Sam Allen’s Rules

The Connecticut-based design talent shares principles for put-together spaces.


For rising design star Sam Allen, the “rules” of design are an elusive concept. “The truth is, there just aren’t any,” he laughs. “In the best rooms there has to be a mix—I like to put together some vintage items, some antiques, and a few newer things. That’s how you establish a sophisticated look.”

That said, there are certain common threads in every room the 20-year-old designer, whose Joss & Main Curator’s Collection debuted November 20, dreams up. Here, he dishes on his essential design directives.

Proportion is everything.
“Nothing looks worse than something that’s way oversized or undersized,” Allen observes. When selecting seating or tables, think beyond how many guests you’d like to accommodate, and consider what’s appropriate for the scale of the room before making your selection. Items with a grander scale can help fill out a large-format room (“High back chairs are very dramatic in a tall dining room,” he notes) while minimalist designs might be more appropriate in a petite space.

Think in pairs.
“I’m definitely into symmetry,” Allen explains. “I love a console with a pair of lamps, or two identical accent chairs as a pairing in a room.” That doesn’t mean going matchy-matchy; if you select a coordinating pair of table lamps, try going with a dramatically different material for a chandelier overhead. Which leads us to…

Incorporate contrast.
The key to keeping a room from feeling too formal or casual, Allen says, is balancing refined, traditional elements with unfussy, easy-care furnishings. “I love pairing a slipcovered sofa with a set of elegant upholstered chairs. That lends nice contrast and interest to the space.” The same goes for accents: “I might pick a pair of great gray driftwood etageres, but I’ll pair them with an iron-base coffee table with a more Belgian look.”

Bring something organic into the room.
“I always find myself using sisal or seagrass for floors,” reveals the designer. “They can go in a modern house, traditional house, or a beachside home; they can work whether your look is English or Belgian. I always like bringing some organic, natural element into a room, especially driftwood, cerused oak, and petrified wood.”

You can’t go wrong with ikat.
When it comes to textiles, Allen, says, “I always gravitate toward ikat and ethnic prints. I like how they add depth to a room. It gives you a nice rich mix.”

Keep bed and bath linens simple.
Printed or highly embellished bed pillows and duvets are generally something Allen avoids. “I like to keep it simple, with a crisp look. I tend to do all-white or ivory bedding, with a subtle pop of color in a single or double band around the border of the bedspread or pillowcases.” Ditto for bath towels: “For me, they’re never a color. If I bring in an accent, it’s in an embroidered band or chain—that’s all.”