An energy flows through the space where Karen Alagna works.
Perhaps it comes from the “blue window” where Alagna displays an outdoor, weatherproof chandelier that cycles through different colors. Or maybe it comes from the colorful, textured fabrics that adorn the furniture, or from the handpicked, custom lighting fixtures that come direct from Venice and the Netherlands.
Most likely, however, the energy in the space comes from Alagna herself. An interior designer by trade, she radiates passion and vibrancy, and her designs do the same.
“I dream of design," Alagna says. "Images will stick in my head.”
And this spot — her Mount Pleasant showroom, The Living Room — is where design dreams take shape.
“I have to be here to work,” she says. “I have a lot of resources here, but, also, I just love coming here.”
It’s easy to see why. It’s a cozy, living room-sized space filled with hand-blown glass, handmade journals, accent pillows and other intimately creative items. Before we sit together on her deep green textured chairs, I tell Alagna that all of her pieces are ...
“... Special,” she says, finishing my sentence correctly. “Yes. Everything is very personal.”
A native New Yorker, she grew up under the tutelage of her design-savvy aunt and opted to do two things: travel and be an interior designer. To achieve her first goal, she walked 40 blocks to the Pan Am building on Park Avenue to ask for a job. Then every three months she would travel as far as her budget allowed.
Her second goal was deferred, briefly. On her aunt’s advice, she followed a different passion: cooking. She graduated from The Culinary Institute of America, one of the first women to do so, from the main campus in Hyde Park, New York.
A move to Seattle brought her closer to design, though she longed to return home after a decade in the grey Northwest. Then, in 2014, a move to Charleston brought new ideas, and a new interior design space.
“This is my dream,” she says referring to her boutique gallery, The Living Room. And there’s a lifetime's worth of ideas in her dream space, with more ideas materializing every day. It’s all a culmination of her personal style and unique vision, which she’s eager to share.
"My personal style is very texture-based,” she says. "I love patterns. I’m bold. I like to create the unexpected.” She gestures at the room. “This is my personality.”
Her personality and her design aesthetic come from several places. As a child, she and her parents went to art galleries in Manhattan nearly every weekend. Artwork still provides inspiration, but she also finds it in fashion and during her travels.
It’s not a stretch to say that Alagna has a distinct view of the world. Occasionally, Alagna gets to be both a designer and translator for others.
"I think it’s just something you have internally,” she says. "If you listen carefully, you’re able to help create the colors and the atmosphere that the client wants, even if they can’t explain to you what they want.”
But Alagna, a master of her craft, helps the process along. It’s a craft on display for all to see. You just have to step into her Living Room.