The design world often finds itself drawn into opposing camps—modern versus traditional, functional versus decorative, restraint versus excess. But Anna Karlin will not play along. “Oh, God, no,” she says, in a rather distinct Central London brogue. “If anybody can get off their ass and put something out there, then good on you.”

Karlin’s let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom outlook might have something to do with her eclectic British background: Her anthropologist mother and independent-filmmaker father bred a certain cultural omnivorousness in their now-30-year-old daughter, as well as a sense of wanderlust that brought her to New York in 2010. “I like being new in places,” she says from her workspace in the Lower East Side. “I still feel new here.”

In her design work, Karlin has carved out a niche as a forward-thinking nostalgist, gleefully mingling timeless proportions and motifs with an offhanded, contemporary playfulness. Her debut collection from 2012 included a wood vanity that wouldn’t have been out of place in a late-19th-century Parisian boudoir, but it could be folded up into a neat, easily transportable barrel; her brass-plated chess stools seem weighty and formal, but in her upcoming line they’ll be decked out in colorful patterns reminiscent of 1980s PoMo. She describes her approach as “classical with a twist.”

As she’s keen to work in as many modes as possible, her output includes a bulbous yet elegant line of glassware; a two-armed pendant lamp that’s all sharp geometry on one side and glowing orb on the other; a sideline in graphic design; her own custom ceramics. “I did carpets the other day,” she says. “Am I weaver? No, but I can do them. Does it correspond to the same visual ‘plot’ as the mainline collection? No, but it’s still me.” That, by the way, is another Karlin trait: answering her own questions. (Is she embarrassed when you point this out? Absolutely.) But that, perhaps, is part of her job. “Figuring out different questions and then trying to answer them,” she says, “is what being a designer is all about.”