You know sometimes you meet those people who are so young, gorgeous and super successful you want to hate them but then they turn out to be really nice and humble as well? Hello Emma Elizabeth Coffey!
This talented Sydney designer is fresh back from exhibiting at London Design Festival where her stunning diamond rug design (for Designer Rugs) was judged in Elle Decoration’s top 10 at TENT, one of the largest design trade shows. High praise indeed.
Unlike many designers, Emma (better known as just Emma Elizabeth Designs) knew what she wanted to be as early as high school. She went on to train in Milan and has since carved out an impressive career for someone who is still just 27.
Emma’s been busy this year. She recently worked on two pop-up installations for Vogue’s Fashion Night Out in Sydney but her work is super varied and she switches from interior design to event styling to art direction and product design. Her collaboration with Designer Rugs however, is my favourite story of 2011. Her stunning design Round Diamond (which looks like a many-faceted solitaire) was selected by the Aussie rug company as one of six finalists in a competition. While it didn’t win, Emma saw great commercial potential in the piece and asked founder Yosi Tal if she could create some pieces in other colourways to showcase during Milan Design Week. “I skipped out of his office after he said yes and quickly started working with Lia (Pielli, senior designer) on selecting the colours.
“The response globally that we have had with this piece has been amazing,” says Emma. As well as appearing in magazines across the globe, it is also being published in a UK book called 1000 designs of the 21st Century. “I have been riding the magic round diamond carpet Aladdin style lately, yet I’m also working on some new designs which I can’t say much about at the moment,” she says.
Emma started studying interior design at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) but felt she wanted more freedom and scope. “I knew Milan hosted Salone del Mobile so after researching I found a new course at IED (the Instituto Europeo di Design) called Scenografia that sat half way between interior design and industrial design. It allowed me to let free my creative juices and learn how to implement them directly into real world projects.”
In her final year of design school, Emma showcased during Milan Design Week (in her view the most influential global platform for a designer). “The Starck Network viewed my work and requested an order for one of the pieces for a hotel in Beverly Hills. I then went to Paris to show them my new works en route to the Milan show. I actually got an email one night when I was assisting Megan Morton on an overnight bump in at Westfield. It was about 3am in the morning and I thought I was just overtired and deluded!”
Emma thinks design education is very important. “I believe you cannot teach someone to be creative, full stop. But I feel you need to be educated in a way that allows you to take these ideas and showcase them in a way that both a client and viewer can understand. You need to be taught the tools of how to present your ideas in the clearest and most creative forms, as no-one else can get directly in your head.”
Emma’s known for having a very European aesthetic. “Within the Australian market this can be seen in two different lights, both positive and negative,” she says. “Ideas are usually scaled back to reflect what the Australian consumer can handle but personally I feel the Australian consumer is more design savvy than some of the bigger companies give them credit for.”
She remains very humble about all she has achieved so far. “I threw myself in at the deep end at a very early age, you either sink or swim quite quickly. I am constantly learning and am very thankful for the great support network I have around me because the world of a freelancer can be quite daunting and scary at times.”
In five years’ time, she would like to be working between Europe and Australia as a truly international designer and stylist and continuing her video blog (surely a TV career beckons?). “The world has become a very small place thanks to the internet and I am eager to ride the global designer wave, even if it does mean I’ll have a few extra wrinkles due to the constant jetlag!”
Emma likes to live and breathe her philosophy: style is nothing without design and design is nothing without style. “As a designer and stylist I believe that you must design for context, visualise the elements that you wish to sit alongside your design and stylistically wish upon the design that works best. The two cannot exist within their full creative potential without the other.” While she loves the freedom that comes with working for herself, the downside is that her work can consume her every waking moment. “Ideas can come in the weirdest moments so I always have a pen and paper handy!”
Her own home is full of her prototypes and props but still manages to be quite minimal. “There’s a focus on black and white with strong punctuation of colour. If you were to open the door of my storage unit you would probably end up with an injury, it’s chaos!”
Emma’s idol is Andrea Putman. “I saw her from a distance during my study days in Milan, I just love everything about her and her work.” Within Australia, she admires Melbourne design practice Edwards Moore. “Australians are not afraid to keep changing it up, not sticking to a specific “style” but re-creating and re-inventing. The young designers within the Australian landscape at present are such a fabulous mixed bunch who cross through many mediums and they’re really giving the international design scene a run for their money.”