Matters of the Heart

Even as Ashley McMakin’s home doubled in square footage, the backbone of the home remained the same—family.

A new front porch offers a spot for the family to welcome friends and take in views of Overton Park across the street. Photos by Jean Allsopp

When Ashley McMakin—perhaps better known as Ashley Mac’s, the name of her four Birmingham-area cafés and her catering company—and husband Andy moved into their current home in 2010, life was much different. It was just the two of them and their eldest son, Ryder, who was a year old when they chose this home, picked specifically because it was near the Ashley Mac’s Cahaba Heights location.

Since 2010, Ashley has added three more cafés to her repertoire,  as well as three more children to her home. Son Jackson was born in 2012, daughter Mally was adopted from China in 2015, and foster son Trey moved in with the family in 2018. At the time, all four kids shared one small bathroom. Something had to give. 

Ashley Mac’s Strawberry Cake is a customer and family favorite. The sweet confection stands sliced and ready to serve on the breakfast table in her kitchen.

“We were busting at the seams,” Ashley says. “We started looking for another house in this neighborhood, but we couldn’t find what we wanted.” Ashley, a deep design aficionado, didn’t want to buy a house that didn’t fit her aesthetic or that of her family. So she decided to take the home she loved and make it work through renovations that started, naturally, with the kitchen. “The kitchen was our first priority, as you can imagine,” she says. “I use it not only to test recipes for work but also as a place to indulge my hobby of cooking.”

Working with kitchen designer Cyndy Cantley of Cantley & Company, Ashley doubled the size of her kitchen. She also enlisted architect Robert C. Martin to design plans for a master suite addition and for a family room created out of a carport-turned-porch. The family also requested a covered patio for outdoor living. 

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The family den (above) evolved from a carport to an enclosed porch to what it is now. Ashley worked with Sally May Interiors on colors, furnishings, and finishes. 

To complete the renovations, the McMakins added a bathroom to one of the kids’ bedrooms. All told, the home doubled in square footage and went from four bedrooms and two bathrooms to four bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms.

The best result of the upgrade? More room for family. “For us, our family is the center of our home,” says Ashley. “We wanted our house to be a safe space for our kids and their friends. That’s important to me as a mom.”

Small Space Strategies 

Be intentional. “I try to live as minimalistically as I can,” says Ashley. ” Living in a smaller home forced me to keep only what I really want and need. If I don’t use something, I get rid of it, donate it, or pass it on.”

Create Space.  Built-in cabinets in the family room accommodate kids’ games, blankets, and items for movie nights. Shelves are a big win in small closets. Bins and baskets corral toys and clutter. A built-in banquette turned a small corner in the kitchen into a roomy breakfast area.

Plan your task areas. A new side entrance just off the kitchen opens to a laundry room/pantry/mudroom. Here, Ashley keeps her pantry supplies close at hand. A locker bay offers a convenient drop spot away from the front entrance.

In the Kitchen with Ashley Mac

How often do you eat Ashley Mac’s at home? Almost every day. I joke that the café has made me a lazy home cook.

What are the kids’ favorite Ashley Mac’s recipe? Each kid likes something different. For Jackson, it’s the poppyseed chicken—he could eat that every day of his life. For Ryder, it’s the chicken salad and the Greek pasta salad. Mally loves the brownies.

How much time do you spend in your home kitchen? A lot! I’m always experimenting and learning new recipes. I’m inspired by traveling and dining out, and I always want to try to re-create the dishes I enjoy in restaurants at home. 

Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

1 box yellow cake mix (I prefer Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe)
1 large box instant chocolate pudding mix

4 large eggs
¾ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup water
1 cup sour cream
1½ cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all ingredients together except chocolate morsels. Stir in morsels.  Pour into a greased bundt or tube pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out almost clean. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 15 minutes.  Remove from pan, and drizzle with Chocolate Glaze. Yields: 1 bundt cake

Chocolate Glaze:
2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
4 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt the butter, and stir in the remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour over cooled cake.

“We sold hundreds of these cakes when I first started catering in 2005. This is still my family’s favorite. I am all about desserts made from scratch, but this doctored-up cake mix is hard to beat! ” — Ashley McMakin

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