A League of Their Own: 5 Buzzworthy Interior Designers
With an artistic bent and an eye for details, these MVPs of the residential interior designer scene are transforming Pittsburgh.
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Alisha Gwen Interior Design
You could say Alisha Gwen always wanted to be an interior designer, and it was evident even in early childhood.
As a little girl growing up in Vienna, W.Va., Gwen would rearrange the furniture in her bedroom without asking permission from her parents. The felt of the family’s pool table became the green “lawn” for the imaginative houses she would construct for her Barbies dolls. As a teen, she discovered her grandparents’ subscription to Southern Living magazine.
“It always had a floor plan section in the back that I was obsessed with,” Gwen says. “I would tear it out and redraw in ways I thought could be better.”
Drawing inspiration from the generic house plan books found in the local Lowe’s Home Improvement store, she soon graduated to using an old T-square and drawing board sourced from an uncle to create her own floor plans.
She attended nearby West Virginia University, which has an accredited interior design program. After school, she worked for two years in a hometown furniture design showroom before making the bold decision to move to Pittsburgh with no job — and very little in her bank account.
“I signed a lease with my friend who had gotten a job here, and I got a job two months later,” she says. “It was hard for a few years, but I came out on the other end of it.”
Then reality television came knocking.
While working for a Pittsburgh interior design firm in the South Hills, Gwen applied for and won a slot on the short-lived HGTV series “Showhouse Showdown.” The program pitted two interior designers against each other in making over two unfurnished show houses with the public choosing the winning design.
At 25, Gwen was the show’s youngest contestant.
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“I was like OK, I’m young and I have a fresh perspective and I have some recent portfolio pictures that feel fun and modern,” she says. “I just was like, ‘We got this.’”
While she didn’t win the contest (which was filmed in Cranberry Township), she gained something more valuable — an influx of clients.
Four years ago, she launched her own design firm, which first operated out the loft of her Shadyside townhouse. In September 2016, she opened the Alisha Gwen Interior Design studio along Ellsworth Avenue.
Although she’s not opposed to neutrals, Gwen, 33, says she’s most known for her ability to mix color, pattern and texture into a sophisticated, yet playful, palette. Like any good HGTV alum, she gives her clients the full-service treatment on “installation day,” making them leave the house while she fills the fully decorated home with fresh flowers and candles. The reaction she gets most is happy tears.
“They just walk around like, ‘I can’t believe this is my house,’” she says. “It feels really good to be able to give them that experience.”
Her work also has been featured nationally in HGTV magazine, including an upcoming spread set to be published in the spring. Her hope is to one day open her own home decor and furnishings store.
5823 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; alishagwen.com