Alexandra Champalimaud, Founder Champalimaud
SPACE’s Can Faik speaks to Alexandra Champalimaud, Founder and the creative vision behind Champalimaud…
Good design begins with an exceptional story. The New York-based studio is dedicated to expressing the individual character of each space through extraordinary design. Champalimaud has partnered with many clients to create some of the world’s most distinctive properties, transforming context and heritage into compelling stories and unparalleled experiences.
Tell me about your role at Champalimaud?
I am the founder of the company. However, today I run the studio with my three business partners: Ed Bakos, Winston Kong, and Jon Kastl.
What five words would you use to describe Champalimaud?
Timeless. Thoughtful. Impactful. Explorative. Cultured.
How long have you been involved with hotel design?
Since the beginning of my career actually. My first job was at the age of 18 working on a hotel in the Algarve in Portugal. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to expand my understanding of design but also to begin gaining a deeper understanding of the hospitality industry and how I as a designer can be at the service of my clients and their guests.
What makes Champalimaud different to other design companies?
Many reasons! We don’t design around trends – our designs move beyond fleeting design moments or movements. We create spaces that evoke an emotional response. We’re anthropologists and thoughtful curators of space.
How and why did you get into the interior design industry?
It began with a love for classical design and became a necessity to support my family. I grew up in a very beautiful place called Cascais, which is known for its light and its landscape. I was also raised in a family that had an array of wonderful Portuguese homes. Designing was sparked through just that, my upbringing and being exposed to beauty every day.
Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?
A lot of boutique hotels have started rethinking their public spaces. The focus is no longer about catering to just the guests but also to the locals as well. These spaces, which include bars, lounges, and restaurants are more relaxed, malleable, and egalitarian. They’ve become spaces where guests and visitors can meet, relax, work, drink, and dine all at the same time.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
Important? They are essential. Public spaces should be designed to be effortlessly social, bleeding one space into the next. The arrival experience should be grand but understated. Hotels are much more focused on drawing visitors that may want to dine or drink at the bar even if they are not guests at the hotel. With this in mind, the design needs to draw the locals.
With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Champalimaud stand out from the rest?
Our approach is thoughtful, considering the context first, and carefully building on the story that existed. We honour the traditions of classic design but infuse a contemporary personality. Champalimaud creates timeless spaces and experiences that are respectful of the property, its locale, and the people that once visited or with a new build – will soon inhabit it. We bring beauty, proportion, colour, texture and worldliness into their lives in a comfortably accessible manner.
How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? And has Champalimaud felt the effects?
We have never been busier! Our office has grown significantly the past year and the hotel projects we’ve won are getting even bigger.
Have you seen exceptional growth in any part of the world in hotel design?
Most of Asia – Southeast, India, China.
Let’s talk about Monkey Island, and what does this stunning project mean to you?
My team and I are always humbled when we’re approached to work on projects that have rich historical narratives woven into them. Monkey Island is no exception. We’ve worked on so many iconic landmarks around the world – to be able to spend time with the stories that live within these spaces and using a contemporary point of view to amplify them while quietly weaving in our own design vision is truly an honour.
How much time do you dedicate to sourcing products and suppliers for the projects you work on?
A lot. We’re not going to choose something for a project just because it’s easy and convenient – we choose things because they’re right. And sometimes finding the right rug, the right colour, or the right piece of furniture may take time – but we’re dedicated and it’s part of the job.
Do you find it easy to source new suppliers or do you work with existing companies on a long-term basis?
A combination of both. We are always exploring new products and suppliers, but we of course have a few that we value and trust.
What is the biggest thing the company has learnt over its years in the industry?
To never give up. This industry is hard, and we’ve run into our fair share of challenges. But every hurdle we encounter has taught us the value of perseverance and resilience.
What has been your favourite project to date?
This may sound cliché, but most of our projects are my ‘favourite’. I’ve learned so much from designing each project, and we’ve created so many beautiful moments in each place, it’s really hard to pick out one. However, if I must narrow it down to one project – Hotel Bel-Air was an especially great project for our firm as a whole. An iconic property with a glamorous history and it has just been so well received by all that visit.
What’s your favourite part of a hotel?
The bedroom, specifically the bed. How the bed is made, the linens – this can affect the entire experience positively or negatively. What is the light like? The rug underfoot? At the end of the day, the bedroom is supposed to be a respite for the guest.
How would you define your ‘hotel style’?
A hotel that’s not pretentious, that doesn’t overly embellish. A hotel that has thought of every detail, possibly even planned for things I may not have thought I needed or wanted.
What would be your dream hotel project?
Honestly, all of our properties are dream hotel projects. Especially the kind of projects where clients trust that we will respect the history of their property and its future. We are honoured to work on properties globally with beautiful stories.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Egypt and Mongolia!
Where do you see hotel design in the future?
In the future, I don’t think hotel design will be categorised as ‘hotel design’. As time goes on the lines between residential, hospitality, retail and food and beverage will continue to blur, and hotel/hospitality design will simply be environmental design, or just design.
What do you love about being a designer? Where do you draw your inspiration?
The ability to create something beautiful and impact the lives and emotions of those who experience the spaces and objects that me and my team have designed. The environment in which people live, work, shop and play can have a huge positive impact on their emotional well-being. I am honoured to be regularly given the opportunity to enrich the lives of those around me.
In your opinion, which will be the top trends in interior design for 2020?
A return to sourcing quality goods and the rise of the craftsman. We can see it happening now, but I think it will have a stronger impact in the near future. Also sustainability – but in the sense that it soon become the norm in design will no longer be a special ‘add-on’ to a project or product.
Who is your favourite architect and interior designer?
Jean Nouvel, Clodagh, and David Mlinaric.
Is there anything exciting that you are working on at the moment that you can tell us about?
We are creating a stunning and unusual piece of art at a brand new hotel project, St. Regis Jakarta. This chandelier is truly one of a kind, awe inspiring and completely transforms the space – I cannot wait to see it come to life.
What colours, textures and furniture pieces do you love the most?
I love rust orange and rich shades of blue and green. They’re colours that deeply resonate with me and hold a lot of memories from my life. I appreciate furniture with character and a story to tell. I’m drawn to the pieces that have lived a few lives before I’ve acquired it.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
1. Claridges in London. The service impeccable and there is a great sense of charm and grandeur.
2. The American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. The location, the design, the experience – it is unmatched.
3. Beverly Hills Hotel – Bias aside, I do love staying here whenever I’m in LA. The history is so rich there – you can truly feel it.
What’s next for you?
I just purchased land in Portugal. It is nothing less than breathtaking. I’m building a house there and it’s where I will hopefully retire.
Let’s finish with the issue of work-life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
I am in the studio in New York City at least two days a week. And when I am not physically present my mind is often there; I am very involved in my work. I try to create balance through movement but also through stillness. It is absolutely essential for me to be able to travel – to draw inspiration and return with a refreshed outlook on the things, spaces, and experiences I wish to create. I also absolutely crave the moments I am able to spend with my family and dogs, in the garden or the woods at my home in Litchfield, CT.