October 07, 2021



Meet Marie-Caroline Willms of Spain-based EMCI Design Studio.  Marie-Caroline is the creative force behind the recent revamp of The Clubhouse at The Marbella Club.  Here she has created whimsical, uniquely layered and transportive spaces that pay homage to the resort’s spontaneous and glamorous beginnings in the Fifties. The new Clubhouse spaces make this beloved Andalusian beachfront icon not only the destination of choice for discerning holiday-makers, but also interior-design enthusiasts world-wide.  

Marie-Caroline speaks with us about her design practice, The Clubhouse project, her commitment to using traditional artisan craftsmanship, and shares the story of why Casino Royale (Palazzo Vendramin, Venice)  is her favourite Stuart Cantor print.


The Clubhouse, The Marbella Club

The re-imagined Clubhouse is a fitting tribute to the Marbella Club's original Clubhouse that acted as a purposefully low-key hangout for Prince Alfonso and his illustrious friends –including Bridgette Bardot and Cary Grant - over 65 years ago. Its a series of convivial, free-flowing indoor and outdoor spaces, all flanked around a lush central patio.  Guests and visitors will uncover El Patio an all-day venue featuring outdoor dining at its most magical, in sheltered gardens nestled among bougainvillea and jasmine; its a peaceful sanctuary during the day and comes alive at night with its swathes of twinkling light; Rudi’s, a decadent winter den for champagne toasts, tapas and rounds of backgammon; Summer Bar for al fresco cocktails; La Bodega, an expansive wine cellar and scene of wine tastings; and an exquisitely designed private dining space and The Grill.  

Image: The Clubhouse, The Marbella Club

The Clubhouse, Marbella Club. Wallpaper textiles by Anna Willms of Casaca Textiles, Vienna. 

Could you tell us a little about yourself and your Interior Design practice, ECMI?

M-CW: I am an Austrian/German living in Spain since 2008. I am a single mother of two beautiful girls who I try to raise to be strong, brave and kind girls. My mother and grandmother have raised me to see all shades of yellow in the flower, or questioned if I were to paint the sky how many colours would I need, hence my eye for detail and love for nature.  

I am passionate about finding local artisans/artist, to push their boundaries, and promote them rather then keeping them a trade secret. It is a personal project of mine to support small businesses as it saddens me to see old crafts disappearing and being replaced with large chains - it feels like losing tradition and culture. So I try to integrate local traditional crafts into my designs – they are often the source of my inspirations.   

At ECMI, we are a small team of passionate designers, with a partner Johanna Haniel, who previously worked at Candy&Candy, Soho House, and Alberto Pinto etc. We are mainly based in Marbella and Madrid but do international projects around the globe. 

Image: El Patio, The Clubhouse, The Marbella Club 

Image: El Patio, The Clubhouse, The Marbella Club. Fireplace by The Exvotos

How would you describe your signature interior style, and from where do you gain inspiration?

M-CW: A good interior designer can do any style, English country to New York loft, contemporary to classic or a mix of many. Probably my signature lies in my theory in finding the perfection in the imperfect. I like to surprise with unexpected combinations, to reinvent materials, and build my designs around an atmosphere and spirit that I want to create. I like to be daring and experimental – without that, one would not create the new and unexpected.   My inspiration for a project comes from it´s location and surrounding, the clients, and the atmosphere I want to create. I find inspiration in anything pretty like a flower, a dress, a museum or a country’s culture and traditions.

Image: El Patio, The Clubhouse, The Marbella Club.

Image: El Patio, The Clubhouse, The Marbella Club. 

You have lived in many countries - Germany, the USA, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Austria. How have these experiences shaped your interior style? 

MC-W: Having lived in many countries and travelled much, it has given me the chance to discover and live many different cultures, which now are a great source of inspirations. These inspirations are not only visual but more of spirit and atmosphere. Different places don’t only have different styles but also different lifestyles  – and much about my designs build around lifestyle and atmosphere. Like the cosiness of an old English family county home with all the wear and tear of generations, or the feel of a New York cool loft space, or a Japanese zen garden – all which make a person feel different in that given ambient.

