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Alexa Hampton on Not Being Bitchy, Mental Redesigns, More!

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Welcome to Curbed Interviews, a new column in which the talented Raina Cox (of If the Lamp Shade Fits and Curbed's Moonlighting series) interviews major players in shelter media and interior design. Have a suggestion for someone whose voice should be heard? Send it here.

For nearly 15 years, Alexa Hampton has headed the legendary interior design firm of her equally legendary late father, Mark Hampton. With work regularly featured in the world’s top shelter magazines, she has shed the “progeny” label with her own fresh take on traditional decorating. Hampton, a mother of three children under age 6, has seemingly found a way to bend the space-time continuum, collaborating with top home furnishings manufacturers (creating fabrics for Kravet, carpets for Stark and furniture for Hickory Chair); authoring a bestselling design book; and sitting on the board of one-stop design resource Two of her projects have been featured in Arch Digest in the past five months, and last week she was named to Elle Decor’s 2011 A-List. We're not entirely sure how she found time to speak with us, but she did. Here goes:

People in the design biz universally praise your down-to-earth personality and wit. In a profession that can be biting and bitchy, how do you keep such a good-natured sense of humor?
ALCOHOL. (laughs)

I have both an appreciation that this is a luxury and that this is a job people want to do. It’s enormously fun and I also have appreciation for the fact that I am in the most personal spaces of the people for whom I work, and that is extremely stressful. You’re in their house, you’re underfoot, things are very expensive and I’m extremely sympathetic to the stresses it can cause. So I like to make it more pleasant by having fun.

What's your favorite room in a home to design?
It totally changes. I suppose the easy answer is the living room, because it’s the most ambitious space. But it depends on the house and how it’s being used, and definitely it depends on the architecture.

Do you have a go-to piece of furniture, a light fixture or fabric?
I’m sure I do, but I like to think I don’t.

Every idea is a flash of brilliant originality?
Yes, exactly!

Do you redesign rooms you walk into or ever “fix” displays in shops?
No. You know what’s really interesting? I have many friends in the design business—notably Mariette Himes Gomez, Thomas O’Brien, Markham Roberts—all whose offices are in stores or have galleries or a sales area. I think that’s so cool and I so admire that talent, but I don’t have it. So the notion of merchandising for sales is not how my brain works. My brain works on the “Okay, I want to lounge there so I can put up my feet? I want to invite people over, so I need enough chairs for people to sit.” It’s more about really how you’re going to live in the space.

And when you’re at someone’s home do you rework the space in your mind or can you turn it off?
I can turn it off, and I often do, but if something is really egregious, then of course. Then I’m like “Oh my GOD! How? Why?! Can’t look!”

As a mom to three young children, what do you think is the secret to a peaceful coexistence between the kiddos and pretty rooms?
Umm... hold on, my husband just walked in. So a loving and helpful spouse certainly. And in my case we have a wonderful nanny, of whom I am so fond I cannot tell you. She is just a wonderful woman.

Umm... I don’t know. Does anybody know? Who said I would know this answer?! (laughs) I do not claim to know the answer to that at all!

Have any of your children inherited the decorating gene?
I don’t know. It is my contention that the second child on my father’s family line is always artistic, but I have twins so I don’t know what that’s going to mean for my math. Does that mean the second boy will have it or does that mean my daughter will have it because she was my second pregnancy? Or will they all have have it? My cousin is an incredible artist and obviously my father was an incredible artist. My grandfather was a very good artist, so I’m interested to see if that gene rears its ugly head. Whether or not they want to pursue the profession will be something else.

Does your husband have any say in your home’s look or does he know better?
Almost none. (laughs) I mean, I really don’t encourage that kind of talk—he has very little say. I love to tell this joke about him: Whenever he says,”Oh, honey, I’d really like to see ‘dot dot dot’,” I like to look at him and say ”I’m sorry. Where have I seen your work? Oh yes. That’s my work I’ve seen, not yours.”

Once we were lying in bed and...he was expressing an opinion intrepidly. I put my hands over his eyes and I said, “If you can describe the picture hanging over our bed, I will listen to you.” And he said,”There’s a painting hanging over the bed?”

He obviously has a big sense of humor—he has to.

And as an added bonus for Curbed National readers, Hampton shares a trade secret:
A fun rule of thumb we use in this office that I was taught years ago is if you’re looking for a dining room chandelier, or any chandelier for that matter, take the width of the room you’re working with in feet, double the number and convert it to inches. So in a 15-foot room, you’re looking for a minimum 30-inch-diameter chandelier.

· Alexa Hampton, Inc./Mark Hampton LLC [official site]
· The Great 3D Living Room Challenge w/My Deco, Alexa Hampton! [Curbed National]
· Alexa Hampton's Spec-House Sorcery in the Hamptons [Curbed National]
· Michael Boodro on Print Media, Bloggers, and Elle Decor's Showhouse [Curbed National]
· If the Lamp Shade Fits [official site]
· All Moonlighting columns [Curbed National]