Allison’s Playful Chinoiserie Modern

published Nov 22, 2010
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Name: Allison and her cats, Pooh Bear and LBA.
Location: Cleveland Park, Washington, DC
Size: One bedroom, about 850 square feet. The apartment is split into two levels, which helps it feel a bit roomier.
Years lived in: 2.5, rented

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

If there’s one thing I learned about Allison from visiting her lovely home, it’s that she is way too modest about her DIY skills. Walking in, my first impression was that her home felt very “put together,” in the best possible sense. So put together that I would never have guessed that things like her perfect roman shades, luxurious headboard, or elegant desk were all her own creations. Studying her home further, it seems as if nearly everything has been given Allison’s creative mark. Most pieces are vintage shop, thrift store, or Craigslist finds that Allison has given a new lease on life with a fresh coat of paint or new DIY upholstery.

Aside from her impressive list of DIY projects and secondhand steals, the most striking aspect of Allison’s home is her upbeat use of Palm Beach-inspired Asian elements. Nearly ever corner is anchored by or accented with a touch of chinoiserie glam. Although Allison jokes that her impressive quantity of faux bamboo items could land her a spot on the Golden Girls, her home has a decidedly youthful feel to it, even while housing a host of traditional pieces. She balances design classics with quirkier and brightly colored items for a look that’s sophisticated without taking itself too seriously.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Style: Classic Palm Beach goes sophisticated urban. With a touch of 60’s beach resort thrown in for fun.

Inspiration: South Florida, where I grew up. There are a lot of bygone eras at play there. You have the 1920’s Spanish style homes that capture old Florida, and then the buildings from the 60’s that are so delightfully retro and borderline tacky. And a consistent resort aesthetic that has been fostered throughout
the 20th century. With such variation of style, there is room for playfulness in the aesthetic. I don’t think I could live in a house that took itself too seriously. There has to be a fun unexpected element to sort of surprise people.

Favorite Element: My taxidermy boar’s head. It was one of my grandfather’s many hunting trophies. When I was little it hung in his office, and the thing absolutely terrified me. Now it is one of my most cherished possessions. People always do a double take when they notice it staring at them!

Biggest Challenge: It’s a small space that can easily look cluttered, so I have to constantly edit my accessories and live by the one in, one out mantra when it comes to furniture.

What Friends Say: They tell me it’s very “me” and that they can tell I put a lot of work into it, which I consider a great compliment. But when I’m not around, they probably ask “What’s with that creepy boar’s head?”

Biggest Embarrassment: I have a ridiculous amount of faux bamboo furniture and accessories. I don’t even want to count the number of pieces. I belong on the Golden Girls or something. Retiree chic.

Proudest DIY: The campaign dresser in my bedroom. It was a heinous 70’s laminate that I got on Craigslist but the construction was solid and the hardware was fabulous. I primed it and painted it a glossy black, and I think it’s something I’ll have for a long time.

Biggest Indulgence: Upholstered furniture. It can really make or break a room. I’m all for cutting corners where you can- the vast majority of items in my apartment came from a thrift store or Craigslist. But with my sofa, I was determined to buy a quality piece that would set the tone for the room and last a long time.

Best Advice: Think of your home or apartment as a work in progress. I’ve found that my tastes are continually evolving the more I travel, the more design magazines I read, and the more homes I’m able to peek into. I never consider things “finished” and it lets me keep having fun editing and refining my tastes. Also, go to thrift stores and estate sales. Often. It teaches you that price is just a number, and a relative one at
that. The Washington area has fantastic thrift stores!

Dream Sources: 1st Dibs and Mecox Gardens.

Other Inspiration: Decorating books from the 60’s and 70’s. Some of the rooms featured look so current, it’s scary. They can really help in defining classic style.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Resources of Note:


    • builder’s white, came with the apartment


      • Sofa: custom from Country Chair in Hickory, NC. They will make anything you can dream up and use whatever fabric you send them. The quality is great and the price is comparable to, if not less than, most of the major furniture chains.
      • Living Room Rug: Urban Outfitters. It’s on its last legs, but considering I got it for something ridiculous like $25, it’s served me well.
      • Gold Étagère: Vintage from Miss Pixie’s on 14th Street. You don’t see faux bamboo pieces like that very often in the Washington area, so I snapped it up the second I saw it!
      • Coffee table : West Elm.
      • Roman Shades were a DIY project. You can see the play by play on Matters Of Style.
      • Dining table: Ikea. Though I’m holding out hope for a marble-topped Saarinen table one day!
      • Dining chairs: Vintage from Miss Pixie’s. I painted them black and sewed the cushion covers myself.
      • Bar Cart: Vintage, courtesy of my co-blogger Sarah. She lives in Charlotte. Her well-stocked attic is my favorite place to shop!

    • Mirror over the fireplace was a Craigslist steal.
    • The sconces are vintage Italian that I purchased at Sleepy Poet in Charlotte. I also love accessorizing with plants, but unfortunately my cats tend to consider them appetizers.


      • The bedside lamps are from Pottery Barn he desk lamp is vintage;
      • apothecary lamp in the living room is from Pottery Barn
      • a friend got it for me from the Goodwill Outlet in Florida.


      • Sunburst mirror: vintage Syroco from Ebay.
      • Bed: Upholstered headboard is a DIY project. You can check out the play by play on Matters of Style.
      • Bedroom bookshelf: vintage, but repainted.
      • X Bench: one of my favorite thrift store finds. Ballard Designs sells similar ones.
      • Octagonal Brass Bedside table: Craigslist.
      • Desk: sawhorse legs are from Ikea but have been painted. You can see details on Matters of Style


      Most of my artwork is vintage, though I’ve reframed much of it. I
      particularly love my antique map collection. It’s a nice way to remember the places
      I’ve lived or cities that are significant to me.

    Thanks, Allison!

    Images: Leah Moss

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