Interior designer Lauren Ashley Allan has become so well-known in her native Hinsdale that she almost doesn’t need an introduction. When this tastemaker moved back here from L.A. five years ago with husband, Graham, and a baby on the way, she was one of Kelly Wearstler’s Senior Designers and then Creative Director for Nate Berkus— investing all her talents in the companies she worked with while forging her own reputation locally for a fearless design aesthetic that is as modern as it is timeless.
Between working downtown and raising baby Cleo, it was a go-go life for a few years. But something remarkable happened during the pandemic.
“I asked myself two questions. The first is, 10 years from now when I look back, what story do I want to tell?” says Lauren, who earned a BFA in Interior Design from Miami University and a Master of Architecture degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). “The second is, how am I giving back to the world?”
The result of this epiphany was Lauren giving her four-week notice at Suzanne Lovell Inc—a company that she loved and had been recruited back as Senior Design Director—saying goodbye to co-workers she had known for more than a decade and making a bold leap of faith in a time of uncertainty.
“It was not a light decision for me to start my own interior design firm and most everyone thought I was a little crazy to take the chance during a pandemic,” she explains. “But when I landed from that leap, there was a lot more waiting for me than I could have imagined.”
Architectural Digest made it official in the announcement of her September opening. Word of mouth spread quickly, and it’s been non-stop ever since—all while being home with a busy husband, a growing toddler, and 13-month-old son, Van.
“My family comes first. We have a team here at home that keeps the wheels turning and this really allows the magic to happen at work,” says Lauren, adding that her husband’s enduring support is what makes this juggling act possible, along with help from her mother, who retired to help take care of the children. “My business is growing so fast that my days are scheduled by 15-minute increments, but we make sure to do dinner/bath/bedtime together every night with the kids. That’s non-negotiable for me, and a silver lining in this pandemic.”
It’s one of many silver linings that Lauren and others are finding in these times—one that she and other business experts believe is here to stay. Because while working from home with a busy family isn’t always easy, it does bring with it the gift of time.
“Instead of commuting, I get that time back with my kids that I normally wouldn’t have, including moments like seeing my son take his first steps,” says Lauren, who is still fine-tuning her own home office. “Organization is really one of the most important things outside of family and the key to my success in making everything work.”
Anyone who has been working remotely, even part-time, during these pandemic days knows that the cute “home office” you created five years ago (but only used to pay bills or organize your volunteer duties) isn’t so conducive to working a 9-to-5 job, five days a week. Even in the early days of her business, Allan found herself being called on to help friends and clients carve out niches in their on to help friends and clients carve out niches in their homes that actually work.
“A well-designed space can give you more energy, make you happier, and elevate your everyday experience. With everything going on in the world, people just want to feel good in the spaces that they are spending so much time in,” she explains. “They want the space to reflect who they are, and they want to look forward to going into those spaces each day. I think people are smarter now, more than ever, about how they work, especially with the integration of tech into the design of the spaces. Technology is allowing us to live and work from anywhere. I think we will continue to see that flexibility within our spaces.”
Lauren notes that even before the pandemic, office and boutique hotel designs were already leaning toward a more residential feel (goodbye boring office with ugly furniture and terrible lighting). Another factor is that we are finalizing realizing that one size does not fit all when it comes to workspaces. Some people prefer standing desks. Some prefer no desk at all.
For Lauren’s own home office, she’s been creating features that make her work life easier—including a library for wallpaper, stone, and fabric samples (organized by color, of course) and a curated archive of art and design books she loves that she shares online and on her Instagram page.
“Everyone works differently,” Lauren says. “As designers, we will continue to be great listeners for our clients and design the best environments for work and play.”
In celebration of Hinsdale Living’s annual Home + Design issue, Lauren was generous enough to share her Top Five Designer Secrets to creating the home office of your dreams, which you will find in the pages ahead.
For more information about Lauren Ashley Allan, follow her on Instagram at @lauren.ashley.allan.
From her 15 years of experience including working for Kelly Wearstler and Nate Berkus to her experience owning her own company over the last five months designing interiors around the country, Lauren Ashley Allan knows that creating any timeless space requires stepping back to reimagine and reevaluate—sometimes to the point of taking everything apart and putting it back together. Here are Lauren’s Top Five Secrets to a sensational home “office” space.
Take the time to design spaces that work for you and maximize what you already have. If you are lucky enough to be able to carve out a room in your home that is designated for working, then you can create a place to keep all of your work tech, stay organized, and close the door at the end of each day. Otherwise, embrace changing up where you work. Laptops allow us to work virtually anywhere. Even if you have an office, you may want to spend the day in the dining room, the kitchen, or outside if it is warm. When you change where you work, it can give you a fresh perspective on the day.
Organize what you have to maximize both space and efficiency. Organization forces you to consider how you use each space and why. This includes organizing drawers and closets. Once you are organized, you might find that one room can actually serve a dual purpose. Libraries or reading nooks are great because they tend to help the whole family. The kids have a place for their studies and parents have a place to go to for inspiration.
Move the furniture you have around so that your room feels new. Consider moving furniture toward windows so that you can enjoy the outside and open windows (when weather permits) to expand your spaces from inside out. Change out your window treatments if you have heavy drapes or shades that block light to a white linen or fabric that lets the light through.
Add color or pattern! A fresh coat of paint or plaster (even a neutral textured plaster) works magic in a space. All it takes is the right paint color to bring to life your trim, walls, or both. If you are feeling bold, a new wallpaper can be transformational. Materials should also have some variation and depth. For example, brass finishes should be unlacquered and patina with time.
INVEST Do not underestimate the importance of great art, whether it’s on your wall or a piece of furniture that you can take with you. Mix high and low, old and new. Besides, has there ever been a better time to support local artists? The right artwork has the power to transform a room, and your mood—even on a Monday.
FIVE TO THRIVE
Here are interior designer Lauren Ashley Allan’s five must-have ingredients for a home office that is as functional as it is fabulous.
TECH MATTERS: “There are so many great apps out there for organization and efficiency. Though I love to hand sketch designs for my clients, I don’t know what I would do without my phone or computer!”
GO BIG (AT HOME): “I love large workspaces. My desk at home is oversized. I took an old drafting table and added a honed marble top that I sourced locally, to give my desk new life.”
LET THERE BE LIGHT: “The right lighting can dramatically change the mood in a room. Plus, you have to look great on Zoom calls! The wrong overhead lighting will give you bad shadows and make you feel tired.”
LET THE OUTSIDE IN: “I love natural elements, including stone, wood, minerals, fresh flowers, and plants. Now that we are spending more time at home, it’s even more important to enjoy nature whenever possible.”
EDIT FIERCELY: “If you don’t love something, then sell or donate it. You should love going into your office or place where you work every day.”