Romy Alwill is a creative that wears her influences on her sleeve. And we mean that in the best possible way – because when your influences include contemporary design greats like Carlo Scarpa and Tadao Ando there’s a high chance your designs are similarly thoughtful and timeless.
That’s certainly the recurring theme through Alwill’s work. A sense of timeless tranquility, often reinforced with minimal fuss. Whether it’s exploring monochrome in a holistic manner for this modern Queensland home or creating a timber kitchen that is both inviting and aspirational, Alwill has a knack for knowing how to make a space sing without overdoing the elements. Perhaps no surprise then her other project, lifestyle goods purveyor Specified Store is also gaining traction for its carefully-curated library of design objects, furnishings and fixtures. We sat down with Alwill to hear her design philosophy, the influence of global travel on her aesthetic and what she learnt from her self-described ‘unconventional’ career path.
PHOTOGRAPHY Justin Alexander
Est Living: Where did you get started in design?
Romy Alwill: I was always interested in art and maths at school, so that led me naturally to studying interior architecture at New South Wales University. My parents were also living in Japan at the time, and when I went over there after I finished school I really fell in love with design over there. It’s such a beautiful aesthetic and a culture, and that supports design in it’s old aged roots rather than just skimming the top of it. So that experience certainly hooked me into design.
I came back and studied interior architecture for four years here and then I went overseas to London, and worked in art direction for a time, which then led me to Belle. I didn’t want to get straight into traditional steps of interior design, so when this job came up at Belle I jumped at it because it was a great way to build my design experience without taking a conventional path.
Est Living: You spent a number of years at Belle – what do you take from that early career experience?
Romy Alwill: I was at Belle for five years, and I was really lucky to be there at a time in publishing before it all changed. I had just a great editor, Eric Matthews, who was really formative for me. He is an amazing creative energy force and director, but he really did not micromanage or overshadow me, he just said, “Go for it. I trust you.” The trust comment was probably the best thing that anyone ever did for me, because I was terrified – I was 23, and working in a big, reputable publication, in a publishing house, and he just gave me basically blank pages in magazines to fill. But it made me want to prove that trust was deserved.
I also I had to be really open to everything at Belle, and really open up my blinkers on decorative styles and design. I explain it now that it was like being in fantasy land, because there was no client other than him, there was no literal project budget, and I could create things any way I wanted, so it was a really great, formative time.
You share a space and often directly work with your sister (architect Nadine Alwill) in her architectural practice – how has that influenced your work? Has it given you perspective you wouldn’t have had otherwise?
Romy Alwill: I definitely think when it’s your family, and you’ve had the same upbringing, there’s an inherent understanding, that you don’t have to explain, which is really nice. Obviously everyone’s got their own aesthetics, which are generally shaped by your life experiences – and ours are similar, so that helps – but we have a different aesthetic although it’s not so far apart that it still comes together quite nicely.
There’s just a mutual respect too – I think she’s amazing and really clever at what she does, and she respects what we do, she knows that we’ve got a knowledge of the market and that we can call on each other a lot. And of course she’s my older sister and I look up to her, so she has been an influence to me too.
What about some of your broader design influences, who inspires your creative practice?
Romy Alwill: I fell in love with Carlo Scarpa when I was studying, and I just still keep going back to him. I don’t think my work looks like Carlo Scarpa, but I am inspired by his approach to materiality and architectural perspective – his works are very architectural, but there’s a level of decorative-ness that is within his architecture without being decorative that I love. I just think his work’s incredible, but that’s on the holy grail. Japanese architects like Tadao Ando hold a special place for me too, and now working with Luigi Rosselli Architects has been a new inspiration – I guess as you go through working with different people a bit rubs off here and there. Which is nice.
How do you cultivate that sense of luxury through less – that signature refined style?
Romy Alwill: Whilst I am interested and keep across them, I’m not overly influenced by trends, and that’s probably come from a desire for an element of timelessness in what you do – that if you flick back to maybe even Belle more than ten years ago, I would hope that it could still look like it could slip into something today. So, on the one hand I think we’re not very trendy, but hopefully there’s a timelessness, which I think goes back to those Japanese aesthetic influences – there’s just something that’s deep there that doesn’t die. I think the timelessness is really key for me.
You have mentioned your design approach is inspired by having lived in diverse places like Japan, the Philippines and Australia – can you tell us a little bit more about how living overseas has inspired your design practice?
Romy Alwill: Japan and the Philippines are based in Asia, so there’s that Asian aesthetic – and I think I probably see the Philippines through rose coloured glasses, because I was so little. But it definitely taught me to have a respect for craftsmanship and things that were handmade, like beautiful weavings and baskets. And then living on the northern beaches really drove me to seek out things that are natural, and organic, and that age beautifully, and have a tactility to them. I always wanted to get amongst nature, and climb trees, and build rock houses, or whatever, cubby houses out of rocks – it sounds silly, but I think it does impact you.
Then living in London as a young adult I really was drawn to European classic design,again not in taking all the decorative stuff but exploring the details that show really timeless craftsmanship – they have an amazing cornice, or a sweeping stairwell, in a beautiful, pristine box or whatever it might be. So yes travel was an enormous influence for me.
What are you doing next, any particular future projects you’re excited about?
Romy Alwill: There’s a potential project on the horizon that I’m hoping to get, which would be with my sister and would be a really nice way of bringing together all of our experiences together. That’s a really exciting opportunity for both of us, but other than that I really want to keep the practice small scale so I can have a balanced family life. It seems like a simple ambition, but I think it’s quite hard to keep that in balance at times in this job, so to be able to manage that well would mean success for me. And to be able to give more time to Specified Store, that’s really gaining traction and we’re really enjoying uncovering and making those pieces and can see it becoming a larger project.