Trade Secrets: MA Allen

Sophisticated. Comprehensive. Luxe. These are just a few descriptors that come to mind when presented with Raleigh based interior designer MA Allen's work.  As president and lead designer of her eponymous interiors firm, the spaces she and her team create are at once striking and family friendly. 

MA is a clear expert in the world of interiors and was tapped as a member of House Beautiful’s Next Wave Designer Class of 2020. We are excited to share our sit down with her, where we gleaned some knowledge on several topics ranging from raising kids and running a business to useful decorating takeaways. 

Read on for a look into the colorful world of MA Allen. 

Katie Gaston: We often talk about the “versatility of modern day motherhood” here at Baybala. What does your version of modern day motherhood look like?

MA Allen: Today, intensive parenting requires an investment of time, finances, etc. at every moment of the day. To me, this is only sustainable if self-care is prioritized and protected. For example, in order for me to fill my own tank, I have to wake up before the kids to self-care, which means I sleep less by getting up earlier, but I’ve found my groove and it works.

K: Tell us a little bit about MA Allen Interiors.

MOur firm's style combines clean lines with a modern sensibility, allowing every space to have rich layers while remaining functional and comfortable. I layer bold colors, patterns and texture with a contemporary feel, which has established our signature style. Through extensive travel nationally and internationally, I have developed a personal style that is collected, classic, and bold, while maintaining a strong sense of sophistication.

 K: In what ways has being a mother helped you run your business? And vice versa. How has running a team and business helped you be a better mama?

M: Learning how to delegate allows me to make the most of limited time through psycho time management skills and prioritization. By choosing which moments you are a part of, like giving up the mundane tasks, allows for quality over quantity. I don’t waste precious moments with my family on anything that someone else could do: scheduling, putting gas in my car, etc. Anything in my life that I don’t have to be the go-to person for completing the task, allows myself a few extra minutes each day that I can use towards something I want to be a part of and I take advantage of these opportunities as much as possible.

K: There is definitely a difference in how we live in our homes with children versus without. How do you approach a project where kids are involved versus when they are not? And did your stance on this change after you had your own children?

M: Designing beautiful homes for families that are living a full life is one of our specialties, from playrooms to bedrooms to sophisticated kid and pet friendly rooms. My own home is a testing ground to see how products and vendors, fabrics and materials weather the storm. With everything, it's thoughtfulness and an emphasis on functionality first and foremost, without sacrificing beauty. We do believe in quality and environmentally friendly items that will stand the test of time versus disposable furniture. All of our children’s rooms are designed to age up and become transformative spaces with the child. Playrooms are never designed in a way that feels like adults shouldn’t also have a movie night in the same space. We aren’t using juvenile prints or taking a step down in the quality department. Well-built furniture can take a beating over time, compared to the off the shelf options that will quickly deteriorate with a busy lifestyle.

K: Your work is sophisticated and luxe with a healthy dash of fun! What does your design process look like?

M: With a passion for pattern and as a color devotee, I love to incorporate these aspects into my designs. Designing spaces that live and wear well for families with busy lifestyles, such as myself, we always begin a project thinking through functionality, durability, and sustainability. This thoughtfulness carries throughout the entirety of the design process. We never miss the chance to test out a seat in person or perform the tried and true blueberry test on fabrics (i.e. does the blueberry juice stain the fabric or not). You’ll see the same process in other aspects of my life as well, from pulling together unexpected patterns from sustainable fashion partners to setting the table with hand-made tableware and linens. Everything has a purpose and a place in telling a greater story.

K: What are your top pieces of advice for women attempting to create family friendly homes?

M: When creating a family friendly home, you don’t want to sacrifice your own personal style, you should feel empowered to incorporate your taste into your kids rooms and playrooms. Always stay true to your style and find ways to make it functional for your family and everyday life. Essential to creating this environment is by including rooms that the entire family can enjoy, such as a versatile living room that can be used for the kids to play while easily transformed into a post-dinner entertaining space for guests or dressed up for an impromptu date night at home. Thinking about functionality again, it will be important to keep in mind that creating these spaces should make your life easier, meaning you should prioritize storage and organization to maximize efficiency in your living space.

K: I love that idea of creating spaces that make your life easier!

