In the Workroom is a new blog series featuring candid and insightful conversations with the people who lead, support, and collaborate with us on our workroom projects. Its mission is to offer a look behind the curtain of the life, experience and details that matter in the work we do.
She can turn ordinary thread into elaborately designed embroidered pillows and fine fabric into custom, royalty-worthy, drapery. The matriarch of the Makkas Workroom for over 40 years (and Dr. Drapes' mom), Maria Makkas continues to steal the hearts and trust of the most prestigious interior designers in the industry. From her humble beginnings learning to stitch her own clothing at a Greek technical Nunnery, to launching a workroom from the basement of her family home, Maria has never let change and adversity slow her down. Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Maria to talk about about how far she’s come and what she has her sights on for the future.
Let’s get into the conversation!
MW: No one can disagree with the fact that there would be no Makkas Workroom without Maria Makkas. For those unfamiliar, can you talk about what was going on in the early days of Maria that led to your decision to start the company?
Maria: Let me first make one thing very clear. I don’t believe that there will be “no Makkas Workroom” without Maria Makkas. I’m not sure if there will be a workroom without Manny Makkas. Much of its success we owe to him. He took a big risk when he agreed to run the business in 2009, but everything he did from that point on led to our success and where we are today.
As a young child I was very creative with my hands. I was always making something. From the age of 12-16 I attended a technical Nunnery in Greece. And that’s where I learned about the materials and how to cut and work with fabrics. By the time I came to this country, I was making all my own clothing. When thinking about a job, I wanted to do something out of my home so I never had to leave my kids alone. One day I met this American woman who changed my life.
She said to me, “Maria, you are making all your clothes, why don’t you go and learn to do window treatments. They bring in good money and you can do it right out of your house.”
So, I found this interior design company in Wellesley called E.A. Davis. They were looking for help so they hired me right on the spot. And that’s where I learned about window treatments. Around the time that Manny was born, the man who taught me the business offered me the chance to work on his window treatment projects out of my home. So I built a little workroom in my basement. Around 1996, in the same week that we lost the lease to Phil’s restaurant, the man I was working for called me up and said, “Maria, I’m selling my business, will you take over my accounts?” And of course, I said, “Yes!” I moved forward working solely on those accounts. The workroom remained in our basement until about 10 years ago. It’s an incredible journey. I really felt blessed from day 1.
MW: You’ve grown a loyal following of clients over the last 4 decades. What has been your secret to creating such meaningful relationships?
Maria: Listen, be honest, and price fairly. This includes being with a project 100% from beginning to end, regardless of the unexpected issues that may happen. We understand that every mistake is an expensive mistake in our business so you have to have your eyes open and focused every minute of the day. And show that you really love what you do. People can read through you. They know when you love your job or when you’re just going through the motions. Right now, I don’t care to do anything else. I love to come to work. And I’ll always go above and beyond to make customers happy, even if it’s at my own expense. If they are not happy, I'll make them happy. This is our standard and part of our values that Manny continues to this day.
MW: Describe your most memorable design project.
Maria: There are so many. I can’t pinpoint any one in particular. We’ve worked on so many difficult projects (curved windows, etc). You know, we specialize in this type of work. People come to us for it because we have the tools and the expertise to get it done. And I have my husband who is really a big help to me. I can come up with the idea and he can put it to work. So we are a good combo.
MW: What piece of advice did you give to your son, Manny, when he took over leadership of Makkas Workroom?
Maria: I told him that our customers are the number one priority. Period. Be honest, hardworking and a good listener. Because sometimes, you just need to listen, to fully understand where a designer is coming from. I also told him that you need to treat every designer equally. It doesn’t matter how well-known the designer or how big the project, you treat them all equally. A designer that is small today, may be big next year. We’ve seen this business go up and down so dramatically over the years.
MW: What do you plan to do once you are officially "retired" from Makkas Workroom?
Maria: I love children. Little ones. So in my heart, if I ever stop working I want to go to the hospital and hold babies. I don’t know when that’s going to happen. But I have that in mind. The other thing I want to do is sing Greek music in a choir. My father was a musician and grandfather was a singer so I guess it’s in my DNA. I’m currently involved in a Greek singing choir which is led by an amazing instructor from the Berklee School of Music. I’d really love to do more of it one day.