Image: Rudi's, The Clubhouse, The Marbella Club. 

Your work on The Clubhouse at the Marbella Club is exceptional, to say the least. Tell us a little about the  inspiration for this project?

M-CW: There were probably 2 main factors which directed the style intent. The first was starting at the beginning of each guests experience…..”why do they chose to travel to the south of Spain, Marbella Club?” My answer was very clear: “to experience Andalucía and its flora and fauna, light, history, culture, lifestyle and every other aspect.”   

The second source of inspiration was Prince Alfonso, his family and their lifestyle. His passion, spirit and attitude with which he built the original Marbella Club, which attracted the world and put Marbella in the map.   These 2 factors defined a charm and a style I wanted to “re”-create. The spirit of Andalucía and of the original Marbella Club.   So, I have integrated into my design the culture of tiles, horses, Granada, Seville´s Plaza de España and church roof tops, flamenco, rolling olive and orange groves, leather and so forth.  

Image: Rudi's, The Clubhouse, The Marbella Club.

Could you tell us a little about some of the artisans your used on the CLUBHOUSE project? 

As I mentioned, it is a huge passion of mine to contribute to keep old traditional workshops and artisans going and to support small businesses.   

I really enjoyed working with my sister, Anna Willms on this project, who has recently started up Casaca Textiles where she produces the most beautiful fabrics and wallpapers. Her handpainted designs are extremely creativite in a most wonderful simple but charming way. I used her wallpapers in the bathrooms, and combined them with bespoke tiles to match the papers.   

Next I found artisans Edmond and Ines, who paint bespoke tiles. I convinced them to cut out the painted tiles and reinvented a 10x10 simple white tile into an obra de arte.    

Luciano and Daniel from The Exvotos meanwhile have become very dear friends of mine, but the first time I called them and asked them if they would make a fireplace for me – they said "NO". Now we both laugh and joke about that; thank God I persisted and we have ended up doing many projects together. They have a unique and charming style which I love and thought it the perfect fit with mine. We designed a “Austrian inspired” fireplace and mantel which has become a main feature in the Patio.    

Javien Menacho is one of these old artisanal crafts with leather – for which Spain has always been known for.   The clue in working with artist is giving them a direction and design objective but then give them freedom to express their art and speciality. In my experience this leads to the most beautiful results often exceeding my own expectations

Image: Private Dining Room, The Clubhouse, The Marbella Club.

Our readers are avid interior design and travel enthusiasts. You live between Madrid and Marbella.  Could you share your top insider tips for anyone travelling to those cities?

M-CW: A good place to go in Madrid is the Sunday Rastro – from flea market to precious antiques. My favourite restaurant is La Parra, Charrua or Sushi99 for dinner -  Fitz Burger for lunch. Then the beautiful Thyssen Museum where the architecture is just as inspiring as the art or the Prado.  

Marbella: defiantly breakfast, lunch or dinner in El Patio, The Grill and MC Chirengito of the Marbella Club! Visit Ronda and Tarifa (la Sacristia Hotel decorated by me), close to Marbella. And a must stop for furniture shopping in La Fabrica de Hielo.

Images:  Private Dining Room & La Bodega, The Clubhouse, The Marbella Club.

and we must ask... what is your favourite Stuart Cantor print? 

So difficult to chose which of Stuart’s photographs of the Marbella Club I like the most. They are all fun as I know everyone in the pictures – and I definitely do want one for my house! There is one very special coincidence though. I discovered that Stuart photographed a print collection of Venice, so I asked him if he happened to have taken a photo of Palazzo Vendramin - which is today's Casino but was the birthplace of my great-grandmother and where she grew up – his reply was a beautiful picture of Palazzo Vendramin!!! What a wonderful coincidence!

Image: Stuart Cantor Print, Casino Royale, Venice Series.

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