Fishing with her Dad at the lake, picking berries in the forest, playing around the ancient rune stones that characterise the landscape. Interior designer Anna-Carin McNamara has been inspired and influenced by her childhood memories of Sweden, Viking heritage and the simplicity of life in the Scandinavian countryside.

Anna-Carin has a busy interior design practice based in Sydney, a new book titled ‘Make a Home to Love’ and last week launched ‘Norse’, her second collection for Designer Rugs. We hope one day we’ll be able to help realise her dream project which is to design a boutique hotel and fill it with second hand furniture and vintage finds! We are so grateful to Anna-Carin for generously sharing her time with us.

Anna-Carin, tell us a little bit about yourself and the kind of projects you work on.

I am Swedish so the Scandinavian design principles are intrinsic in how I approach my work. The Anna-Carin McNamara Design Studio is based on those principles of simplicity, functionality and sustainability. We specialise in high end residential projects predominantly around Sydney. 

What makes us unique is probably the fact that we don’t create spaces that have a time stamp on them. We feel you should be able to walk into any of our projects in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time and still feel that it’s current. So it’s not at all interiors fashion. It’s quite refined and elegant and simple but still warm and inviting and friendly.

How would you describe your approach to design?

I was asked once if I have any big ideas about design and I realised I don’t have any because to me the little things are the big ideas. The little things are the way you feel when you walk into a space. Ultimately, it’s about creating places for connection  – where you connect with yourself, your friends, your family and the universe. Our home forms our base in life and it’s fundamental to who we are. It’s where we are formed. I believe if we have a home that is a safe, secure and nurturing place then we are better equipped to deal with bigger issues in the world.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?

We’re so stuck in certain terminology around recycling and sustainability. ‘Recycling’, in the way that I see it, is reusing something, finding a new home for it, finding a new person who can use it, or giving it to someone. It’s not necessarily about breaking something down and creating new raw materials. To me ‘sustainability’ is when something is built to last, and it’s sustainable for a long time. Of course you should be using green products in manufacturing, but above all it should last. 

For example, PP Møbler is a Danish furniture manufacturer who make a chair with a back rest that is the width of a trunk. That trunk takes 100 years to grow so their philosophy is the chair should be built to last 100 years because that’s how long it takes to grow a new tree. To me that’s true sustainability! You will give this chair to your children and they will give it to their children. It creates a story and it has a connection. You value it more and you find a new purpose for it. Those are the pieces your kids will fight over. They’re not going to fight over fast furniture!

How do you approach working with your clients?

The subtitle of my book is how to bring joy, order and beauty. I think joy comes first because what we do (in helping people design their home) is such a privilege in so many ways and if the process is not joyful for us, for our clients, for everyone involved, then clearly we are not doing something right.

We spend so much time with clients and everything is so bespoke. We become very close and it evolves into more than just a client and designer relationship. You get to know people quite intimately and you kind of miss it when the project is finished! And because of this our clients come back again when they have new projects, which is a great compliment.


With access to so much imagery of stylish interiors, how do you stay true to your own design aesthetic and how do you help your clients find theirs?

It’s a tricky one. It’s kind of a gut feeling somehow. It’s hard to pinpoint but you feel it when you get it right. It’s hard not to be influenced. I think we are all influenced somehow and to say that our work is not ‘interiors fashion’ doesn’t mean we are not influenced by colours and materials and textures. 

You need to go through the complex to find the simple. You have ideas and you want to constantly challenge yourself and be more adventurous and go a certain way but it seems to always come back to the core of what your intuitive style is. You almost need to go on that journey to find that core place again. And there might be little snippets you pick up on the way that show themselves in the final design, but there is this journey that I feel I need to go on to come back and understand. 

The final result is based on my intuition but then again I’ve heard it said that everything intuitive is logical when you break it down. So there are always predominant elements in my work. One is that, (and I am referring to the structural elements, not the soft furnishings) in a space or room not to have too many materials: I use a minimum of 3 but not more than 5 and together they are harmonious and natural. 

Our whole journey with a client is educational – around timing, around costs, and around design as well. We want the projects to reflect the client’s taste and style yet our expertise and knowledge should provide an additional layer of understanding and aesthetic. Our job is to interpret what the feeling is and why the client likes something and come to the core of that and then layer an element of sophistication on top. To do that successfully, we need to study and understand the way things are put together; how something is designed comes down to the technical aspects of how it’s made.

Are there any particular people who have influenced you/your style?

The English architect Rupert Gardner was instrumental in my love of spaces and he encouraged me to study at The Royal College of Art in London of which he was an alumnus. We worked together off and on over several years and had a strong creative connection. Rupert became my mentor and a lot of my work is inspired by him. Often I find myself thinking ‘what would Rupert do?’.

What would be your dream project?

We want to do a little boutique hotel and I’d love to use all or predominantly reused or vintage furniture in it so that it already has that feeling of history and belonging and that sense of something being used and not mass produced. That would be fun! We’ve had that in our timeline for a while. It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when.

What’s your favourite piece of furniture in your home?

I brought my sofa with me from Sweden. It’s designed by Källemo and is 25 years old but it looks barely used. The style of it is ageless. 

(Note from Two Design Lovers: We’re with Anna-Carin and love the ethos of Källemo, who state “Furniture is a concept… It is no doubt difficult to choose when clever operators with glossy catalogues tell you about the most recent trends. You do not have to be particularly intelligent to realize that the latest is succeeded by something else in the next catalogue. Our ambition is to work with designers and artists who are aware of what quality stands for – accomplishment unaffected by trends.”)

What are you loving on Two Design Lovers and how would you use it?

The Minotti Bellagio side table. A small side-table like this is so handy to put down your drink next to the sofa (or armchair) or a vase with flowers and a candle. I like the simple slender elegance.

Two Design Lovers Minotti smoked glass side table

Minotti Bellagio table

Images have been printed with the permission of Anna-Carin McNamara Design.

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