Ashley's Window /
Alexa Hampton is the acclaimed owner and president of the iconic design firm Mark Hampton. She has taken the firm to new heights, expanding its global reach while continuing its brand of excellence in interior design. If that weren’t enough, she also has her own design collections under her brand Alexa Hampton Inc.
Our Creative Director, Ashely Stark, spoke on Instagram Live with Hampton last week. The wide-ranging conversation covers everything from Hampton’s beginnings in design, to her design process, to staying optimistic in the face of trying global circumstances.
Ashley Stark: Everybody wrote in a bunch of questions. The first question is your father, Mark Hampton, started the firm and you became the owner and president. What was that experience like?
Alexa Hampton: Well, I was 27. I worked for him forever, from working for him a month in the summer, answering phones. Very often just delivering bags back and forth from the designers to the D&D Building and making my way into different jobs. I think I've sat in every single seat in the office. But when I was 27, he died. It was shocking. It was not something we had prepared for. And I think, here we are in crisis, all of us. And in my lifetime there's been my father's death, there's been the global recession, and now this, and I think as nasty as it is to go through periods of loss, whether they are psychological loss or real true loss, like the death of a loved one, you come out of them familiar with crisis, not brilliant about it, but you know this feeling and you know that you’ll live past it. So, how’s that for the most depressing answer!
Ashley: Really makes you like stop and think. Hopefully each time we learn something and take it with us. When designing a room, what is the first thing that you start with?
Alexa: I start with the furniture plan. We construct it based upon what our client tells us they need. Do they need to entertain? How many people are in their family? You can't do a seating group in one part of the room that's only four seats if their family is five people. You have to figure out traffic patterns. Are there two entries into a room? If there are, how can you walk through the room in a logical way? Where does the light hit on the furniture? Where does the carpet lie vis-a-vis the opening to the room? You don't want to trip on the edge of a carpet.
It's the fun thing to crack. There's not one answer obviously, but there are directions you can take. So, you meet with your client and you say, ‘These are three options. Really smart versions that give you a variety of seating that let you have a whole group or little groups, traffic patterns, good lighting, good function.’
And I know a lot of people start with the rug and I don't, I never have. But there are times when I will find a beautiful antique rug. And it's like it was ordained. It looks like I started with the rug and you can't believe that you found the rug that is so perfect for the room. That's the linchpin.
Ashley: It's so interesting. I see in the showroom it's usually 50-50. Some designers come in with a pile of fabrics and they're laying it on the rugs, and some people start with the rug and they go from there.
Let's talk about paint colors. I get a lot of questions about paint colors. That’s what someone asked: What are your favorite paint colors to design with?
Alexa: It is personal. You also have to try them out in the space. I love HC 68 from Benjamin Moore, which is a gray brown. Sometimes a really red Brown feels too hot. I also think in the past few years our palettes have become cooler. I think in the eighties it was hot yellows and hot reds and dark hunter greens. And a lot of gray has entered into our colors to sort of lighten them up.
I've shied away from yellows for a long time, but I think it's time. Actually, I had a client who wanted to do an egg yolk-colored room and we ended up not doing it. But I feel like I need to do one of those. Like I need to actually crack an egg and match it. I've done that with nail polish before with a red one. A custom red based upon my nails.
Ashley: What are your favorite destinations and where do you love to go for furniture finds?
Alexa: I do love travel and I feel like it's so endlessly inspiring. And even if you're on a house tour, just looking at a painting, you think a painting isn't going to inform your decorating, but it does, whether it's composition or it just makes you think about different things, that is our life's blood. And I think one of the most important things in any business, and I have to remind myself of this frequently, is if you can find the fun in it, you'll do so much better. So whatever job you're working on, find the fun. Make it the most fun you're having. Focus on the joyful, beautiful things, or look at the details in a house… Just looking through magazines, or looking on Pinterest, or looking on Instagram, is so rewarding if you're visual.
Ashley: Yeah, I've gone through my Mom's archives of things from the seventies and the eighties and all the coffee table books. Just seeing one little thing can spark me.
Alexa: It used to be like if you didn't have those magazines and books, you couldn't see those places unless you traveled. So now it's so great that those magazines and books have been uploaded on the internet so you can actually find them and see them.
Ashley: I know. My mom has like hundreds of old House and Gardens and Architectural Digests. So fun to go through and see what rooms are timeless, and what rooms are so dated.
Alexa: The trendier, the easier to date.
Instead of working at an office, I now just sit in front of my phone yapping away. I am doing a lot of these live interviews, but you know, it makes me feel connected. I don't feel so isolated from the industry. It's good.
Ashley: I think it's so important. I feel like we all have to stick together and it's so important to get our voices out and not feel isolated.
I feel like the biggest question that I've been leaving everybody with is, what advice can you give to some aspiring designers in this? It's a scary time for them right now. Everything's frozen, everything's on hold. What advice can you give these designers that are scared, and they don't know where to go?
Alexa: Okay, so first of all, when you're blindingly scared about like, ‘am I going to even have a company when I come back?’ You have to remember, before you even think about that, think about whether you will be celebrating Christmas this year. We will all be alive and well, God-willing, in December. We're going to be around five years from now. If there's a stumble that any of us take, or if all of us take, we can get through it, even if it requires reinvention. It's scary, but we can do this. We have to be very careful.
We've all got to look after each other. This is your moment to make your beliefs true. You've got to be very supportive of other people, as well as looking out for yourself. And you know, maybe after this we'll all be rethinking where our physical lives are. I know that I'm curious about what the future of our workplaces will look like. Know that we're all going to make it through this one way or the other. As long as we're alive, we'll make it through this.
Ashley: We really are all in this together. We're all in a pause.
Alexa: And there's no embarrassment or shame about this. If we're at a pause right now, we're doing our job.
Ashley: Yeah, exactly. We should all be staying home and keeping everybody safe and realizing that everybody's business is on a pause. Everybody's going to get through this.
Alexa: And be grateful for your life. There are many people out there with a much tougher situation than we have, and they are holding it together. If they can, then I can right now. I'm going to get off the phone and repeat that to myself, you know, like, you can do this Hampton!
Ashley: Hang in there! Be strong!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Watch the entire interview here.