Tricks of the Trade
Alexandra Champalimaud talks to Jacqueline Kot about her love for craftsmanship, subtle elegance, and how good design can stir up emotions as soon as someone walks through the door
Interior designer Alexandra Champalimaud shares her love for craftsmanship and subtle elegance
Alexandra Champalimaud is one of the most sought-after designers in hospitality—her firm, Champalimaud Design, was behind the revamp of the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, as well as the renovations for New York City’s classic Carlyle Hotel.
In Hong Kong, Champalimaud is working on Mount Nicholson—Wheelock Properties’ stunning complex at The Peak, which features standalone houses with striking views of the city. Of the four properties she’s designing, one of them is a four-storey beauty that also serves as the development’s show house. Champalimaud sat down with Hong Kong Tatler Homes to talk about her work and what inspires her.
What makes your approach to interior design stand out?
To be a good designer, in my mind, you have to be very confident. And I’m confident. I’m confident about proportion, about scale, about the use of scale in patterns. Design is something you discover and you get better at—what is it that creates emotion in people? What is it that makes a difference? Many of these answers you find through experience.
I think and see all the time in 3D. I can envision not just how the space will look, but how people will be transformed when they enter it. How the space will play to the emotions of the guests who walk in.
What interior design trends are you particularly excited about?
I’ve always been a big fan of craftsmanship, of the people who have an enormous passion for what they create by hand. To me, there is a resurgence in the appreciation for it. It is a measure of the times we live in—everyone is looking for something unique, something tactile. We’ve been so industrialised and commercialised; people are looking more for something with a special factor, with a je ne sais quoi.
What inspires you?
I’m often inspired by craftsmen who bring different techniques and materials to things they create with their own hands. I’m very excited when there is a new medium or technique I can work with and it’s always inspiring to meet someone who feels the same way.
Weaving fabrics, for instance. For one of my projects I’ve created fabrics on a loom in Kenya specifically for sofas. The mere fact I’m creating them in Africa with wonderful people, there is a certain soul and magic that comes with it and the result is very special. I like working on these projects a lot—the attention to detail, the touch, the emotion it creates when you see it: it’s very fulfilling.
What was the design concept for Mount Nicholson’s show house?
I wanted it to be a home but one that is entirely glamorous. We wanted to bring in lots of glamour, to take full advantage of the incredible views. However, the design is complementary to the house. It does not take over the ambience. I think when interiors are overly strong and aggressive, people get tired of them as they command a lot of attention.
The decor at the show house is gracious and elegant, with plenty of details and layers. It’s classic with some edge, like the exquisite doors opening into the living room that are made from blackened nickel—they are chic but different.
The large table in the dining room with a straw inlay, made by a craftsman in France, is another piece I love.
How is designing a show house different from designing a residence?
The main difference is that you are not designing for a specific client who will be residing there, so you have to use your imagination and think “what kind of client would live here and what is their lifestyle?”
The show house is a multi-storey property, which is not as common in Hong Kong. How did that factor into your approach to the interior design?
Everything is a study for interior design. The garage with parking below the house, the view, and the quietness—you need to take all of this into consideration. Then you go about designing a space that is easy to walk through, to flow through, to live in. The view and location of the house is special and it affects the way we position the furniture and the curtains we use, so as not to distract from the amazing view.
What’s your favourite colour to work with?
Deep orange—it’s salt of the earth. You can put violet and orange together, white and orange together, black and orange together. And a deep orange is not as aggressive as a brighter hue. It works with pretty much every other colour in the universe.
Finally, where is your favourite place to unwind?
I travel a lot for work so holidays are often treasured time at my beautiful home in northwest Connecticut. There is conservation land all around—I like the wild and being outside. We get four distinct seasons, but spring is the best time to be there.
handmade homes Champalimaud takes her inspiration from artisans and craftsmen. A prime example is the dining table decorated with a straw inlay at Mount Nicholson’s show house, which was created by a craftsman in France
heavy metal Doors made of blackened nickel bring a contemporary edge to the classic design
designer dossier Alexandra Champalimaud, pictured at the show house that she designed for Mount Nicholson
deeper detail From top: Glamorous touches bring the show house to life; artwork and decor combine in a layered elegance