Boy Wonder

Midwestern decorating prodigy Matt Carollo translates his lifelong penchant for remarkable finds into a one-bedroom rental with old-world soul

The Chicago living room of Matt Carollo, awash in a moody shade of Farrow & Ball paint.
The Chicago living room of Matt Carollo, awash in a moody shade of Farrow & Ball paint.

It’s morning in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago, and while others are enjoying a cup of coffee and a cream-cheese-smeared bagel with Robin Roberts, Matt Carollo is admiring the view of his charcoal-gray living room (the color: Down Pipe by Farrow & Ball). “I love the way the sun streams through the windows,” he says. “I have a Moroccan wedding blanket and a lumbar pillow, each with little silver sequins, and I like to get up and see how the light is hitting them.”

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Carollo purchased this houndstooth armchair from a design store he worked at in high school.

Carollo, as you may have guessed, is in the interiors business—he works as an assistant buyer for the Chicago-based furniture and decor retailer Jayson Home, where he started as an intern while at the Illinois Institute of Art. But the 25-year-old’s passion for beautiful things and his curatorial sense of their placement in his thoughtfully assembled world extends beyond a mere day job to something more serious and capitalized: a Life’s Work. He found his calling at the age of 12; while other kids were dusting off their cleats for Little League, Carollo and his mother would drive for hours from their home in Kingsford, Michigan, each weekend in search of treasures at auctions, estate sales, and antiques stores. “I ended up doing most of the decorating in my parents’ house,” he says. His version of a middle-school crush? Shabby Chic mogul Rachel Ashwell. “She was very popular at the time—and she had this whitewashed linen duvet cover that I loved. My mom finally caved and let me buy it.”

Matt Carollo.
Matt Carollo.
Boy Wonder
A blowfish curio tops a set of design tomes.

Though he’s since transitioned from his French Country distressed-paint days, a hefty portion of the spoils of Carollo’s coming-of-age decor adventures—a chartreuse tufted chair, a taxidermy blowfish, and a crystal chandelier, to name but a few—came with him when he moved into his one-bedroom apartment two years ago. (The rest lies in wait in his parents’ garage.) He was initially drawn to the ’20s-era building for its character, and was soon sold by the DIY challenges it presented. “I love to put in work, so I painted every single surface, sanded and stripped the kitchen cabinets, changed out all the light fixtures, and took each knob and hinge and handle down to its original brass base. My friends think I’m crazy because I rent, but I like to make a space my own— it doesn’t feel like home otherwise.”

I have [a dinner] service for 16, which is a little nuts because my dining table only seats four.

–matt carollo

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Gray tones—here enlivened by a burst of yellow blooms—suit the apartment's throwback mood.
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The collection of ironstone dinnerware is kept in a charmingly worn cabinet that once belonged to Carollo's great-grandmother.

A quick survey of Carollo’s manifold belongings evokes a sensibility best described as dignitary meets magpie—as though a cabinet of curiosities and an attic’s worth of historical relics had been laid bare, meticulously edited, and presented in salon form. Carollo attributes his inclination toward a moody, gray-blue backdrop to the influence of British decorator Abigail Ahern, and cites J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons’s former Brooklyn townhouse as inspiration for the Benjamin Moore Chalkboard paint in his bedroom. “There’s such depth to it,” he says with admiration. Having favored a more traditional vibe in his early years, he now prefers to mix eras—a midcentury Milo Baughman coffee table shares floor space with an early-20th-century green mohair settee inherited from his great-great-grandmother and a pair of leopard-print velvet chairs picked up on his first buying trip in the South of France. “I have a bit of a chair addiction,” he admits.

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The cloudy effect of the bedroom walls was produced with Benjamin Moore Chalkboard paint.
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The tufted chair is one of Carollo's teenage acquisitions.

Artwork is both plentiful and diverse. There’s a Gauguin-esque vintage figurative painting on a gallery wall; hand-colored family portraits of distant ancestors; an oil painting diptych (each panel measuring eight feet high) depicting a classical scene in the living room; and an abstract black-and-white piece in the dining room—just something Carollo threw together by painting over an abandoned canvas he found while doing laundry. “I always enjoy sketching and doing stuff like that,” he says modestly.

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A discarded canvas becomes a work of art perfectly balanced between a pair of spray-painted lamps.
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Zebra—as pattern and art motif—is a frequent sight chez Carollo.

This is a guy who clearly delights in working a theme. Zebra patterns abound (in Sharpie-sketch, floor-rug, and papier-mâché-bust forms), as do brass trophies (“I was never a huge sports person in school, so maybe I’m unintentionally awarding myself?” he posits). Most notably, there’s the ironstone servingware—enough to accommodate a banquet at Downton Abbey—housed in a perfectly chipped antique hutch in the kitchen. “I have service for 16, which is a little nuts because my dining table only seats four,” Carollo says. He’s also not inclined to throw formal dinner parties, preferring Thai takeout when his friends come over—though he does “love to set a table.”

But one gets the sense that Carollo’s finery, as with everything else in his Aladdin’s Cave of a home, will yet fulfill its raison d’être; after all, he’s always been the planning-ahead sort. “It was never just about buying things for my bedroom,” he says of his impulse to begin collecting in his tween years. In other words, good design can’t wait, but life—that can catch up later.


Boy Wonder



Jayson Home assistant buyer Matt Carollo has a lifetime’s worth of antiques on display in his Chicago apartment. But you don’t have to clean out 1stdibs to crib his intensely curated look. Just embrace his favorite design elements.


    “An easy way to add a bit of glam. They’re timeless, and they work well in traditional and modern interiors alike.”


    Benjamin Moore’s Chalkboard paint and Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe get the star treatment in Carollo’s home. 


    “I will never understand the concept of getting rid of everything and buying new. Vintage and antique items add personality.”


    “I’m a fan of moody pieces and black-and-white works. When I see something that catches my eye, I pick it up on the spot. There’s always a place to hang a new find.”


Boy Wonder


Matt Carollo reveals the six things on his shopping radar.


     “I started collecting ironstone when I was around 13. I like the simple lines, the fact that the pieces mix well with other vintage dishware, and the way some have darkened over years of use.”

  • IKAT

     “I'm drawn to almost any vintage textile, but have a special fondness for ikat—it’s been around for centuries but still feels fresh.”


     “It’s about the way he used and mixed materials—burled wood, chrome brass, glass—and the clean lines of his work, which make for great transitional pieces.”


     “I'm always picking up geodes and crystals in little antiques shops. I have a collection of stone paperweights on a console in my living room.”


     “It's a classic pattern, yet it reads as new. We have a few pieces currently at Jayson Home that came back to the apartment with me as soon as they were in stock, including our marquetry bone boxes and deck of cards.”


     “Metals come and go in popularity, but I will always love brass—the way it ages and takes on a patina over time. Adding a little bit to a room ups the bling factor; this is one metal that doesn't feel cold.”

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