A deep understanding of design and craft history underscores the work ethic of New York-based interior designer, Alexandra Champalimaud.
By Sanjay Surana
An immutable truth is that time, and tastes, change. Luxury hotels are no exception to that maxim, with interior designers facing perplexing conundrums such as how to keep the decor, fixtures and fittings evergreen. “The designer’s challenge hasn’t changed,” says Alexandra Champalimaud, who runs the respected New York City firm Champalimaud Design. “But, the preferences and demands of guests continue to escalate. Some want a social environment, others seek privacy and serenity. We must design for both and recognise that successful hotels serve a multi-generational clientele. The requirements of the luxury guest, such as elegance, comfort, privacy, bespoke service and an authentic sense of place remain, with technology and entertainment demands at a new level. In a world in which everyone knows everything, the need to provide a special experience, while honouring location and culture, has never been more important. Meeting today’s broad preference for clean and modern, while continuing to create timeless hotels, diff erentiates the truly talented designer from others.” Born and raised in Portugal,
Champalimaud received her early education in Switzerland and England, before completing her design training at the Espirito Santo Foundation in Lisbon. Today she’s known for top-shelf bespoke design, with a track record that includes Waldorf Astoria New York and St Regis Beijing. Her firm has also been commissioned to design two uber-luxe three-storey villas on Hong Kong’s The Peak, in addition to five-star hotels in Chengdu, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur. Her work has also been independently recognised. She was awarded the Platinum Circle for Lifetime Achievement by Hospitality Design magazine in 2000. She has served on the board of the Commissions des Biens Culturels du Quebec, is a member of the International Interior Design Association, and is a former vice-president of the USPortugal Chamber of Commerce.
An obvious first step in a hotel design is the lobby. Hotels are treating lobbies as more than just entryways, using them as lounges or bars. And often lobbies will be a conduit to those increasingly common hotel amenities – the celebrity chef restaurant or luxury boutique. “The sophisticated traveller has many choices. All want to be delighted and receive gracious service, but delight comes in diff erent forms. We will see the development of live/work/play hotels and hotels that incorporate an exciting luxury retail experience, just as we have seen hotel dining rooms, and now whole hotels, transformed into venues for celebrity chefs.”
Resorts have long blurred the difference between indoor and outdoor, and urban hotels are beginning to follow the trend, one example being interior gardens or the introduction of green elements in the room. Properties are also focusing on being unique by displaying works by local artists or by using ingredients from local producers, to forge a sense of place and identity. “We try to avoid the trendy,” says Champalimaud. “We seek to create inspired spaces that provoke trends and have commercial longevity. But, there are new imperatives. Sustainability should be woven into every project. Practical, intuitive technology, adaptable to constant change, is now a must. Local, healthy food is in demand. Great art, used selectively with integrity, is replacing predictable, necessity art.” And instead of the de rigueur wallpaper, wool carpets and crystal chandeliers, a broader range of textures is appearing. “Perhaps in reaction to our technology-driven world, we see a renewed appreciation for fine craftsmanship and interesting textures”, hence the increasing use of walls clad in leather, petrified wood used as furniture, and seating upholstered in velvet or faux hide.
Even historic buildings are being refashioned, with modern twists or with a nod to the past. “Old banks, deconsecrated churches and industrial buildings are all great candidates for conversion. We recently restored and adapted Gainsborough Bath Spa in Bath, England. This 18th-century hospital sits among the ruins of ancient Roman baths and is centred over a healing thermal spring.” The refit of Gainsborough focuses on craftsmanship and a celebration of tradition. The fivemetre-high windows in guest rooms have long dramatic drapes in fine British style. The toile pattern in neutral tones depicts a classic pastoral scene and walls are teal blue. Bedrooms no longer focus just on the sleeping area, with oversized bathrooms comprising 40 percent or more of the room. And the concept of bringing the hotel experience home will continue to grow. The various brands under Starwood Hotels & Resorts sell their beds, while Alila Villas Soori, in Bali, sells its furniture through the resort or furniture manufacturer Poliform. “We expect to see materials developed for five-star hotels being used more broadly.” Champalimaud Design’s
Comptoirs Collection fabrics, which are woven in France in a fade- and stain-resistant Tefloncoated acrylic, are typically found in hotels, but are beginning to cross over into residential use. “We anticipate a more widespread, residential use of these luxurious textiles,” Champalimaud surmises.