It all started with wallpaper. For Australia-based interior designer Thomas Hamel and longtime clients from Perth looking to design their London pied-à-terre, the bonding began when Hamel first accompanied the wife to a de Gournay showroom in London. “It was like bringing a person into the best chocolate shop in the world,” Hamel says. “I was like, ‘You cannot lick the walls.’ She knew every single panel and which one had been featured in Vogue, which one was in Kate Moss’s house, and so forth.”
From there, their creative collaboration took shape, leading to a Belgravia townhouse with contemporary bones, punches of pink and green, and—as promised—de Gournay prints in unexpected places.
Hamel, born in America and trained at Parish-Hadley in New York City, leads his design firm from his adopted home of Sydney. His projects stretch across the globe, and his approach to design is similarly wide-ranging, as he regularly seeks a balance between the old (in this home, what he calls a “frothy, glamorous” mirror from the 18th century) and the new (such as a Hervé Van der Straeten chandelier).
Here, Hamel talks about the process of designing this colorful new home that shows off his love of both the modern and the antique.
ELLE Decor: Tell me about these homeowners.
Thomas Hamel: He’s a doctor, and she has an international company. She’s amazing in business, with her command of facts and figures and details. But she also has this historic memory of decorative arts. She uses both sides of the brain—it was fascinating to work with her.
I know this client pretty well. She loves pale pink and pale green. She’s very much about pretty things. When I met her, we became instant best friends because she said her favorite house interior in the world was Winfield House in London—it’s the American ambassador’s residence there—which Billy Haines had done for Ambassador and Mrs. Annenberg and then Brian J. McCarthy did after that. I knew it so well, having worked for Parish-Hadley and Brian J. McCarthy. So we had this instant rapport. Her favorite room there has these green antique chinoiserie panels, and we had an immediate friendship because of that.
ED: How did the location in London influence your design?
TH: The client was willing to push the limits so that it didn’t just look like a re-creation of an old London townhouse. It had been renovated recently, and we went a little more coral than usual. We went a little stronger to give it that contemporary edge. I told her that in London, you actually need the color to be a little stronger because of the grayness outside. It needed that little bit of contrast. It’s very different than being in Australia, where the light is so much stronger. You need to have pick-me-ups.
ED: At what point did you decide to incorporate a dining area into the living room?
TH: There’s only one big room in the apartment, and then the kitchen and two bedrooms. They needed a little space for dining, but not a lot. That’s why we did the banquette on the right side, so the clients can have small dinners there. The chairs can pull around, and we used a table big enough to fit six people. I’ve always been a big fan of banquettes. I find that most times you sit there and read the newspaper or look at your computer in the morning, and it’s nice to be on a sofa rather than in a chair.
ED: Where did you find the antique pieces?
TH: It was fun shopping in London. We went to Godson & Coles on Fulham Road. We were also in London during Masterpiece [the fine-arts fair where exhibitors showcase art and antiques from around the world] and got to go to all of the nice fairs. I was also in New York for the Winter Show, where I found that curvaceous antique mirror from Hyde Park Antiques.
ED: Would you say that your work has any kind of trademark look?
TH: You have to stick to clean architecture and good proportions. I think that is something I would consider a trademark. And you cannot be too gimmicky. Things can be contemporary, but they don’t need to be so of the moment that you tire of them in a year’s time.
If you look at my portfolio, all of my projects are quite different because I’m all about the client. I’ve always said that I’m not a dictator decorator. I’m going to ask you a lot of questions because I want your personality infused in this house and not my own. I think I learned that from the Parish-Hadley days.
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