan. I don’t see the purpose of them because people think that in the family room they’re going to have this ‘L’ or ‘U’ shaped piece of furniture where lots of people can sit but to me they’re not inviting. No one is going to sit in the corner—that’s dead space—people like the independence of chairs.

The living room used to be a room that people didn’t use—Mario Buatta calls it “the dead room”— [Sian] I wasn’t allowed in our living room at home. My mother actually had slipcovered plastic over the furniture to keep it clean.

Well, I’m from Florida and it’s a bit more formal than the rest of the house but it has cotton slip covers and a sisal rug, and my sister and I played the piano in there, so we really did use it. Toning down your living room so that people can use the space is a must.
In the study a slipper chair covered in an ikat fabric from Quadrille stands next to floor lamp by Jonathan Adler and a Parsons desk from West Elm. Hanging above the study desk are recent articles on husband's Robert's business, Dash Locker.
A stunning Italian leather desk set by Arte & Cuoio is a recent purchase from Barneys. Allison's stationary is from Sugar Paper.
Clockwise from above: A bookcase from CB2 is filled with design magazines, books, and other assorted art and objects.
Why did you want to come and live in New York?

My husband got a job in finance and New York is the best place to be for design. It’s really nice to be around so many ambitious people.

It’s nice?

Yeah! Life in Florida is more affordable and laid back but I don’t know if I would have my business if I were there. I’m a lot more ambitious now that I’m surrounded by so many ambitious people.
In the master bedroom Allison mixed a pale lavender linen headboard with light blue-and-white wallpaper and bed linens. Paintings by Virginia artist Caroline Sims Laffitte are grouped together above the headboard. The wallpaper by Sherwin Williams is actually removable.
A swing arm lamp from Shades of Light hangs above a bedside table from Worlds Away. Family photos in silver frames stand near a small decorative tray that was given as a gift from friend and fabric designer Michael Devine.
An oversized white cabinet from IKEA provides much needed storage space in the master bedroom.
Did you know that you had that ambition in you somewhere? What do you want for your career?

It’s bad but I don’t really have too many long term plans. I just take things day by day and execute the best I can on a daily basis.

Um … that doesn’t sound very ambitious. You must have some goals or dreams, no?

Well, I always want to do better and I’d like to do bigger projects, somewhat but … um, in order to manage stress I just can’t think that far into the future.
To enliven the all-white kitchen Allison painted the walls in a grey–and-white stripe. A cozy eating area in the kitchen is covered in fabric from Roberta Freyman.
Allison served us delicious pastries and tea.
Allison made this memory board herself.
And you’re an Anglophile– what is it about English style that you like?

I’ve always liked it. I think it comes from the books I was exposed to as a little girl, all the Jane Austen novels—I grew up with two younger sisters and we couldn’t get enough of those. And I have a very ladylike mom and upbringing, it was all about tea parties and then I went to England with my mom when I was twelve.

Did it live up to your expectations?

Oh, it was my first time in Europe and had a huge impact. I went to the Sanderson showroom …

When you were twelve?!

I don’t know how we ended up there but I bought some bedding. And then we went to Laura Ashley and I picked out some wallpaper and then we went to back to Florida, we ordered the wallpaper. I just thought that was the coolest. And I also studied a semester abroad there in North London. I didn’t mind the dreary weather and I like the humor of English people. Everything is a little bit off, a little bit whacky.
A view across the kitchen. Monogrammed towels and shower curtain from Leontine Linens in New Orleans give the pre-war bath a finished look.
How does it work between you and your husband when it comes to decorating your own space?

Well, we’ve been married for three years and I thought the decorating would be a collaborative process so I invited [my husband] on a furniture shopping excursion and he had a lot of opinions and we just didn’t get very far.

You mean he had too many opinions so you squeezed him out of the process?

[Laughs] It was a bust! I just started buying stuff and putting it in the apartment. He likes it once he sees it installed and doesn’t have to make decisions or be involved in any of the manpower getting it into the space.

I admire your kind of stealth approach: people-will-come-around-to-my-way-of-thinking-eventually. It speaks of a certain confidence.

Um … I guess it would be a subtle confidence. I don’t think of myself of really confident or cocky but it is the relaxed way of convincing people.