Interior Designer Elizabeth Allran has always had a kinship with color. Long before she became a sought-after designer with Carybased Design Works Studio and before she studied painting and drawing and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from East Carolina University, her love of color and bold design was born.
“My parents enrolled me in a lot of after-school private art lessons throughout my childhood,” Allran recalls. Although she gained a lot of technical skills through her art education, what she loved most was taking breaks to explore the art teachers’ homes. “One I’ll never forget was a really moody and dark powder room that I was crazy for. The textured wallpaper was barely lit by a pair of red-shaded sconces, and there was always a scented candle burning. The toilet and sink were black porcelain.” The brazen design left a lasting impression on her.
Her current canvas is a three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch-style home adjacent to the North Hills community in Raleigh. Here, she expresses her talents through her fearless design choices and singular style.
In her living room, vintage Haviland plates in brilliant hues embellish the fireplace wall, and oversized antique brass candlesticks unearthed from a consignment store in Morehead City flank the portrait she painted of her late dog, Tinkerbell. By continuing the same vivid palette of bright aqua, fire-orange coral, gold, and black, Allran has achieved a cohesive look while letting her eclectic aesthetic shine. “It’s bold, but it all works together,” the designer explains.
As an avid collector of colorful and unique pieces, Allran often transforms the items she finds on her hunts—she replaced a shade on a gold panther light she found at a Salvation Army and made a console table out of four ball-and-claw mahogany legs she found on a curb. “I have to stop myself from taking on too many home projects, but there is really no reason to not paint my front doors pink,” Allran says. “For me, color and pattern are everything in design. It’s life and happiness. I promise you’ll never regret bringing more color into your home.”
While in Greensboro for a friend’s wedding, Allan slipped away between the bridal luncheon and the ceremony to go antiquing. “I found an incredible Art Deco screen in the most unattractive shades of mauve and tan, but I just saw so much potential in the design itself.” She brought it home and hand-painted over the dull colors, leaving the beautiful gold-leaf details untouched. It’s now the focal point of her dining room.
“The perspective is such that my small room actually feels much larger, as if you’re looking right into a grand ballroom. It’s such a conversation piece and I feel really fortunate to have found it.” She completed the dining room featuring the one-of-a-kind artwork with a sizable black-and-brass statement pendant from Visual Comfort. Caned chairs from CB2 circle a midcentury-modern inspired dining table and decorative plates from Anthropologie adorn the walls. Acrylic wall brackets display vintage Emploi and Murano glass that she found on Etsy.
Allran remembers a distinctive home in Hickory that left a lasting impression on the future designer. She and a friend would sneak in to see the home as it was being completed. “They painted every room a different bold color and there was no ‘flow color’ to speak of,” she recalls. “I was able to see the house furnished, and all of the rooms were themed, based on their travels to different places around the world. I don’t feel like other people appreciated the quirkiness, but I loved it! It was like a vacation in every room.”
Allran brought her own theme room to life by creating a Mexican oasis in her guest room. She painted the walls in Sherwin- Williams Spearmint and continued the color on the custom built-ins that she designed with bamboo trim. Allran hung paintings by Janet Hill Studio near the windows and textile portraits of Frida Kahlo above the bed. The duvet cover features a Frida Kahlo print, and accessories from her travels are layered throughout the room to give it a rich and authentic texture.
“If you think about it, a theme room never goes out of style. They aren’t trendy,” Allran explains. “Not too many of my clients want a theme room, but I can do it for myself. I am transported when I walk in there.” The ability to fashion your own retreat is not something Allran takes for granted, as she’s had to turn her art studio into a work-from-home office during the pandemic.
“Your home affects your psyche. What your space looks and feels like matters—especially right now.” The designer frequently shops at second-hand stores, often bringing home a find that she doesn’t yet have a plan for. “That’s the beauty of shopping second-hand or in consignment stores—it takes the pressure off,” she continues. “It’s a reminder that good design has no price tag and the value is in how happy something makes you feel.”
Allran’s space is ever-changing. If she tires of something, she gives it away and allows room for inspiration to strike in a new way. The pieces that have staying power are the ones with sentiment and story. In her curated, curio cabinet of a home, there is no shortage of inspiration. Allran finds comfort in the old, possibilities in the new, and always lives in color.