Women in Design
Darlinghurst, NSW, Australia
Interior architect Anna-Carin Mcnamara, the founder and Director of ANNA.CARIN design (ACD), demonstrates a profound eloquence in her narrative of what it means to her now to look back at her first seventeen years of life growing up in one of Sweden’s most southern forests.
Having made Sydney home, her kinship and admiration for local materials as the flesh of any given landscape are inspired by her years in Sweden and provide both utility and humility in her work. But for Anna-Carin, a novel early life also led her to understand her own empowerment at a young age, identifying the boundaries of her integrity and what she would and would not accept. It was this aspect that founded her belief for the control that each of us occupies — the power of our reactions. We speak with Anna-Carin about the influence of mentorship and encouragement over advice, the new language of women and how she made her first connections in a new country.
On the importance of mentors: “He taught me not to take ourselves [as designers] too seriously; that there should always be an element of humor and to remember to take a step back and enjoy what we do — that the austerity of design should be met with admiration for uncovering the story that a space will tell, a sacred opportunity in itself. I am a more serious person than he was but I do try and live by his lessons. My personality has some of his eccentricity woven in and although at times I wish I had more, it does come out now and then.”
Originally founded in 1996 as INNE in Sydney, Anna’s journey to establishing herself in design began with an initial stint studying engineering before transitioning into Interior Architecture. Having stumbled across a project of a prominent designer whose work she admired, it was Anna’s perseverance and ability to overcome his initial rejection that led Anna-Carin to land an apprenticeship with him and later a friendship that lasted up until his death. Having been taken under his wing and encouraging her to pursue study in London, Anna-Carin went on to complete her master’s degree at the Royal College of Art before returning to Stockholm to work for interior house Svenskt Tenn and eminent designer Rupert Gardner. It was his mentorship, however, that Anna believes led her to develop a profound skill and eye for detail in comparison to what any educational institutional could have offered.
On influence that has stuck with her: Joseph Campbell’s writing on the literature of James Joyce: ‘be radiant and remain radiant in the filth of the world.’ Anna believes that regardless of what’s going on and what field of work you are involved in, it’s important that stress, tension and frustration not get the best of us; that there is a lot of good that comes from seeing the positive in day to day life.
Vividly recalling the times that he would remind her to not take what they do [as designers] too seriously, that what they do doesn’t require such seriousness, Anna tells me that instead, he taught her that design requires one to bring a sense of lightness and fluidity of imagination to each project. ‘He was crazier than I am but now and then I do try and announce some of his psychology, madness and direction into my work,’ she states. ‘I will never forget his ability to woo clients, taking them on the journey of a project, weaving them in and letting them explore his vision — involving them in each segment of the story.’ He was someone who encouraged rather than advised. I valued the trust inherent in that process.’
‘I believe there is a solution to every problem. Money and time may sometimes need to be spent to get there, but everything can be fixed. No problem is worth so much stress that you become anxious and sick. It’s important to not get overly concerned about things because everything has a solution.’
In her new book, ’Make a Home to Love,’ set to be launched next year, Anna wants to take clients on that journey by ridding the stress associated with renovation. She wants to educate clients to think about the re-design experience as a process — one that can provide beauty and clarity by going through it, allowing clients to submit themselves to full creative freedom and the sense of fulfillment that comes with it. ‘Ultimately, the book is a self-discovery tool that allows us to connect with clients, encouraging them to understand their own space and determine why they are where they are based on the decisions they’ve made,’ she adds.
But this concept of connection is both a source of fascination and reminder of the disheartenment she often felt at times to get to where she is today. The ability to connect infinitely, she says, is the most remarkable element of today’s digital world. Someone can be far away from city life and still be very much a part of the day-to-day lives of their friends and family through platforms that connect communities in real time. But beyond the gratification of immediate written communication and visual timelines the desire for connection can be the ultimate crux of difficulty to reconcile for women within professional parameters often stifled with power discrepancies and a long history of objectification.
Anna-Carin believes that people need encouragement much more than they need advice. She believes encouragement has the potential to allow people to grow from their ambition instead of fear.
‘As designers, professionals and simply as human beings, connection continues to be the most innate aspect about us — we desire to find common ground and understanding amongst us,’ she states. Speaking about the challenges she faced Anna-Carin tells me that she feels grateful that she quickly learned how to stand up for herself and use her voice to articulate her integrity, a characteristic that traces back to seeing her parents work hard on their farm, protecting what was theirs and not standing to be exploited by others. ‘As a woman I believe there is always a risk when someone has more power than you do. You want to do a good job and seek the approval of others for your work. In wanting to build an understanding of others through the exchange of stories and common footing, as all people do, there is a very real pattern in professional contexts that makes women vulnerable. It makes them the subject of unwanted advances in which they feel that they should or cannot stand up against out of fear for losing their job or halting their professional growth.’
Anna-Carin coins today’s culture as the trigger of a new language of women — a concept she believes was reluctant to exist when she was starting out. “I look at my daughter and she is strong, opinionated and won’t accept the mistreatment of others around her. There is something so powerful about how our society is shifting,’ she states. Her words implicate today’s emphasis on the collective, especially when it comes to breaking down barriers within the professional sphere; people binding together to voice equality, calling out the atrocity of women being shamed and oppressed for speaking up for themselves. A rise against the professional backlash women too often face by not meeting men’s advances with reciprocity. Often overlooked, Anna-Carin emphasises the control that each of us bring to a situation. ‘There are no excuses for the actions and words of others but we do have power over one element: our reactions. We have the ability to make our integrity known by drawing a clear line of what we will and will not put up with,’ she explains.
Anna-Carin studio workload is capped at a level they deem manageable, taking on no more than ten projects a year. ‘Dedicating the time that’s required for each project means that we can provide due diligence at the detailed level necessary, allowing each of us to be involved to a satisfying degree,’ Anna-Carin explains.
With two new rug collections underway and her first book set to be launched next April, Anna -Carin’s Rushcutters Bay design studio transmits an enthralling energy that leaves design focused locals wanting to know more. Connection, Anna-Carin tells me, although two-sided, is what allowed her to make a name for herself in a new country. Arriving in Australia with little connection to the design community, Anna opened a small store of Scandinavian homeware in Woollahra, using her storefront window as her canvas in communicating her aesthetic before the age of the internet. It was this little shop that allowed Anna-Carin to connect with her very first clients, like Kristina Karlsson of kikki-K, whose has become a close friend and of whom she continues to design for. ‘It gave me the opportunity to slowly grow my design studio and is the foundation for it’s success today,” she says.
But Anna-Carin tells me that her studio’s work load is always capped at a level they deem manageable, taking on no more than ten projects a year. ‘Dedicating the time that’s required for each project means that we can provide due diligence at the detailed level necessary, allowing each of us to be involved to a satisfying degree,’ she explains.
Thank you Anna-Carin for your insights into your experiences and culture today.
The Dot + Pop and The Local Project Women in Design Series
Edition 1 – Melissa Bright of MAKE Architecture by The Local Project.
Edition 2 – Kylie Dorotic and Alicia McKimm of Design By GOLDEN by Dot + Pop.
Edition 3 – Cassie James-Herrick of CJH Studio by The Local Project.
Edition 5 – Anna-Carin McNamara of Anna Carin Design by The Local Project.