By Matthew Hacke | Photographs from Erin Alvarez
West Virginia native Alisha Gwen’s knack for interior design began as a young child, when she could often be found transforming cardboard boxes into miniature dream homes or rearranging the furniture of her bedroom. Getting even more creative in her teen years, Gwen would find inspiration from reading the house plan section of Southern Living magazine and then design floor plans for pretend clients. “I have always known I was going to have my own company, so it was never a matter of if, but a matter of when,” Gwen says.
After attending West Virginia University and receiving a degree in interior design and entrepreneurship, Gwen moved to Pittsburgh, where she turned her dream of owning her own business into a reality. Her impressive residential projects, including individual room redesign, small to large remodels, and new construction, as well as her smaller commercial jobs, have taken her throughout the region and across the country. “Although primarily based in Pittsburgh, I’m always willing and eager to travel for a great project,” Gwen says. “I have collaborated with clients all over West Virginia, up and down the East Coast from DC to the Carolinas, and on both Florida coastlines.”
Gwen’s chic and elegant work has garnered much attention in the interior design realm, including a gig on the HGTV reality program, “Showhouse Showdown,” and most recently, a 10-page spread in HGTV Magazine. We recently caught up with the interior designer to learn more about her professional accomplishments, as well as some home decor tips just in time for 2018!
What ignited the spark in you to start Alisha Gwen Interior Design?
I grew up ‘in the family business,’ so I witnessed firsthand what it was like to create something from nothing — to work relentlessly at something you are passionate about. Although the car dealership business is drastically different than interior design [laughs], running any business takes an understanding of how to lead, and I learned by observing.
How long have you been in business?
I’ve been out on my own for about four years now. I opened my studio on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside in September 2016. Prior to the studio, I worked out of the loft in my home for two years, and before that, out of another local design studio.
You’re originally from West Virginia. Why did you decide to set up shop in Pittsburgh?
When I moved here almost eight years ago, it was because my best friend had landed a job here and we had made a pact that once one of us landed a job, that was the city we were going to move to. She landed the job first, so we found an apartment in Shadyside and I moved here with no job to speak of. After two months, I was hired at a local firm as a Junior Interior Designer. Fast forward two years later, I landed an HGTV television gig on “Showhouse Showdown.” The reality show competition focused on two designers who were given the same budget to work on identical houses. We had six rooms to design and decorate from the ground up. I modified both the kitchen layout and the master bathroom from what was on the house plans to better the design and stand out from the competition. In the end I chose not to sacrifice my aesthetic for the sake of winning. Once the show aired, I began obtaining clients of my own. I have remained in Pittsburgh because of the lasting relationships I have made both personally and professionally. I am also very close with my family, so I am only two hours away and get home every chance I get, which was another plus of setting up shop here!
How did your recent feature in HGTV Magazine come about?
The magazine had previously published a photo of my work. I kept in contact and reached out again later on with professional photos of the project that was featured once it was complete, and expressed why I thought it would be a great fit for their readers. Thankfully, they agreed immediately! Once the project was given the green light, they scheduled the shoot and flew down two editors, a photographer, and a stylist from New York City. The entire shoot took two days! I have a few more projects they are considering, so I hope to build and maintain a relationship with the magazine to gain further national exposure.
What home trends are you forecasting for 2018 in interior design?
To be honest, I don’t pay much attention to trends per say because I don’t follow them. I pay more attention to the latest and greatest plumbing fixtures and fabric cleaning technology, for example, than I do what is ‘trending’ in paint colors. I focus my energy on helping a client discover his or her individual style, whether it’s trendy, modern, traditional, or a mix! I tend to air more on the side of traditional for the main investment furniture pieces in a space, and incorporate ‘trendy’ items in the form of accessories and pieces that won’t break the bank. A good mix between high and low and traditional and modern will always be trending for me!
Locally, from a design perspective, I have noticed a trend of families passing along the same design aesthetic from generation to generation. Therefore, I have made it my mission to challenge clients to think outside the box and allow me to help them define their own aesthetic!
Alisha Gwen Interior Design, 5823 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside. 412.503.3432. alishagwen.com.