Matt Carollo designs his space with a sure hand — and style that's in his DNA
BY CINDY DAMPIER . PHOTOS BY BILL HOGAN
The mailbox is the first sign that things are different in Apartment One.
In a vintage building on Chicago’s north side, residents’ names are hand-scrawled on pieces of tape between the row of little metal boxes and an angry reminder from the postal carrier. (“No name no mail!”) All but one. “Carollo,” reads a tidy label neatly centered on the first box in the row — a small clue that the owner of that mailbox isn’t fooling around. Details matter to Matt Carollo.
“I think I knew what I was going to do from the time I was 12,” he says, and when you step into his place, you get it. The postage-stamp-size foyer has a chandelier, (‘It was hanging in my parents’ basement,” Carollo says, “and my mom was thinking of using it but I said, no, wait, I’m going to need it.”) two vintage portraits of real-deal ancestors in heavy gilt frames, and black walls with matching glossy black trim. Around the edges of the tiny square of wood floor is another defining detail: a trim black stripe. “It’s the tape that they use to mark basketball courts,” says Carollo, who never fails to cop to his DIY side. “It stays in place really well, except for one little part where I was moving the sofa.”
The living room, you see, used to be stationed over here — where the dining room is now.
That’s how it goes Chez Carollo, the home of Jayson Home’s assistant buyer, who seems to not only have found the job that suits him perfectly, but an innate style at home.
It’s a style informed by a lifetime of collecting. Growing up in rural Michigan, he says, “there wasn’t much to do in our town except shop.” And so he found himself tagging along to antiques stores and auctions with his mother, developing an eye for a good light fixture or a well-priced credenza at a precocious age. In high school, he held a job in an antiques store, further cementing his love of (and access to) all things vintage. Which partly explains why, the second he took possession of his present rental, Carollo was able to replace all the light fixtures with vintage lights which range from delicate dangling crystals to geometric midcentury brass-and-glass. He also tackled a kitchen with cupboards painted with a single slipshod coat of white paint, over the previous tenant’s bright red. “I wish I liked red,” he says, “but I just can’t do it.” He remedied the sickly pink that remained with a signature paint color, Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe, which he also used in the living room.
If DIY is one pillar of Carollo’s style, an unabashed love of more — small space be damned — is another. “People talk about the one in, one out rule,” he says. “Here it’s just one in.” His rooms are intensely layered and personal. “If I can’t stop thinking about something, I know it has to come home with me. And if I really love something, I’ll find a way to use it.” In the living room, a settee that belonged to his great-grandmother, and was reupholstered by her in jewel-green mohair, presides over a Milo Baughman-style burled wood coffee table. “I had seen it in an antiques place,” says Carollo, “and decided I had to get it. But when I went back, it was gone. I was walking around the store, kind of depressed, and a woman asked if she could help me. I asked about it, and she said, ‘Oh yeah, it was so big that we finally had to move it out of the way somewhere.’” He got it for a song, “and then I knew I had to look for an apartment that would fit that table.” And it does — stacked high with coffee table books and chosen objects, or cleared off for board games or Thai take-out with friends, it grounds the space in both function and unswerving style. Just as Carollo knew it would.
Matt Carollo on how to make your space a showcase for your style
Avoid distractions. “Trends come and go quickly,” says Carollo. “I might buy something that’s on trend, but if I buy it, it’s because I really love it, so I know it will stay with me.” Instead of trying for a look defined by someone else, buy things you love and your own look will begin to emerge.
Start early. “I was buying things I saw and storing them at my parents’ house even before I had a place to put them,” he says. Even in a first apartment, a vintage piece or eye-catching find brings more personality to the picture than a room full of brand-new things.
Mix well. “I love so many styles and periods,” Carollo says, “and they really can all look good together. I love the ornate carved edge of a table against the modern lines of old wire chairs.” A lively mix allows you to sneak in big box purchases, too — like Carollo’s IKEA lacquer and Serge Mouille-knockoff lamps that gain elegance from surrounding pieces.
Get dirty. DIY, not just design, is in Carollo’s DNA — his great grandmother was known to tackle her own upholstery work. Among his current projects: an upholstered bed, restored brass hardware on doors, and a kitchen countertop that he sanded and coated with patching cement to get the (absolutely credible) look of a cement countertop. “I’m not afraid of a little work to change things and make them how I want them to be,” he says.
Go bold. Confidence is stylish, so don’t stop short of a big gesture. “People always try to talk me out of dark colors,” says Carollo, “but I love them.” His dark-painted walls create an elegant, dramatic backdrop that works well with his things.