If you could, would you trade your home, move across the country, and live and work in a new city for a few months? That was the question facing interior designers Lale Boz and Mahsa Babaie this spring. Lale, the founder of interior design studio Normal and Columbia University graduate student, realized there was a community of creatives and potential projects in Los Angeles she wanted to invest time with and in this summer. Using the power of social media, she posted she was looking to exchange her Dumbo loft. Having known each other, come from similar cultural backgrounds, and admired each other's interior design style for a while, Mahsa quickly answered and landed in New York City the following week. For Mahsa, the summertime move to New York afforded her the chance to explore a city she's been fascinated with, visit its galleries and museums, and take time to connect with it at her own pace.  

Now that the two bicoastal interior designers have returned to their respective homes, we were excited to sit down with both to discuss their experiences occupying the other's space and city for two months. How did each home welcome them and inspire their work? Which spot emerged as their favorite in the other's residence? And what turns a space into a home—where you can develop an emotional and physical connection? We're grateful that Mahsa and Lale took some time recently to chat with us and explore those ever-important themes. Read through their entire interview below, and follow them both.

Swapping homes and coasts are so groundbreaking, especially for two interior designers. It's almost like a break, like starting anew. Was that the primary motivation for each of you?

Lale: I have been living and working in NYC for many years; however, I was born and raised in Istanbul. Changing cities and being fluid in where I live is a part of my life, even though I love to have a home base. This year, I traveled to Los Angeles often while designing a blanket collaboration with my interior brand. Becoming bicoastal was never in my plans, but LA immediately started opening up doors for me as a new community and workspace. Beyond creating interior design projects, it was more about the people here. I made this big decision within a day and, without hesitation, posted on my social media that I am looking to swap my Dumbo loft. Mahsa and I already knew each other coincidentally, our interior styles matched perfectly, and we had once talked about the idea months ago, initially as a dream. We decided within minutes and got the plane tickets the week after. It definitely was meant to be.

Mahsa: I've always been fascinated with New York and everything it has to offer. In the last few years, I've been visiting NYC at least once a year—which has allowed me to entertain the idea of possibly moving for a short time. I have been in Los Angeles for the last 13 years, and as much as I love LA and feel at home here, the idea of a new and exciting city seemed intriguing. I've also always admired Lale's sense of design, and the swap seemed like a dream come true. Not only could I explore a new city for longer, but I also had the pleasure of being welcomed into Lale's beautiful home.

Let's back up a step as well. How did you two meet, have you worked on a project before, and was there a moment you can point to where this bicoastal swap felt worthwhile to pursue?

Lale: Power of social media. I built my company through Instagram initially. It never fails me and brings so many amazing people into my life. Mahsa and I have been following each other for a long time, admiring each other's styles from a distance. Our birthdays are even a couple days apart, two Virgo interior design geeks. I think for me, I definitely trusted my gut feeling and intuition. We met for the first time in person when Mahsa came over to my home a day before I left for LA (and to her home). It definitely is the perfect match. We both got lucky. 

Mahsa: As Lale has mentioned, we've been following each other on Instagram and admiring each other's sense of design from far for a while. We also have similar cultural backgrounds, which was a key point in making this decision for me.


In terms of your work, how have you seen this swap inform your projects and your sources of inspiration?

Lale: Mahsa's apartment is so interesting for me in the sense that I felt myself in New York though I was in LA. Our styles match, yes, but the brick walls and tall ceilings of her space gave me the feeling that I am still in Brooklyn. Her apartment has a built-in, floor-to-ceiling bookcase that truly inspired me for my own space and how to decorate shelving. There's also a large built-in wood dining table that also functions as a kitchen counter. Mahsa hosts a lot of dinner parties, and I loved being inspired by that personal energy. It is what I always speak about with Normal—not having aesthetic aspirations but creating memories that turn a space into a home, such as a dining table stained with wax remains of late nights and piled up dishes after a big dinner with loved ones.

Mahsa: I always find it fascinating how interior designers design their homes. Although it always seems to be a work in progress and always evolving, it gives you a glimpse into their personal taste. It's also great to get to know new brands/designers and how someone else approaches a space. It's definitely a great learning experience.

Now that you've returned home—was there a space in your host's apartment that emerged as a favorite? And why did it?

Lale: Mahsa's dining table/kitchen counter became my everyday space. I definitely cooked more often than ever, using the space as my office and almost like a coffee shop. I have never seen a dining table that functions as a kitchen counter. I loved the multi-functionality.

Mahsa: Lale's bedroom is definitely my favorite. It's everything you could want from a bedroom. Serene, minimalist, and very comfortable. Her sculptural bed paired with linen bedding is the statement piece in the room, and she has tied it all together with a beautiful abstract painting and a small black sconce.

Congratulations on studying for your graduate degree at Columbia and publishing your first book! How does your interior design work influence your other passions?

Since my childhood, I had always had multiple interests and passions at the same time, which felt confusing and challenging to deal with when I was younger. However, as I grew up, I became more appreciative and understanding of how to create bridges between different worlds. I grew up in a creative family that allowed me to discover my creativity easily. After graduating college, I started working as a consultant for sustainability, diversity, and inclusion, then had the chance to co-write a book in Turkey on the future of leadership that got published earlier in the year. I'm currently studying Strategic Communications at Columbia University, which allows me to manage my interior design business from multiple perspectives. You could choose to focus on one subject and become an expert at it or have multiple passions and find common ground to join them as one. I think both are perfectly okay, and I feel fulfilled with the latter.

