Denise Maloney: Mom, Interior Designer, and Business Owner

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Denise and her cute-as-a-button son, Owen

Denise and her cute-as-a-button son, Owen

Ladies! This week, I'm super excited to introduce the brilliantly talented, cool, and supremely tasteful Denise Maloney of Denise Maloney Interior Design (DMID). Prepare to be inspired!

Denise designed a brilliant, functional solution for our home: kid-friendly loft access + storage. via DMID

Denise designed a brilliant, functional solution for our home: kid-friendly loft access + storage.

via DMID

I worked with Denise when we purchased our home, and as things usually go, I happened to be in the third trimester of my second pregnancy. (Of course). We hired her to help us pick out flooring, finishes, and fixtures for our new home. We also needed her to design a staircase with built-in storage drawers and a ladder (see this awesomeness in the picture below), remodel a laundry room into a bathroom, and attempt the impossible task of finding a design style that would appeal to both my husband and I (and we have, ahem, very different tastes). She accomplished this within an 8-week timeframe, all while working with our unruly and disorganized construction team. I credit her with helping me stay sane, keeping the crew on task to meet deadlines, and ensuring the house was ready when our son came into the world.  (He arrived ten days after we moved in.)  Beyond all this, she really considered our lifestyle when considering her design choices. Her choices fit our needs before we even knew what they were going to be. I'm sure this thoughtfulness and foresight is part of the reason she's so successful and has clients clamoring to hire her. 

In our interview, she tells the story of her transition from entrepreneur to "mompreneur," and also shares some design insights that we all can benefit from. Enjoy!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and your career path (including any degrees and certifications).

I have a bachelor’s degree in economics from University of California, San Diego and did my post-baccalaureate certification in interior design and interior architecture at UC Berkeley Extension. I am nationally certified through NCIDQ, the highest level of interior design qualification. I started out working for several high-end design firms in SF before putting both my business and design background to work by starting my own design firm in 2010. My husband Dwight has stood by me through design school (when I worked full-time and attended classes at night, and thus was probably a nightmare to be around!), starting my own business, and most recently, having our first child in Feb 2015. Our son, Owen, keeps us both on our toes!

2. What inspired you to launch your own design firm? What types of projects does DMID take on? Do you have a specialty or niche you like to focus on?

I really wanted to blend my two backgrounds - business and interior design - and to be honest, I was always thinking about setting myself up to have more flexibility so that I could be a mom someday. When you work for a top design firm in San Francisco, the work-life balance is definitely skewed more toward the work side. The projects are demanding, and often have crazy deadlines and zero flexibility. Launching my own design firm was more work up front, but after six years I’m finally in a comfortable place where I can pick and choose projects and make sure my family comes first. Speaking of family, I love working with families - that can be anything from a young, growing family to an older couple with grown kids and grandkids. I work in a variety of design styles, everything from traditional to modern depending on the client and the home. I tend to do a lot of projects involving a kitchen remodel, especially opening up the kitchen to the living spaces, which is a godsend for busy moms trying to cook and keep an eye on a baby or kid(s).

One suggestion for an expecting family is to do a little refresh on your living spaces before baby comes. During my maternity leave I ended up spending more time at home than I ever had before, especially in the kitchen and living room. We had the luxury of embarking on a whole-house renovation before we had our son, but even just a little update to pillows, rugs, and pictures/artwork can make a huge difference on your outlook those first couple months.

Denise's gorgeous, open kitchen and living room. A view from the kitchen is super helpful after your baby is born. via DMID

Denise's gorgeous, open kitchen and living room. A view from the kitchen is super helpful after your baby is born.

via DMID

3. OK, some quick logistical questions! Since you own your business, were you able to take any maternity leave? How did you manage the transition from entrepreneur to "mompreneur"? Did you have to adjust your expectations or workload? And finally, do you thinking owning your own business made things harder or easier for you as a working mom?

Wow, good questions! I was probably my busiest ever when I was pregnant and immediately following the birth of my son (isn’t that how it always works?), but luckily I had a great design assistant and business consultant that had both been working with me for years, so they really stepped up and took a lot of work off my plate. I was able to take some semblance of a maternity leave (with weekly check-ins and about five hours per week of work) for about 2.5 months, which is actually pretty good for a business owner. My priorities have definitely shifted a bit as I’ve transitioned from entrepreneur to mompreneur. Primarily, I’m careful to not bite off more than I can chew. I used to have the hardest time saying no, but it’s so much easier now that saying no is the difference between spending quality time with my child or not. For the same reason, I am actually much more efficient with my time. One thing that did change for me was the importance of a home office. I still keep an office in San Francisco, but with commute times getting longer and not wanting to be away from my son for 12 hours, I work from home a lot more. Having a dedicated office space with a DOOR has been my saving grace. So for any mommies-to-be out there that plan to work from home (or already do), I highly recommend investing a little time and energy pre-baby getting your own work space ready as well.

