Allison Polish practices at home what she preaches at work
Curbed's weekly original tours series takes you inside homes with eye-catching style and big personality—from modern tiny homes to pedigreed midcentury gems and everything in between.
Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today, we look at the Chapel Hill, North Carolina home of Allison Sloan Polish, the president of Spoonflower, a company that gained international acclaim by giving customers the ability to design or customize fabric and wallpaper and then print their creations. Polish used her own home as a laboratory for the concept, filling it with colorful prints, quirky collections, and features designed to spark the imagination of her family.
Her home in Chapel Hill’s Greenwood neighborhood is the epitome of the modern farmhouse look, and Polish’s creative flourishes have tailored it to her family. When Polish speaks about the place and her affection for it, it seems like design destiny. But the truth is that it almost didn’t happen.
Polish and her family—husband Jeff and sons Jackson (10), Dillon (8), and Maddox (6)—were living in another home, one that was perfectly fine, but Polish desired something else. "I wanted a bigger yard and, to be honest, another design project," she says. "It was an idea I had to sell my husband on."
A year ago, they found a house they both agreed on, and they made a bid on it. "The night we finally put an offer in on a house that I had been coveting, I went home and started thinking about this house in the Greenwood neighborhood that I had seen online a month or more earlier but never visited," she says. "We were finally making progress on the house I was sure I wanted, but I started to get this nagging feeling that I had to visit this Greenwood house."
In an uncharacteristic move, she asked her husband to visit the place with her the next day (usually she screened the real estate options first and then brought him in if there was promise). "I just had a feeling about this one, I can’t explain it," she says. Her hunch proved to be correct, and a little more than a year later, what started as a whim became the place they call home.
The area and the house itself have an interesting history. Greenwood was created by Paul Green—a North Carolina native, UNC philosophy instructor, and playwright. Green received a Pulitzer Prize for a play called In Abraham’s Bosom and acclaim for film screenplays (reportedly, his Hollywood paycheck allowed him to buy the land).
The first home on this Greenwood plot was owned by poet Charles Eaton who, with the help of Green, founded the creative writing program at UNC.
When the Eaton family built the house in 1957, it resembled a bungalow. Later additions gave it such eye-popping features as an indoor pool and a ballroom. Yes, you read that correctly: a ballroom. "Both are unusual features for homes in this area," says Polish.
After the Eatons died, they left the house to the university, and it fell into disrepair. Eventually, it was sold to a person who added a modular addition by Nationwide Modular Homes to the front of the house, giving it more square footage (it currently clocks in at 7,000 square feet) and the farmhouse look and feel.
The second owner also converted the ballroom (a massive 35-by-26-foot single room) into a kitchen, dining room, and family room. After years of renovations, it went on the market. When the Polish family bought it, they became the third owners.
Polish has always been design-minded (she started her career as a buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue), but when she took the Spoonflower job, she found a place where her professional and personal passions synced. "I love playing with color," she says. "Designing my home gives me a chance to express myself and have a world of fun doing it. I like it so much that when my last home renovation was complete, I was sad that it was over."
The new, larger house got her creative juices flowing again. And, as the head of a company that produces fabric and the recently launched Roostery (where you can create your own upholstery print or select from a catalog of indie fabric designs for furniture, napkins, tea towels, placemats, and pillows) she found herself in the position of having a blank canvas while working with an almost endless supply of raw materials. In other words, it was a match made in decorating heaven.
One of her first moves was to drain and fill the indoor pool. "For us, a pool just didn’t make sense," Polish says. "Instead, we made it usable space by turning that area into a rec room. Not only do we have gym equipment here, we have an arts and crafts area, a ping pong table, and space for the boys to run around and play."
Next up, add color. "Many people say, ‘your home is so colorful’ when they see it," Polish says. "The truth is that it’s a mostly white house with very controlled bursts of bright color, but that gives it the illusion of being color-filled."
This was her first personal project since taking the helm at Spoonflower, and she was excited to use some styles she’d been coveting. "I had a lot of favorites I’d been waiting a long time to use," she says. "Thanks to peel and stick wallpaper, I was able to put it up myself in a few hours after work. It’s essentially like using a sticker, and that makes the process really, really fun. It also makes the process more forgiving when you make a mistakes and lowers the stakes. If I don't love it in a few years, I can simply peel it off the wall."
Pops of wall pattern show up in the 15-foot-long, built-in cabinetry in the family room (an arrow print), in the homework room (a black-and-white chevron that’s echoed in the curtains), and the bathrooms (including a whimsical ice cream cone print in the boys’ bath).
"The bathrooms were smaller and without many (if any) windows, and this is where I had some fun," Polish says. "I gave myself a pink bathroom, the only pink in this house. Two of my boys share a bath, and I let them choose a wallpaper. Of course, they decided on yellow-and-white ice cream cones."
It’s not the only room the warm hue enlivens. The living room also has it’s moment in the sun with lemony leather armchair recliners, throw pillows, and accessories that live against a backdrop of white and gray. Elsewhere, blue and red also have star turns, showing up in wooden chairs, patterned pillows, artwork, the inside of a cabinet, and the boys' rooms. "I’ve never been afraid of color or pattern," says Polish. "And in this house, I decided to explore my geometric side."
She also plumbed the depths of her creative side here. Opportunities for imagination include a coloring table and a puzzle station. "I bring home samples of black-and-white peel and stick wallpaper, and the boys and I use it to cover a butcher bloc table, and then we color it in," she says. "I’m also somewhat obsessed with doing 1,000-piece puzzles, and I have a table dedicated to that. It relaxes me, it fuels my creativity, and it satisfies my drive to complete things."
Perhaps the creative pièce de résistance is the hallway where the walls are lined with Lego baseplates, as in the large Lego tiles that serve as the foundation for plastic-brick creations. "I saw the feature on HGTV, and told the boys I’d be game," she says. "We did it by mounting plywood on the walls of the hallway that leads to their rooms. Then we adhered the baseplates on, constructed a giant wood frame to finish off the look, and added two rows of hardware organizers for the Legos. They love to write their names, and other things, in bricks."
Polish also uses her collection to add her personal stamp to the home. She loves old doors, and mounted a 300-pound, eight-foot-tall red portal as a piece of art in the kitchen. "It even has a door stop attached," she says. A collection of clocks is throughout, including one that’s fashioned from a bicycle wheel.
"Sometimes creativity takes the form of what you curate, not just what you make," Polish says. "Curating this home has helped me make it be what I wanted it to be."