You launched Normal out of your Brooklyn apartment amid the pandemic. Was there a specific moment you knew you needed to start a full-service interior design studio?

Interior design was always one of my first passions. My mom reminded me recently that I used to play Sims all the time only for the sake of designing homes there. I took it too seriously, sketching the layouts and picking furniture by writing them on paper, planning, and designing. I executed my interest into reality much later in life. However, I did not initially create Normal for it to become my business. I was sharing my process of designing my Brooklyn apartment and then adding other people's journeys by interviewing them. I started taking consultation work for friends and family, and before I even realized it, my dedication and passion started bringing in bigger projects. It was in January 2022 that I had to take a step back and accept that this is growing into something, so I worked with an amazing graphic designer, Jack Berry, to redesign my branding and website. I launched my company in April, and we are here now!

We love how you created vignettes in the open concept space of your Brooklyn apartment (and Normal's studio). Any advice for those looking to similarly update their living spaces?

Most of us deal with smaller spaces in New York apartments, and I think the challenge pushes creativity even more. I really recommend putting down what you need from your home. Do you live alone? Is it also your workspace? In smaller spaces, I think it is important to create "rooms" that will allow different energy as you switch from your desk to the couch to a reading corner, potentially. I always like to play with eyesight—when you enter a room, your eye should scan up and down as you look around. It's like having a low coffee table with a much taller plant next to it or hanging up a smaller art piece, completely decentered above an oversized couch. Playing around with materials and fabrics is also crucial, making sure to mix multiple types of wood, glass, chrome, leather, and soft and hard fabrics. A leather couch that has a blanket on top, for instance. Breaking and mixing feminine and masculine energies together. Using larger rugs that initially would push you out of your comfort zone for a smaller space but letting it dominate the space... I could go on! 

You've spoken about incorporating personal touches from your family home in Istanbul. Tell us about some of your favorites and why these pieces are essential in one's living space.

I believe home is the most personal and sacred place for someone. For myself (and my clients as well), I always make sure to return to the family belongings and add their energy into the space because I believe they are a part of who I am and all the journey that led to that home. As someone living away from family for so long now, I feel grounded seeing pieces from my family home in my space. My favorites are a 40-year-old vase from my mother, my dad's carafe, and my mother's portrait from when she was my age. Any space can be a house, but home is emotional. You need pieces to tie you to a bare space. 

What have you enjoyed most from living and working in Los Angeles this summer?
Los Angeles definitely brought so many creative and talented people into my life. At the end of July, I hosted the very first of an art show series I created as a collaboration of three brands—Normal, Metahaiku, and Livre de la Vie called ROOM-SERVICE. I have always been sourcing art from local artists for my clients, and I wanted to bring this mission to life on another level by curating 27 artists from different mediums. We created a three-day open house event that started with a launch party. We got to represent insanely talented people, sell their work, and network. We are now working on expanding ROOM-SERVICE beyond an art show; more to come on that soon. I came to Los Angeles intending to add value to my work, and the city became one of my most inspirational places.

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Your Los Angeles home is stunning! How did you approach curating it? Do you feel as though your work and your personal aesthetic overlap? 

Thank you! Because I live in a loft, my approach was to create a serene and welcoming space to balance downtown LA's bustling energy. With that approach, I opted for only neutral pieces while incorporating lots of different textures to keep the space interesting.

At times aspects of my personal aesthetic have overlapped with projects, but I love that I get to explore different aesthetics and styles depending on what the client is looking for.

We love how you've styled your shelves to include personal touches and standout accents. Do you have any advice for those looking to update their living space's shelving? 

Thank you! Mixing objects with different scales and materials creates a nice composition when styling shelves. What I tend to include when styling shelves are small pieces of art, vases, bowls, books, and decorative objects. I also like to color coordinate my books when possible.

Everything in your home feels perfectly designed for you. What are your tips for keeping that look while still welcoming guests or, in this case, Lale?

I think making sure you select pieces that are not just beautifully designed but also practical and comfortable is key. I love to entertain, host dinner gatherings or sleepovers with friends, and I like that this space allows me to do that. I've been able to stay true to my aesthetic and yet not sacrifice the comfort of my guests.

What have you loved most about staying in New York City in Lale's home and working in the city?

I love how well-designed Lale's home is, yet it doesn't sacrifice practicality and comfort. She also has a great selection of plants that have been so well taken care of, which is always a great addition to a loft space. Also, due to the proximity of her apartment to the river, I enjoyed going on daily walks by the water overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge.

Frequenting museums during your time in NYC or while visiting other cities seems to be a passion. How have you felt being in those settings has impacted your work?

Visiting museums and galleries, especially in a new city, is one of my favorite activities, and New York is by far one of the best cities for exploring, in my opinion. I find it very inspiring to see how other creatives approach their work and to get a glimpse into their world and creative process.

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Photos by Masha Babaie, Lale Boz, Deniz Alaca and Semina Bildik