Using design to elevate the San Diego lifestyle


With an upbeat sense of community design, Michelle Harrison-McAllister creates West Coast interiors that revel in the unexpected.

“We take our relaxed environment seriously,” says Michelle Harrison-McAllister. “And there’s a new wave of residents and companies who are elevating San Diego’s lifestyle as the design centerpiece.“


The SDAF board member says it’s an ideal time to toast the architects and designers  who continue to shape our environment and the spaces that define it.


On this day, Harrison-McAllister is wearing her signature bold spectacles and a red kaftan while kicking up her heels on a neo-leather recliner.  She has mastered the art of making interiors playful yet warm, giving us a wholly modern vocabulary for comfort along the way. Founded in 2000, Michelle Harrison Design is a boutique firm specializing in lifestyle design for multi-family communities, commercial and office space.


The designer has spent two decades cultivating a community sensibility while keeping us guessing. The through line is her eye-catching practicality, expressiveness and proactive commitment to local collaboration.

“It’s all about our city and what makes it tick,” she says. “The design reinforces community by subtly reflecting it.”

Case in point: Casa Lago, an apartment complex next to the  Olympic Training Center in Eastlake, unites style and function.  An open floor plan creates communal spaces ideal for cooking and kicking back while two fitness rooms redefine the gym experience. A weight room is emblazoned with American murals while a cardio space is more organic thanks to greenery from Tend Living.

“The energy of a space can transform someone’s experience in it,” she says.

A self-described art-obsessive, Harrison-McAllister inserts local talent wherever possible. For Cielo in Little Italy, the lobby serves as a mini museo, featuring the work of San Diego artists. The overall design is modern and artful. Never stuffy.


A native New Englander raised in Coastal Connecticut, her designs convey a viable connection to place. Vida North Park is functionally hip. A bike storage doubles as a repair space; and the mod pool and lobby area feature an array of high-designed nooks to host everything from hipster happy hours to zoom calls.

Other S.D. projects show off a contemporary sensibility, and eye for unusual accents. At Broadstone Little Italy, she tapped into the barefoot lifestyle of Capri for interiors that marry European design with beachy SoCal. And at Broadstone Makers Quarter, she warmed over steely masculine design with whimsy and rock ‘n’ roll (bathrooms are plastered in speaker wallpaper).
Off-duty, Harrison-McAllister opts for floor-to-ceiling neutrals. Her home is awash in calming hues of cream, porcelain and muted beige. “My personality is so colorful. I love the tranquility of a blank canvas.”

Interview & write up by Gillian Flynn, connect with her at

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