Alexandra Champalimaud Design, Lh Exclusive Interview
Since founding her renowned interior design firm Champalimaud Design in 1981, New York-based Alexandra Champalimaud has earned global acclaim for her iconic hotel designs. With a reputation defined by exceptional craftsmanship, creativity and meticulous attention to detail, the Portuguese-born Alexandra Champalimaud and her team of 50 transform their clients’ desires into realities beyond their dreams!
Champalimaud Design’s portfolio consists of some of the world’s most distinctive properties, from Raffles in Singapore to the Waldorf Astoria; the Carlyle and the Pierre in New York; the Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles; and the Connaught and the Dorchester in London. Champalimaud Design has also completed several major residential projects.
Read on to learn more about Alexandra Champalimaud and her inspiring career in interior design!
Lh Exclusive Interview with Alexandra Champalimaud
Love Happens: What first sparked your love for design?
Alexandra Champalimaud: Design requires one to truly understand beauty and its different forms and embodiments. I’ve always had a deep interest in beauty and beautifully crafted things. I grew up in the most beautiful place in Portugal and being in such exquisite surroundings planted a seed. I found myself studying at the Fundacao Ricardo Espitito Santo in Lisbon where I learned about visual art, architecture, and about the creation and preservation of various applied art forms. It was a transformative experience and it set a strong foundation for my design career. I learned a lot about history, creativity, and it furnished me with the space to shape my identity as a creative as well.
Lh: What motivated you to start your own design business?
AC: Honestly, it was happenstance. I was at the right place, at the right time, with the right amount of experience when the right opportunity came along. I went all in and haven’t looked back since.
Lh: When you started off did you have a plan for your future in the industry? Or did things unfold more organically?
AC: In the early stages of my career. When I first started my business I was a single mother raising two boys in Montreal. I really didn’t have time to think about the future of my business beyond the day to day and doing what I needed to do to keep my business going. Ultimately I developed a reputation and I started getting more and more phone calls to work on big projects – which later inspired the move to New York.
Lh: Did you have a preference for hospitality from the beginning? If so why?
AC: I’ve been working within the hospitality sector since I worked on my first design project at the age of 19. I have a soft spot for big old hotels and eventually built a reputation for knowing how to thoughtfully design within these spaces. To this day our studio is still sought out for these kinds of projects, but also for our ability to transfer the same kind of thoughtfulness into new build and residential projects as well.
Lh: Love Happens’ publisher KOKET, a Portuguese luxury decor brand, honors craftsmanship at its heart. Each design is handcrafted by master artisans in Portugal who take great pride in their crafts. I read that you grew up in Portugal and that the way in which the country values craftsmanship has stayed with you. How do you incorporate your love for craftsmanship in your projects? Especially when they are large scale.
AC: Our studio craftsmanship and well-crafted goods aren’t an add on to our projects – it’s the foundation of everything we do. Therefore, it’s never really incorporated, because it’s part of the narrative from the beginning.
As mentioned before, my appreciation for well-designed things started from my youth, rooting a love and respect for beautiful things. We primarily work within the luxury space, and luxury today is no longer about the ‘shine’ and how expensive something looks. It’s not just aspirational, it’s absolute. It is about things and spaces being well-made and embodying a sense of timelessness through their craftsmanship. It’s about thoughtfulness and celebrating the local craftsman.
Lh: Was there a specific moment/project when you thought to yourself my career is really taking off? If there was a specific “this is it” moment we would love to hear about it.
AC: I think there have been a few times when that happened. The first probably when I worked on my first hotel project in Algarve, Portugal. Followed by when I renovated the Chateau Frontenac in Montreal – and again when I first realized I needed to move my business to New York to work on the Drake and the Algonquin hotels. To be honest, I still have these moments!
Lh: Love Happens is run by women and we love to support other women. I read you have two sons, as a mother of boys, what do you think is the most important thing you taught them about equality?
AC: I think what my sons know about women and how to treat them they mostly learned through osmosis. I never had to teach them about feminism or equality because I wanted to be a living example for them. I was a single mother who worked really hard to fulfill a dream of mine when they were young. And I didn’t let anything or anyone stop me – I didn’t have the time or energy to be victimized by my circumstances – and I still approach everything with the same conviction today. They have never not understood the power that women have and their ability to overcome any and every challenge that comes their way. Bias aside, they grew into two of the kindest and most compassionate men I’ve ever met in my entire life.
Lh: Many interior designers aspire to have their own product collections, do you have any advice or insights you would like to share about the way you have successfully blended your interior design services and the product side of your business?
AC: The products that Champalimaud Design and I have created have always been an extension of who we are as a studio and our brand. Everything we’ve made is created with purpose and intention. I think that should be the case for all designers that are looking to move into that space.
Lh: What three pieces of advice would you give to a young designer/entrepreneur looking to make it?
- Always have a strong narrative and point of view in your work.
- Don’t shy away from color or pattern.
- Be a good listener – especially to your client.
Lh: Are there any locations you dream of working in that you have not yet had the opportunity?
AC: I’d love to design a project in Australia or New Zealand!
Lh: What’s next? Exciting projects? Other ventures?
AC: We have some wonderful projects in the pipeline. Our studio has been working on a premium airport lounge in Bahrain that’s due to open in a couple of months. We also have two newly renovated hotels in Boston that will be opening as well – Mandarin Oriental Boston and The Newbury. However, I’m most excited about the luxury senior living residences we designed that will be opening this year as well. It’s not too often that you have high-end designers working on spaces that cater to individuals that are aging and/or require unique needs.
A Peek Inside the Fabulous and Inspiring Mind of Alexandra Champalimaud with the Lh Design Questionnaire
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Simple life moments that allow for pause. A walk in my garden. A swim in the lake next to my summer house. Playing with my dogs. Lunch in the sun with my husband.
What is your greatest extravagance?
The house I’m building for me and my family in Portugal.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising my sons.
What profession does your alter ego have?
The project you will never forget
Recently, Raffles Singapore.
Your favorite business tool or resource
My black Le Pen ink pen.
The most timeless design
Either the Bavarian Lodge & Restaurant in Taos or The Kent in NYC.
The biggest business faux pas
Not making eye contact and a weak handshake.
Never give up on yourself.
Love happens when…
Love is never not happening – it’s everywhere and in everything.
Intro & Interview by Anna Beck Bimba