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A humanist designer: Emma Maxwell chats the power of interior spaces

A humanist designer: Emma Maxwell chats the power of interior spaces

By Sophie Cullen

It wasn’t the typical journey into interior design for Emma Maxwell. Before launching her eponymous studio in Singapore 11 years ago, she was a small-town Australian gal who had developed a penchant for welding during her fine arts studies in Melbourne.

“I really loved university, but when I graduated from arts school, I found out that there were no jobs for sculptors. So I was really poor for quite a few years and was just doing the art thing and loving it. But then I fell into advertising. I moved to London as an art director and a creative director and was working on big campaigns, but I just didn’t have a passion for it,” Maxwell reflects on her path towards working in interior design.

Then, in Sydney, a friend asked her to work on a one-off interior project for him, and that success led to her designing the spaces for the entire building. The work was widely publicised, winning a number of accolades, and Maxwell had found a way to utilise her creative side that she truly loved.

Singapore calling

Off the back of that single project, she went on to work with various studios, picking up many things on the job, and letting her artistic flourish shine. She soon found herself working on a short-term assignment in Singapore, a life-changing project that saw the launch of her international career as an interior designer.

Yes, so it started as a two-month project, but I just stayed! I saw so many opportunities in Singapore that really excited me. And I wasn’t wrong. It was one of the few choices I made in my life that was a good one.

Since then, Emma Maxwell Design has been the creative force behind a number of residential, retail, hotel and restaurant projects both abroad and in Singapore, including Cafe Melba, L’Entrecote, and the upcoming Parkroyal Hotel on Orchard.

Cafe Melba has a bit of work done by Emma Maxwell Design
Cafe Melba as reimagined by Emma Maxwell

Story-telling through space

When you step inside a space realised by Maxwell, you’ll be struck with an overwhelming sense of artistry and complexity. “Story-telling is really important to me. Someone might be having a bad day, and then they enter your space, and you tell them a new story, and they feel better. That’s what’s important when it comes to design.

“For example, one of the beautiful things about Singapore is that we’re this modern, urban city, yet we’re completely surrounded by nature, and that’s just so unique. Yet it only continues to get hotter and hotter here. So the buildings we design and the spaces that we create are very much about improving the human condition, and making the environment liveable or workable. For the Parkroyal Hotel on Orchard, we’re incorporating this idea of the urban jungle, with the word ‘jungle’ being heavily emphasised.”

Alongside the new Parkroyal Hotel, Maxwell is also currently working on a residential project in Mauritius (the size of a small hotel) and is about to start research and development on her first ever commission in Egypt.

“The new resort project that I’m about to head out for is on the Red Sea, and it’s going to be really, really cool! I’m particularly excited about this one, as I’m going to source traditional weaving, ceramics, and artisan products made by the women of the surrounding areas. Supporting women is very important to me, and I’m hoping to learn from and give back to the people who live around the project.”

Striking interior makeover for Petrus London by Emma Maxwell Design
A striking redesign for Petrus London

Changing things up

When asked about changing design trends in Singapore since her arrival, Maxwell notes that she’s pleased to see more sustainable elements being incorporated into new-builds, in large part thanks to the government’s push towards moving green space upwards. She believes that bringing nature inside buildings not only helps the environment, but the people who reside in or work in the spaces too.

Sustainable interiors for Padma Hotel Bali by Emma Maxwell Design
Sustainable interiors for Padma Hotel in Bali

However, if you’re not one of the lucky ones who lives somewhere surrounded by gardens of green walls, there are some other principles you can think about when creating a home interior that you want to return to every evening. Maxwell suggests filling your living spaces with only the things that you truly love and treasure.

“Look, I’m no fan of Marie Condo whatsoever, but clutter is a big thing you need to think about when it comes to your home. Just figuring out where to store things and then valuing the things that you have on display will make a real difference to your space,” she explains.

And where does an interior designer who’s always busy working on other peoples’ spaces call home? “It’s an old Brutalist-period building and I absolutely love it!”

Go further with Emma Maxwell.


Where to now?

By Sophie Cullen

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