Visceral Design with Alwill Interiors
Although it is hard to pin Romaine Alwill to one style, there is a refinement and worldliness to her spaces. Since founding her eponymous studio, Alwill Interiors, in 2005 the Sydney-based talent has become known for her enigmatic style, which showcases a deep respect for the history and philosophy of design alongside a tantalising array of influences cultivated during extensive travels abroad and an editorial stint at Belle magazine. Below, we learn how Romy has honed her keen eye and sharp mind.
Photography by Prue Ruscoe
What was the first piece of design that really mattered to you?
I remember when I first felt moved by design, and it was learning about Carlo Scarpa’s work that did that to me. In terms of the first piece of design that mattered – my father owns a Sergio Rodrigues ‘Mole’ armchair, which he bought when I was very young and we lived in the Philippines. It is so enveloping and comfortable, and when I was little I loved to sit in it with him. I think that is a pretty strong visceral memory of design and acknowledging how it can make you feel. My family also lived in Japan for many years when I was a teenager [and in my] early twenties, and I travelled back and forth – Japan had a big impact on me, design-wise.
Top image: Pacific View Point. Left: Bondi Bombora. Right: Dover Kas Bar.
Tell us a bit about your career arc and how you go to where you are today.
I studied a Bachelor of Interior Architecture at UNSW and got my Honours degree, but then went travelling straight afterwards and ended up working in London as an Art Director for an advertising agency (a wee bit tangential) as well as travelling around Europe getting inspired. So when I returned to Sydney, I wanted to get back into interiors but I didn’t really have experience in a “practice” and was lucky to land a job at Belle magazine. I stayed for five years as Interior Design Editor and just loved my time there; it was very freeing, creatively. I think we had the last of the golden years of publishing and I was part of a great team headed by Eric Matthews, who now is with Hermes. Then, when he left, I felt it was time to get back into designing again and started Alwill Interiors.
What values have guided your practice since its inception in 2005?
Timelessness (that’s the Carlo Scarpa influence), elegance, a quiet confidence (that’s Japan), respecting natural contexts and organic materials and forms, and listening to a client (who they are and how they live). I feel that if you have the education and range of knowledge in design, you can interpret any brief and draw out the spirit of how the home should express the client. It is less about having a particular style for me (although of course we have our filters) but rather that ability to apply all the ideas you’ve formed over the years to the rightful home and owner to create a nourishing environment for them.
Above: Peppertree House.
Would you say your design sensibility has evolved over the years?
Yes, definitely – and I feel it is still evolving, as it should. I think that is the great thing about design and art, it’s endless as to where it can take you. Life experience plays a big role, and as you get older your sensibilities sharpen in different ways. I also learn a lot from working with different clients and understanding their frames of reference, too. It’s hard to get bored by this job when there is always something unexpected around the corner.
We’d love to hear the design rules you live by, and the ones you think were made to be broken.
I live by not following trends and just being authentic to who you are. They can be seductive, but I ultimately find them wasteful. There is too much out there to connect with to be driven by a trend.
Is there a particular design element that you think is underrated or too often overlooked?
Tapestry. I love it, I love its tactility. Sheila Hicks is my girl crush.
Left and right: Parc House.
We’re honoured to have our rugs featured in many of your projects. What considerations are front of mind when you are choosing a rug for a space (for example, colour, size, texture and material)?
All those elements are important, but I always consider texture [first] as it can play a more practical role, then size, then colour. More importantly, I usually consider the rugs in context with art. There is a yin and yang between the two. I am enjoying playing with shape in rugs at the moment, and using form to define the ground plane.
Do you have any advice for the interior enthusiast when it comes to mixing and matching colours, textures and patterns?
I think you can mix and match anything as long as they share the same spirit or language.
Above: Tribute House.
We strongly believe in buying fewer but better things. What are your reasons for investing in quality, timeless pieces?
Absolutely. As we become more and more concerned about our environment, this is so important. I think about energy a lot – what it actually takes to design and make something – and I find if you think about design or objects in this way, you really have an appreciation not only for their value but the need for them to have longevity. If you think about a rug, for example, and the human output it takes to weave one – it is massive. We should really respect that, regardless of culture or socio economics.
Once that energy has been output and we’ve created something in this world, we need to make sure it has a specific and valuable use – and, at the same time, think about what happens to it at the end of its life cycle. The reality is most of these things we create can well outlive us. When you consider that, I think you make better choices and make them once. (It’s also why I don’t like trends).
"I feel positive that design has an important role and bright future."
Left: Kambala. Right: Sand Castle.
What’s keeping you creatively stimulated right now?
The longing to travel again. I find myself really honing in on all that we can’t have at the moment! I get overwhelmed by the information overload of all the forms of media, so am trying to hone in on just a few great sources of inspiration. Also, as we have more time to reflect inwards (and clear out stuff we don’t use), I am enjoying looking at old books. Again, it’s about timelessness and longevity. It’s amazing to pick up a book you haven’t looked at in twenty years and go – yeah, that’s right, that’s what I love, that’s what I’m about….
These are strange times, with a lot of uncertainty about the future. How do you see the role of design in shaping communities going forward?
Amongst a host of negativity, I feel positive that design has an important role and bright future. Creativity is something artificial intelligence can’t take away from us or automate. I also feel that these times of adversity are going to make us live better, cleaner and more respectfully. And when one hones into those values, great things can happen. It’s not having those sensibilities when things go wrong, so out of this storm I think there are rainbows ahead – but less will be more.
Above: Cascata Due.
Finally, we can’t help but ask – what’s your favourite Armadillo rug to have underfoot?
Oh, that’s a hard one. They are all so considered and tactile, the colour palettes gentle and livable. I am loving your new rugs, the Perilune and Umbra. And I also LOVE the new showroom and your creative direction at the moment – you tap into what is so seductive about textiles and rug making, and many of those things I value mentioned above.
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