Q&A with Multitalented Designer, Emma O’Donnell

by | Sep 10, 2019 | Design, Featured, Outdoor

Emma O’Donnell, a graduate from the acclaimed KLC School of Design in London, began her career as a jewelry designer. Today, her company, Coolabah Designs, has evolved to include interior and garden design. Emma has completed projects large and small all over New York and London and has offices in both New York City and the Hudson Valley.

Emma O’Donnell of Coolabah Designs.

Downtown: What is your company, Coolabah Designs, known for? 

Emma O’Donnell: Initially we were known for jewelry design. I started the brand in 2008 making fine (and fashion) jewelry sold in the UK and European market. In 2012 I expanded my focus to interior design and have been mostly focused on that ever since.

Downtown: When and what drove you to found Coolabah Designs? What is the meaning behind the name?

Emma O’Donnell: After about 15 years working as an HR executive in a global professional services firm, I wanted to tap into my more creative self. I thus started to make jewelry. The name comes from the Australian coolabah tree, the eucalyptus tree in the iconic Aussie song, Waltzing Matilda. My Australian husband and my frequent travels to the country influenced the name a bit.

Downtown: As a company that has offices in both NYC and the Hudson Valley, how do you balance your time? How has this been a boon and a challenge for Coolabah Designs?

Emma O’Donnell: Having a foothold in both areas has been great for me—I understand the frenetic NYC environment but I also the need to reconnect with nature and to create a home outside the city. This has helped me with client relationships, both old and new, and lends me credibility in both environments.

Design by Emma O’Donnell.

Downtown: Do you always work on residential interiors and gardens hand-in-hand, or do you often get hired separately for each?

Emma O’Donnell: So far I have been hired independently for interiors and gardens, but my work has spilled over in the other arena as well. For example, a Tribeca client who hired me to do their terrace has also used my interior design services for a couple of her residences.

What are the benefits to a homeowner to hiring you for both interiors and garden design?

Emma O’Donnell: My ability to read the client’s style lends itself to an integrated approach inside and out; so if the style of the client is modern, I can keep the look cohesive and have both spaces be reflections of each other.

Tell us about your aesthetic! What design principles are carried throughout your work, client style aside?

Emma O’Donnell: The look I aim for is modern, but warm and comfortable. I like to select timeless, natural, high-quality materials such as real wood, wool, leather, cotton, and linen. Furniture made with quality materials can last a lifetime and in 10 years can be refreshed with new upholstery or a new stain. I like to reuse or recycle the client’s pieces as much as possible to minimize the carbon footprint of the project.

Downtown: When you design outdoor terraces and gardens, what are elements you always keep in mind when planning the design?

Emma O’Donnell: Space planning is always key. I select furniture that will fit well in the space and create multiple room-like areas in the garden. I usually pick a simple color scheme of greys and black, but I often use plants to serve as the jewelry. Last but not least, I always incorporate lighting that illuminates the garden and plants at night to create a magical space.  

Downtown: When you say you create “low carbon footprint designs,” can you explain to our readers how you implement these elements into each design?

Design by Emma O’Donnell.

Emma O’Donnell: I am drawn to real materials such as solid wood, natural fabrics, and wool or silk rugs. They are timeless and will last a long time. If the furniture is of a high quality, then as the styles change it can be reupholstered for a new look. I also like to purchase mid-century pieces that have lived a long and interesting life. Throw-away furniture ends up in landfills and I stay away from that. From a lighting perspective, I select the latest LED fixtures that allow of a very low energy use in the home.

Downtown: What has been one of your favorite projects and why?

Emma O’Donnell: That is like being asked to pick my favorite child. But one of my favorite projects has been my design for a Chelsea Loft. This project touched every surface and it was a gut renovation of a 2,500-square-foot-space. I enjoyed working with everyone and helping my client select tile, fixtures, new lights,  and designing the kitchen and bathrooms. The final result turned out beautifully and the client has received rave reviews from all, which is very rewarding.

Downtown: From what we understand you also create fine jewelry pieces! How does this relate to your interiors and garden design work?

Emma O’Donnell: I originally stated making jewelry and then after a while thought about using my metalworking skills to make light fixtures, etc. I continue to make jewelry at my studio in the Hudson Valley, but it has taken a bit of a back seat to my residential interior and garden design.

Downtown: What are some of your favorite pieces and why?

Emma O’Donnell: My favorite pieces are my rings. They are organic, timeless, heavy and, substantial.

Downtown: We love the organic nature and metallic finishes on your jewelry, what draws you to these elements?

Emma O’Donnell: I believe that it all stems from being a fan of simple, useful, and modern design. It’s pure instinct, it stems from a place deep inside me.

Downtown: Where can clients purchase your jewelry?

Emma O’Donnell: Of course, clients can buy my jewelry! Currently I have my modern rings available in yellow and rose gold at Hummingbird Jewelers in Rhinebeck, NY. These and other pieces are shown on my website can also be purchased by contacting me directly at emma@coolabahdesigns.com.

Emma O'Donnell
Design by Emma O’Donnell.
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