Alison Damonte is therisktaker

This isn’t a run-of-the-mill success story. Yes, Alison is a thoughtful, colour-centric and successful interior designer who embraces the weird, but that is not where she started.


Alison Damonte is a colour-loving, award-winning interior designer for the adventurous. Based in San Francisco, where she's run her own design firm since 2012, Alison's not afraid to take risks.  After leaving her home in Iowa to study political science and explore a career in law, Alison followed the call of the disco ball instead, when she realized her love of all things playful and colourful were better suited to a career in design.

SL: What is the biggest risk you’ve taken? Did it pay off?

ALISON: When I was in my 20s, I took huge risks. The first big one was moving to San Francisco without ever going there or having a job. Now that I think about it, it was pretty ballsy! The next thing would be meeting Martha Angus at her showroom and thinking I need to work for this person at any cost and quit my job to make it happen. I spoke to her the next day and quit. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be where I am now because I didn’t have a linear career path in front of me.  

SL: Tell me about a failure you’ve experienced—how did you get through it, and how did it help get you to where you are now?

ALISON: It’s a weird feeling, but I don’t think I have many failures, but rather things I would’ve done differently. I’ve been fortunate, I’ve had work, and I haven’t struggled to get work. I’ve always kept my business really small, but that’s a hardship now. How do I let go of some of that work? How does my role change, and how do I stop doing everything? I think that’s one of the things I struggle with is how do I run a creative business. It’s cliche, but people usually say, “they don’t teach you that in design school,” and I didn’t even do that! No one prepares you.

SL: What does community and collaboration mean to you? What role does it play in your practice?

ALISON: A huge part of my daily work is collaborating with people; it’s the foundation of the firm that I have built. And I’ll be totally honest with you, I don’t have a formal education in design, so I rely on the expertise of people within my network. Another important thing for my practice, in San Francisco specifically, is getting my clients to support other artists so they can stay employed and stay in the city. It’s to keep the community thriving here.

SL: How do you get yourself in “the zone” to work?

ALISON: This is a tough question for me to answer because the last year and a half have been really rough. There is little separation between work and life. In a perfect world, I shut off all outside communication and just sketch. Just being able to doodle and sketch is such a refreshing break from computer screens, even if my iPad is my canvas. I just have an app that shuts off my email, and I don’t work with music; it’s nice to have no distraction and work in silence. We’ve become so accustomed to working from our email, going into the office and logging in, but it’s a terrible thing to do. It’s not creative at all. Sometimes I just want to look at fabric samples before anything else.

Also, pre-pandemic, I’d take myself out of my element, go to art shows etc., to feed creativity which put me in the zone.

SL: Tell me about one unexpected place where you draw inspiration? 

ALISON: Gosh, did I even go through the inspiration phase - sometimes it’s just like, “I’m just diving in. We’re doing it!”

This is not a great place to get inspiration, but I think that Pinterest is wonderful to find images, but sometimes I ask myself, “am I just reproducing ideas that I’ve already seen?” I feel like in order to be inspired, you have to get excited about something, and I get excited about the unexpected, adventure, the unknown, so when I have clients that have a sense of adventure, it makes things super inspiring - like I don’t always have to paint a white kitchen. So, I’ve always thought that old 60s and 70s design books have been inspirational. Especially Barbra Plumb’s books, some images are just awful, but the sense of adventure people had back then is inspiring; it’s not cookie-cutter inspiration.

"When you remain true to yourself and what you really love, you produce better work."

SL: Why colour? What drew you to this design aesthetic? 

ALISON: I guess I didn’t realize how much colour I used until people kept telling me, “you use colour so much!” Now, I’m trying to think about colour in these odd, unexpected combinations rather than just bright colours. Colour is definitely a big part of my world, and I need it. But, I’m in my bedroom right now, and it’s black and white because I’m just tired of the onslaught of colour everywhere else in my house. So, now I’m trying to use interesting combinations, but it’s not over the top. I think colour is super inspiring, and it makes me happy. I use it because I love it.

SL: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to the “you” that’s just starting out?

ALISON: When I started my firm, I would’ve been more selective about the kind of work I was taking. I was taking on everything, but sometimes it’s not a good fit. A project has to be a good fit for the client but also for you. I definitely think I should’ve been a bit more strategic about it in the beginning; you can get really slowed down and disillusioned. When you remain true to yourself and what you really love, you produce better work. 

SL: Can you share a few career resources you find invaluable (books, websites, podcasts etc.)?

ALISON: One of the people who has really helped me in my career would be my business coach, Anna Scott. She has really shifted my mindset from how I deal with problems at work, how I deal with them in my body, and how I respond to clients. 

There is a podcast I love that’s called A Well-Designed Business. It’s about a woman from New Jersey who owns a window covering business, but she actually has these really insightful interviews with other designers, and that has been pretty informative. 

I also talk to other designers. I feel like talking to others while being transparent can help you do something in a lot of different ways. I think there’s this idea that everyone on the outside knows exactly what they’re doing, but no one really knows. Even my friend, an interior designer and arguably people would look at our work and think we’d be competitors, but she’s my friend. We share insights, troubles and successes - having that support system is so important.  

"I think colour is super inspiring, and it makes me happy. I use it because I love it."

Who is inspiring you
right now?

Anna Scott

Anna Scott is my business coach based in Oakland.

Anna Scott is my business coach based in Oakland.

Leslie Hammons

Art dealer & co-owner of Weinstein Hammons Gallery in Minneapolis.

Art dealer & co-owner of Weinstein Hammons Gallery in Minneapolis.

Maya Seely

Stylist from San Francisco.

Stylist from San Francisco.

Tina Frey

Resin artist from San Francisco who I adore.

Resin artist from San Francisco who I adore.

What are you loving right now?

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