Remember this name: Karen Gallo. The New York–based footwear and accessories designer made a splash this year with her debut collection of leather and calfskin cross-body bags, sleek backpacks, and boots, winning her some mega A-list fans (hello, Beyoncé!). But what really impresses us is her easy, playful way with interiors, as demonstrated in the new restaurant she co-owns with her chef husband, Steven Gallo, and their business partner, Michael Forrest. Open for barely two months, Galli—the Lower East Side outpost of their first location in SoHo—was the site of the Lonny staff’s holiday lunch last week.
The mood of the space is confident and expressive, a design statement in a neighborhood with an “urban and masculine feel,” in Karen’s words. “I want people walking through the Lower East Side to stop in front of our windows and look inside,” she says. For immediate impact, she started with a black-and-white color scheme—“a design staple for me in whatever project I work on”—and added lively and sophisticated hits of green throughout, along with subtle yet effective metallic accents. Rustic farm tables that can be combined for communal seating look even more welcoming surrounded by the classic round tables and café chairs elsewhere in the room.
Juxtaposition plays a big role in Karen’s work. “I always base my designs on contrast—I love a sporty and classic shoe, bag, and interior, and I make sure each has a touch of understated elegance,” she says. Her inspirations embody this aesthetic philosophy. “I like men and women who are confident but discreet, strong but simple and easy. Johnny Depp and Phoebe Philo are two perfect examples that come to mind.”
The marble-topped bar is clearly the centerpiece of the interior. Backed by vintage mirrors and shelving with gold details, and complemented by white subway tile and dark wood flooring, the entire area emits a burnished glow. “It’s a strong focal point that still has a soft and inviting quality,” says Karen.
Wallpaper is another standout element in the space. Karen sourced the bold botanical paper from a vendor who salvaged vintage stock in the ‘80s and ‘90s from Deco-era homes around Miami. “I loved it so much that I bought all the stock,” she remembers. Even though it didn’t work for the original Galli restaurant, she saved it and found a perfect fit in the Lower East Side location. As for the quirky illustrations in the bathrooms, they’re an affectionate nod to the couple’s inner circle. “I sketched some of our best friends during late-night parties at Galli, and then worked with a company called Design Tech to execute the look,” Karen explains.
The food? Hearty, satisfying Italian fare with a surprisingly delicate touch—think kale Caesar salad, rigatoni pasta with eggplant and ricotta salata, and baby rice balls that the Lonny team devoured almost instantaneously. And the floral-patterned serving plates are old-school in the most nostalgic of ways.
Next on the agenda for Karen: a men’s sneaker collection (which, if it’s anything like her ‘90s hip-hop–inspired pool slides, will be highly in demand in our household), as well as another interiors project that was offered to her shortly after the restaurant opened. “I really hope to one day have my own interior design company,” she says. We’ll be waiting.