Meet Assel Baimakhan: An award-winning designer from Central Asia looking to conquer the US market
It could be because she was born in Kazakhstan, a nation famous for its vast, dramatic landscapes, mountains, and wild horses, but award-winning interior designer Assel Baimakhan has always had a strong connection with nature, and describes it as one of her main inspirations. Central Asia is also home to shining modern cities and warm, hospitable people. It makes sense that Assel is well-known for her “ancient meets modern” design aesthetic, and leaves clients raving about working with her.
She has built and decorated luxury residences, restaurants, commercial centers and hotels all around the globe, with high society buzzing as she changes the way people think about interior design in Central Asia and beyond. Trained as an architect in Kazakhstan and having to lead large-scale construction projects at the start of her career, Assel Baimakhan quickly learned how to create perfect living experiences. She also discovered that her true passion lies in interior design and small details. As a result, she soon developed her own design business, which over the years has completed countless projects in Kazakhstan, Russia, Dubai, Spain and France, and Assel herself has become an internationally renowned design professional, famous for her unique touch and for creating trends. She has now opened a design studio in New York, with a goal to take over the US market. Expats familiar with Assel Baimakhan’s work are excited to have her in the area and seek her interior design advice and services.
Assel, please tell us about yourself. How did you become passionate about design? You started out as an architect, what made you move into the interior design space?
I started my career in Kazakhstan with a degree in Architecture. My first job was assisting one of the country’s top developers on a large construction project. Then the client asked me if I could work on the interior design of the new property as well, and I said yes. The project turned out to be really fun. I loved planning every detail, from the type of materials to use, to furniture and accessories. Soon after that, I focused on interior design full time, and founded my own design company. Today, I am one of the top interior designers in Kazakhstan, and also work on projects all around the world, in Europe, Asia and the United States.
What makes for good interior design?
Good interior design is what happens when the space is both functional and beautiful. Good design is when the space is original, keeps feeling fresh and new to the owner, and yet remains comfortable and cozy.
What is your design philosophy? How do you approach new projects?
In the interior design process, it is important to plan the space. This is why I try to be really thoughtful about how my clients use their space. I sit down with them early on and really try to understand how they move through their life every day and what they need in their homes. Once I have an idea of how the space should function, I combine my clients’ requirements with their desired aesthetic and atmosphere, and create a concept for the space. Any design project starts with a vision. I think globally. I try to tell a story with the interior coming together, with all the different elements and pieces. When working on my projects, I am adamant about picking high quality materials. Ideally, I work with natural materials like wood and stone or fabrics like wool, linen, or silk. I want to make sure that my design is put together to last. Authenticity is another design quality that is key to my work. I try to tailor every project for the user, beyond their taste or preferences. I ensure that I integrate their everyday belongings, as well as heirlooms and antiques. Those items, unique to everyone, can make any room more interesting, more original.
How do clients shape your design vision? What kind of questions do you ask them?
I sit down with all of my new clients and chat for a couple of hours over coffee. I try to learn every single detail about their lifestyle to get a clear picture of how they plan to use the new space. We talk about their day-to-day movements, habits, travel plans, and how they entertain guests. I have all the right questions in front of me and ensure that I have all the information I need, before starting to work on a project.
Give our readers an advice: How to freshen décor for the upcoming spring?
Much before Marie Kondo started to encourage us to cleanse our homes of things that are not sparking joy, I was telling my clients to unclutter their space and keep their homes minimal as a first step to refreshing their interior design. We do not realize how much unnecessary stuff we collect. To make our space seem fresh again we need to clean it up, and let the stuff we do not need go. My second tip is to add greenery. You can’t image how much homier and brighter your space becomes with a few potted plants or flowers. And the good news is that you don’t have to even get real flowers. If you have a busy schedule and you can’t take care of your plants, there are plenty of gorgeous artificial options, including those made of silicone.
What inspires you, and why?
I am inspired by travel, arts and culture. When I travel, I explore museums, visit beautiful buildings, and learn about local architecture and design. I get to know the local art scene and bring back pieces by local artisans and artists that speak to me. In my own work, I always focus on my clients’ heirlooms that they pass from generation to generation, as well as the defining pieces that my clients bring from their travels. I often start by reviewing these items with a goal to harmoniously integrate them with the new elements, putting them at the center of the story I tell through interior design. These may be little figurines my clients have bought in a far-away land. Well, I will make sure then that they are front and center to the interior design of the place.
Nature is another key inspiration. From spring blossoms and fall foliage, to winter sky and clouds, I use nature to guide my choice of color schemes and combinations. I also turn to nature for positive energy, and to balance ideas.
Which project are you most proud of? Does it reflect your style as an interior designer?
I really liked working on the Mountain House project that my team and I executed in Kazakhstan several years ago. I am proud of it because my team managed to use interior design to highlight the natural beauty of the property’s landscapes and its panoramic views. Every detail seemed to come together, from construction to the ultimate choice of accessories. It all started from an existing building that we had to completely renovate and partially rebuild to turn it into a country house meant for family vacations and hosting friends. We used modern architecture and materials to complement the stunning location in a tree-shaded mountainous area. We stuck to a limited natural color scheme focusing on beiges, greys and greens and accented the space with lots of plants to utilize the natural light and highlight the house’s unity with surrounding it nature. We worked with texture and combinations of materials, such as stone, wood, metal and textiles, to ensure that the space looks conservative and yet has a modern feel. My team ensured that the new space is all about comfort: the house has a swimming pool, a sauna and a Jacuzzi. Its first floor houses a large living room and kitchen, while the second floor is dedicated to guest rooms and bathrooms. A part of the structure’s flat roof is turned into a rooftop terrace meant for watching the sunset. Finally, I really enjoyed working on a winding staircase — the central piece of this project, which served as a focal point of the entrance, and played an important role in bringing the whole design vision together.
What are your plans for the near future? What are some of your biggest inspirations?
I recently opened my design studio in New York City, while also pursuing a Master’s degree at Parsons School of Design. I still travel to Europe and Central Asia, but work there more remotely. I am already working on several interior design projects in New York and hoping to help those passionate about interior design in the US take it to a whole new level.
In your opinion, what makes you different from interior designers in the US? How can American clients benefit by choosing to work with you?
Well, first of all, I am incredibly flexible and sensitive to cultural differences and my clients’ sensibilities. I come from a Central Asian country but constantly travel and work on projects in Europe, the Middle East and now the US. As a result, I am very familiar with both Western and Eastern aesthetics and mindsets. Because of the global nature of my design services, I am also well-versed in the latest interior design trends and high quality manufacturers all over the world. I work with exciting design elements and wonderful vendors completely unknown in the US market. As a result, I offer my clients in New York new and unique ideas at reasonable prices, showing them what vendors in Greece, Portugal, Turkey, Lebanon, Eastern Europe or Scandinavian countries can do for them. Combining new elements and products from all over the world together with US needs and sensibilities, I help create unique spaces, while also staying on budget.
For instance, I have noticed that much of US-made furniture is incredibly expensive and yet bulky and uncomfortable. It does not work for certain types of spaces, especially smaller ones. Part of what I do is help my clients select elegant pieces from France or Italy that bring out the best in their homes. I help them find design elements that are impossible to find on the US market.