How Alexa Hampton learned the language of design
“I am the daughter of one of the greatest decorators who ever lived.” So begins the story of Alexa Hampton, a designer who has become a great in her own right. His father was, of course, Marc Hampton, a celebrity decorator, industry titans and three presidents. Her untimely death in 1998 came when she was just 27 and still learning the ropes in her office. There was no succession plan in place.
“In response to not having the conversation about ‘What are we going to do? we just kept going,” Hampton told the host Denis Scully on the last episode of The Home Business Podcast. “Here we are, 24 years later.”
A lot has happened in those 24 years. Although she never took her father’s name off the door, Hampton herself is now one of the country’s most celebrated designers, earning a regular spot on the industry’s top lists, author of books and reviews and designing products for a range of brands, from Kravet to Theodore Alexander to The Shade Store. In the early years, Hampton says, his success rested partly on the reputation and strength of the company and partly on his own, as yet undeserved, confidence. But over time, she became familiar with the language of design.
“I love the metaphor of design as a language,” she says. “It’s a language. It has a structure, it has variations, it has all these means to communicate. The more you can identify these ways, the more you can tell. The conceit of my first book was Julie Andrews’ approach to decorating: “Once you know the notes to sing / You can sing almost anything.” So you learn the language, then you can scat, you can rap, you can sing, but you have the language to play with.
Although Hampton learned the trade in her father’s business – at the time, a bit of an old-fashioned operation – she is quite forward-thinking in her approach to technology and transparency. When customers began to become more assertive in researching product prices in the wake of the 2008 recession and the rise of the internet, she welcomed it. “The big, big change is that people are much more educated about the cost of things; and I’m not sorry about that,” she said. “Maybe even before 1stDibs there was a market called Circa, [and] people in the industry were starting to worry about owners going to these websites and seeing what things cost. I don’t think that’s a danger, because we all want to be more transparent anyway. We mean, ‘It’s X, we pay X for it, we mark it Y to sell it to you.’ »
And while Hampton is by no means a Pollyanna about the disruptive power of the internet, she is eager to see commerce get involved in how design works in the digital age. To that end, she helped develop the (now defunct) e-commerce site The Mill and has an advisory role at Perigold. “Actually, I feel like we’re at a really lucky time,” she says. “When do you get to have a say in the whole structure of an industry? That’s it …! We are alive right now when the internet is booming. In twenty years, it will be sclerotic. The structure is being put in place and I would like to be part of this conversation.