I WANT Denise's office. via DMID

I WANT Denise's office.

via DMID

Luckily, most of my clients are moms, so they’re usually pretty respectful of workload and scheduling. I used to take more evening and weekend meetings and now I rarely do that. If a client really wants to work with me, they’re usually able to make it work and of course, I do make exceptions for a great client now and then, but my family is my priority. After going back to work, I decided to work four days/week instead of five, because I really wanted one weekday to do mom stuff with my little guy, like storytime, and music or swim class. He is growing up so fast and every Friday morning I wake up so grateful that I get to spend the whole day with my son.

This sounds like a cop-out, but owning my own business has made things easier AND harder as a working mom. It’s easier because I have more flexibility with my schedule (which came in handy when my son was sick half the winter). The hardest part is that I don’t have a job that I can shut off at the end of the day. I am constantly thinking about ways to continue developing my business, stressing about client deliverables, or just being excited about a design. Being my own boss means there are never enough hours in the day, which sometimes turns into working at night after I put him to bed and definitely working during his naps on my Fridays “off”. All that being said, I guess it’s worth it because I wouldn’t change it for the world! (Unless I’m having a really stressful day, in which I might daydream about going to work at Starbucks.)

4. When it comes to designing childrens' rooms, has your strategy or aesthetic changed since having your own child? What is your approach to designing a baby’s room? Do you have any images to share of a nursery room you’ve designed?

My design strategy has definitely changed since having my own child and it keeps evolving as he gets older. I’ve always tried to be educated on kid-friendly (and pet-friendly) materials, even before I had one myself, but when you live it every day, it’s a whole new ballgame. Now I am constantly thinking about how something will wear with sticky toddler fingers, spit-up, crayons, etc. I am more proactive about asking initial, probing questions to my clients because they often see images of beautiful spaces and want that for themselves, but in reality, we need to be a little more practical if they have kids and pets. We can still create a beautiful space, but we need to tweak certain elements to help it wear better.

Neutral nursery via DMID

Neutral nursery

via DMID

5. If parents are waiting to find out the sex of their baby until birth or would like to create a gender neutral nursery, but still want to get the room together before the baby is born, what are some tips or strategies you would share with them?

Inspiration for your little traveler. via DMID

Inspiration for your little traveler.

via DMID

There are so many great gender-neutral nurseries out there! Even though I knew I was having a boy, I still wanted it to be fairly neutral, so I chose a theme that my husband and I are both passionate about - travel - and filled his room with things from places we love. It’s easy to add little pops of color down the road, or change them out for a second child using a pillow on your glider, picture frames, etc.

6. Do you have any favorite sites for nursery inspiration? Any favorite manufacturers for products and furniture?

I love Aldea Nino in SF and they represent some great manufacturers for nursery furniture. Pottery Barn Baby/Kids and RH Baby & Child are great resources for readily available, relatively affordable products.

7. Running your own business and being a mom doesn’t allow much room for down time or space for creative inspiration. How do you steal moments away for yourself?

I’ve learned that I do some of my best creative thinking while hiking in the hills around my home, so I make a point to start at least one workday each week with a hike. Of course, there are weeks when other things take priority and it doesn’t happen, but putting that hiking “appointment” into my work calendar means there’s a better chance it’ll happen more often than not. I also make a point to attend one continuing education seminar each month. My office is in the SF Design Center and there is always something going on, so if I schedule it, it’s easy to sneak away for a quick training or creative inspiration.

via DMID

via DMID

8. When not catching up on chores and errands on the weekend, what are some of your favorite things to do with your little one? How do you make sure you get some quality time with the little man?

One of the perks of being my own boss is that I have a more flexible schedule during the week. I usually wait out traffic and spend that time enjoying a nice breakfast and play time with my little guy. On weekends, we love to be outside, so we go swimming, biking, hiking, or just play outside in the yard. My son is obsessed with water right now, so he’s honestly happy as a clam if you give him a bowl of water and a cup to play with.

9. OK, now for some rapid-fire nursery design questions - no thinking, just go with your first instinct!

  1. Wall decals - yay or nay? Nay. (You can tell I’m a mom because I just made a horsey “nay” sound when I said that.)
  2. Best color for a baby’s room? Gray, taupe, or tan.
  3. Blinds or curtains or both? I like plantation shutters or fabric roman shades, something that’s easily cleanable and doesn’t hang down to the ground.
  4. Carpet or hardwood? Hardwood with an area rug.
  5. Crib: painted or wood finish? Either one. I really wanted this gorgeous wood crib when I was planning my son’s nursery, but I got a hand-me-down painted crib for free that was in great shape, so I couldn’t pass that up and went with it. No regrets!

10. Anything else you’d like to share?

Depending on the climate where you live, another great design idea for young families is to create more livable outdoor space. Since you’re going to be stuck at home more than you were pre-kids, a nice seating area outside can (almost) feel like a date-night once baby goes to sleep. Grab your spouse, the baby monitor, a bottle of wine, and maybe a cozy throw and you've got a romantic, al fresco date!

A HUGE thank you to Denise for spending time with us on basic mommy. Her style and approach to mingling her life and business is hugely inspirational. I need some of that balance in my life! To learn more about Denise and her design firm DMID, check out her website Also, follow Denise on Instagram here and be sure to check out her page on Houzz for more lifestyle and design inspiration.