For world-renowned designer Thomas Hamel, growing up on the East Coast of America served as the setting for his burgeoning love of Southern Colonial design which he still integrates into many of his projects, combining elements of old and new.
When Thomas arrived in Australia, he saw the similarities of this colonial elegance in the architecture and design in the area. Thomas, who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the American College in London, honed his design skills at New York's Parish-Hadley design studio. Working with Sister Parish proved to be a defining experience, as she was the first interior designer who was brought in to decorate the Kennedy White House, and she was widely known as one of the preeminent influencers of American interior decorating.
He went on to establish his own firm in 1990, Thomas Hamel & Associates in Sydney, and he brings to projects a sense of modern classic design with globally-influenced elements. He’s also the author of a top-selling book, “Thomas Hamel, Residence.”
With a focus on the bones of a room or home, Thomas takes a unique approach to design. He often collaborates with clients on projects from concept to completion, working with architects, builders, landscapers and everyone else who’s part of the process. Through these collaborations, a long-term relationship with clients is often formed.
1. Where did you grow up and how do you think it has influenced your work?
I grew up in Virginia on the East coast of the US, from a child I was always interested in the Colonial residential architecture of the South. The use of verandas and indoor /outdoor spaces, grand staircases and panelled rooms. It was great for me to arrive in Australia and see so many similarities in the Colonial architecture. I now love being able to utilise these classic architectural details in a fresh, contemporary approach.
2. Is there an interior design style you favour and do you have a signature style yourself?
I try to avoid individual styles when it comes to design. I believe as an interior designer we should draw on all our knowledge and work with our clients to make their visions into reality. Trends and gimmickry typically date way too fast. I like creating modern classic interiors, bringing a fresh approach and worldly sophistication to each unique project. I would say a signature of my style though is the combination of elements from many cultures and periods.
I adore African artefacts mixed with English antiques, Asian furniture and Japanese baskets and then of course mixed with Aboriginal art and some fun vintage French or American pieces to add ‘the magic’.
3. Who are the interior designers who have been the biggest influence on your own work?
This is a difficult question to answer as there are so many. My main influence would have to have been while I worked at Parish-Hadley and Associates in New York city. I learned the importance of looking at the architecture of a room first. It is crucial to focus on the bones of the room as the first consideration. These details include door and window heights, fireplace locations, etc. This is how I start the design process way before we start to discuss furnishings or colours.
I also enjoyed the experience of the diversity between Sister Parish and Albert Hadley's styles first hand. He was a modernist and she was more Patrician conservative in her aesthetics. They highlighted to me the fact that you need a combination of the old and the new.
My list of inspiring designers is long, Rose Tarlow, Richard Halberg, John Saladino, Veere Grenney, David Kleinberg, Kate Hume to name a few, and lucky enough I call them all my friends.
4. What are your design inspirations?
As I mentioned above, I am inspired by my friends who are designers. There is nothing better than a shopping trip or visit with one of them, and luckily for me, this happens often. In my next trip, Kate Hume is taking me to her favourite artist’s studio in Amsterdam.
5. Can you tell us a little about the complete service you provide your clients as I have read that it's not only about the interior design of their homes?
Depending on the scope of the project, we are involved in many stages of creating a home. We enjoy working in tandem with the various professionals including the architects, builders, the landscape architects and many others required to make a project happen. Collaboration is crucial to a successful project. Ideally we like to be involved from the initial concepts with the architects, this way we can assist with 'the bones' of the home and work in conjunction with the team to develop unique spaces for our client.
We also form special relationships with the clients, this comes after spending a great deal of time together. I always tell the clients the more you put into your project, the more you will benefit and love the results.
6. What do you think is the main difference between your Australian and American clients and their design aesthetic expectations?
I don’t think there is a difference between my various clients, each project is different in that the environment is different. There are many varying details to consider when thinking of a home in Melbourne for example, versus a home in Colorado or Florida, that is the only difference. Design aesthetic varies based on individual conditions rather than the clients themselves. Fortunately most of my clients travel extensively so they are all getting inspired on a global basis.
7. What do you think is the essential piece of furniture we should all have in our bedroom?
Our bedrooms are our sanctuaries, our place to escape and unwind and for this reason they should include elements of luxury. The essential piece of furniture should be our beds and they should be dressed in quality linens to create a level of comfort and relaxation. We spend the most time of our lives in our bed. I am particularly fond of four poster beds for architectural prominence they provide to a room.
8. What key element do we all need for a beautiful living room?
When I begin to contemplate the design of a living room, I always begin with an area rug as it sets the stage for the remainder of the room and ties everything together. A fireplace is a great consideration to create a focal point, and then of course comes comfortable upholstered pieces.
Thomas is a frequent traveler and draws much of his inspiration from his adventures around the world. He shares a passion for travel and design with his partner, and his hope is that he will be able to continue cultivating beautiful projects while sharing the importance of working from within a historical framework and perspective to younger and emerging designers.
Let's Get Personal ....
1. What else are you passionate about besides your work?
I love to travel, it’s been in my blood for as long as I remember and I love experiencing new destinations and cultures. This usually means some great shopping along the way.
2. What is your most treasured belonging?
The special pieces I own are varied, two highlights include a Chinese Chippendale (English) gilt table with an agate veneer top, and my Portuguese bureau bookcase with pagoda top. I love the international influences this piece illustrates. Most important though are my diaries and photo albums for dear friends and experiences.
3. What's one thing people may not know about you?
When I was a teenager, I started my own wedding cake making business to earn extra money!
4. In 10 years I'd like to be ....
Sharing my design knowledge with younger designers so they understand that one needs historical references in order to create new, contemporary solutions.
5. What can't you live without?
My handsome partner George Massar, we share a unique passion for design and he is incredibly inspiring to me. As we travel continually, we cannot have a dog at this point in time. Instead we have an Instagram dog called Ralphie NYC that makes us smile each day.