Rebecca Caldwell, Director of May Tree Studios

May Tree Studios Office Space in Brisbane, Australia.

May Tree Studios Office Space in Brisbane, Australia.

Introducing one of our long time supporters and sponsors Rebecca Caldwell from May Tree Studios. This lady runs her own architecture and design studio, that started up out of her bedroom. She is on board with what Make Nice is about and strongly believes in allowing yourself time to explore who you are beyond your profession. With over ten years as a professional in her industry Bec shares with us some real wisdom - we are super excited to have her on the blog today!

What do you do?

I run a small architecture and interior design studio in Brisbane, called May Tree Studios, that I started from my bedroom in 2012.  We cover projects of all sizes - boutique residential through to commercial interiors.

Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?

“How you live each day is how you live your life”.  I strongly believe in grasping life by the horns and overcoming obstacles by being vulnerable and brave and finding joy in every possible moment.  Too many people stay in negative workplaces or spaces in life and think that by putting up with it they’ll eventually come out the other side.  But I think we are the sum of our days, be they negative or positive, so there is no moment like NOW to make a change.  People always say ‘oh I couldn’t do that’. But why not?

What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?

There are the obvious milestones like finishing my Masters and getting my architectural registration in Queensland.  But the most important milestone or moment that completely shifted my trajectory in life was going part time at my job in 2011  and starting to volunteer with an organisation that works with children in foster care.  

This was so transformative because I went to 4 days a week and it was like being able to come up for air.  I could suddenly explore these other parts of my identity that were not defined by the 50 hour working week in corporate architecture.  It gave me time to pursue other creative interests and, yes, there was a financial cost to me at the time, but the pay off has been huge. Without this, I think I would never have gained the clarity around the kind of life I wanted to have or had the space to start dreaming about beginning my own practice.

What is your dream project?

The one I start tomorrow :)  Almost every project we start I am excited about and thrilled that someone trusted us to do it.  

What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?

Harry Potter.  Always Harry Potter.  I basically cycle through those books every year.  Reading them is like putting on the most comfortable onesie ever.    

What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?

I’m really keen to start seeing architecture practices providing a fairer and more generous working environment.  The industry is a low paid industry and we have an award now for graduates, but there is still a mentality by lots of firms that you should be ‘honoured’ to work for them, or on their projects, so you should suck up the long unpaid hours of overtime it takes to create them. I strongly believe you create better people by seeing them as an investment, not a resource, and that this converts into loyalty, productivity and creativity - which in turn makes for a brighter, more vibrant and viable business.  


The team at May Tree Studios. 

The team at May Tree Studios. 

Rebecca Caldwell.

Rebecca Caldwell.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

We have a really neat GP clinic finishing this year which is a really modern take on what a GP clinic can be.  I think this project will push some boundaries and elevate our profile in this area.

We are also about to commence a little project that takes an 1800’s Salvation Army Hall in a regional town of northern NSW and converts it into a live music venue and bar to help support its use as a music venue.  I’m really excited about this job as it is working with such old building fabric.  It is a project we are doing on a pro bono basis to help support this group who are really meaningfully contributing to the arts and community in that region, so it totally sits within our passion and heart and is something we are happy to help give back to.

We also have a number of houses and residential developments that have some really lovely interior resolution that we are excited about seeing built over this year.

If you could choose to hear any female contemporary present at Make Nice, who would it be and why?

I'm super excited to hear from all the speakers - can't wait to be inspired! But really keen to hear from Suzy Tuxen from A Friend of Mine - I love hearing from other women juggling family and business and killing it in the Australian context.

What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?

I went through a reasonably traumatic period of change a few years back, and saw a psychologist for regular support.  From her, the greatest thing I learned was how to be still and how to look inside for the strength you need.  Trusting your ‘gut instinct’ is something I was not taught growing up and has been an incredibly powerful thing to learn as an adult.  This, more than anything else, drives my life decisions.

Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?

Yes - I think Instagram has been incredibly powerful for this - the ability to connect with other small and likeminded architects or designers (not just female) in my region.  I regularly meet with another female architect running a small business near our studio and we also collaborate on projects. Just through some Instagram stalking :)  

We don’t harp on about this, but as a result of hiring part time roles and growing them as the business has grown, our office is predominantly women. We've just employed our first (and totally amazing) guy Alan who is a great addition to the team. The culture of our work environment is professionally and emotionally supportive and I think a large part of that is due to the highly collaborative and communicative way women work.

More broadly, architecture is definitely not a female led industry, but we are seeing more and more female leadership in Australia. Particularly down in Sydney and Melbourne, there are some amazing women in editing and architecture that are totally killing it. This is really encouraging. Architecture is a difficult profession to juggle part time work in, but it is possible. The industry struggles to provide good life/work balance so I think that alienates women, but, it's changing. Slowly.

How can we find our more about your work? 

Find us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and our website.

Saccharomyces Beer Café in Brisbane by May Tree Studios.  Image credit Toby Scott. 

Saccharomyces Beer Café in Brisbane by May Tree Studios. Image credit Toby Scott.