Can you let us in on the biggest mistake you see people make when they are designing their homes?

M: Every so often, I see people lacking in the upfront investment of their project, whether piecemealed overtime or by discounting the value of hiring an interior designer. When families make the mistake of designing one room at a time, rather than creating a whole house/holistic concept before beginning a project, the process of bringing together these spaces becomes limited and almost impossible in the long run. While most individuals are eager to buy new and exciting pieces, they sometimes make the mistake of buying without a plan. They may not think through the process and end up with conflicting styles and stories as you journey through the home. These mistakes may seem minuscule at first, but can disrupt the design process greatly and result in wasted time
and resources.

K: Are there any can’t-live-without items you have for your own home that you would recommend for family living?

M: I cannot stress enough the importance of beautiful sheets in the highest quality thread count you can afford. Treat yourself to this luxury, especially in your own bedroom, at the very least. Something else I value in my own home since I am a working mom of 3 is organized cabinets designed with inserts to allow you to maximize that extra space and increase functionality. I promise, this will make your life easier. Cabinets can only be as effective as the design and thought put into them, so make sure to keep this in mind when planning out your space.

K: In your opinion, where are the best places to infuse sophisticated style in a family home?

M: (Read: where and how can you bring in style and investment pieces in ways that won’t get damaged.) Window treatments always stop guests in their tracks and bring unexpected depth to a space through the introduction of color, pattern, texture, and style. Of course you can spend a lot on fully customized solutions, but you can also start out with simple solutions like woven woods or playful, patterned roman shades. Not only does this create visual interest in a space, it's highly functional for light control and privacy.

K: We’d love to get your thoughts on playrooms! What are your tips and tricks for organizing and storing all the things in style and creating a space that melds with the rest of the home while still offering everything kids look for in a play space.

M: Having three young children is always a factor I keep in mind when creating a playroom for other families. When it comes to playrooms, this is an opportunity to express your personal style and take a little bit of a risk while creating an inviting area for the kids to be kids. When curating your space, think of options that serve multiple purposes such as adding custom banquette seating that can be used for the kids to complete puzzles and crafts, while also accommodating storage once the fun is over.

K: In our Things Of Note section You mentioned New York City as a favorite place to travel with kids. I am sure you have some great recommendations. What are your favorite hotels and must-do activity with kid in NYC? 

M: For all things tourist, you just can’t beat the Plaza. They have great suites with a simple kitchenette making it easy to settle in. If we are exploring Downtown, my daughter Lil loves the High Line Hotel. The coffee shop in the lobby is always full of locals with their pups and that’s a plus in Lil’s eyes.

As an interior designer, my absolute favorite is the Crosby St. Hotel designed by Kit Kemp, each room is unique and memorable. The Children's Museum of the Arts in SoHo - great exhibits and interactive art sessions. Also in Soho is The Color Factory. The kids talk about it monthly, it's great for all ages!

You do a lot of walking in the City, but nothing beats walking the High Line - There are so many great views along the way and it offers an easy stop at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

My kids are the ultimate tourists and celebrate riding the subway, so we make sure to always get at least one ride in.

During the summer, I love grabbing a drink at Grand Banks. This oyster bar is built on a boat docked off a pier in the Hudson. My kids love their oysters! Beautiful design by Kit Kemp and a perfect location in Soho for shopping focused trips. 

Things of Note: 

  • Go-to uniform for days of work and play?

A skirt with a tucked in tee and platform shoes looks pulled together, yet dresses down a fancier skirt for an easy transition from work to swim team practice.

  • Favorite travel destination without kids? 

Italy. I love Rome! But, Positano is also a fave. I mean can I just say I love all Italian cities?!

  • Favorite Travel Destination with kids? 

New York City

  • Go-to activity for connecting with your littles?

We love books & stories at bedtime, this is where kids divulge all their secrets! LTK Link

  • Your partner?
We’re committed to a once a week date night, whether dinner and a night out on the town, evening couples tennis match or that 6 AM hot yoga session. We sneak it in however our busy schedules can accommodate.
  • Favorite Online Destinations and/or Accounts to Follow?

@Chairishco @modaoperandi

  • What do you consider to be a moment of zen?

Those final moments in a hot yoga class when you work through a challenging flow.

  • Where is the best place for our community to find you online





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