Just as you can master a foreign language like Chinese, you can learn the language of interior design, says
interior designer Alexa Hampton.
"In fact, when you look at a room, you're reading it," she says. "It's a vocabulary that you can learn."
Hampton, who is the honorary co-chair and one of the speakers at this weekend's Interior Inspirations event in
, decodes that language in her new book, "The Language of Interior Design" [Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $50], published earlier this month.
The books showcases 18 of her projects, including the New York apartment Hampton shares with her husband, Pavlos Papageorgiou and their twin boys, Michalis and Markos, 4, and daughter Aliki, 2.
Some of the homes are "fancy with a PH," as she puts it. "I enjoy some of the fancier aspects, sometimes for their sheer improbability."
But she offers plenty of down-to-earth insights on furniture plans, lighting, fabric and seating.
Most helpfully, Hampton breaks the design process into four basic elements: contrast, proportion, color and balance.
Hampton equates contrast with a verb — the tension and action that keep the eye engaged and moving around a room. Proportion serves as the grammar — the spatial relationships in a room. Color would be the descriptive adjectives. Finally, balance, which underlies the entire composition, gives each item relevance and meaning. It involves the relationships of textures and colors, the yin-and-yang interplay between old and new, between masculine and feminine; between formality and tradition and comfort and approachability.
During an interview last week — the day of her tenth wedding anniversary, which she was spending away from her husband at the Fall Furniture Market in High Point, N.C. — Hampton laughed that she had been "muscled" into writing the book, which was co-authored by Jill Kirchner Simpson, with gorgeous photographs by Scott Frances.
Even so, it's clear Hamtpon's ideas on the vocabulary of design percolated for quite a while. Seven years before even starting on the book, she says, she registered the domain name she would use for its title.
Hampton doesn't plan to focus on her book when she speaks Saturday at 2 p.m. at Interior Inspirations, an event she is co-chairing with her aunt, New York interior designer Paula Perlini.
Instead, she plans to talk about the homes she grew up in.
"We are terribly influenced by our families and how we grew up," Hampton says. "You either grow toward your parents or away from them."
In her talk, she plans to show her parents' apartments of various vintages, including the swinging '60s Austin Powers style, as well as several projects she worked on with her father, renowned designer Mark Hampton who worked extensively at the
, among other projects. When he died at 58 in 1998, she became his company's chief executive, at age 28.
"You would bark with laughter if you could see that first apartment," says Hampton, now 39. "It was so humble."
There are pieces, she says, that pop up over and over again in her parents' homes — including a red lacquer wedding chest from Thailand, where her mother, Duane Hampton, and her aunt, Perlini, lived for a year when they were young.
"My parents always used that as a coffee table," Hampton says, adding that she believes it's essential to create environments "that don't alienate those heartfelt, beloved pieces."
"I like to joke that I tell my clients to get rid of everything," she says. "But that's not the way we live. We need those artifacts of our life around us."
Likewise, there are the chairs her parents bought long ago from The Door Store — "nothing you'd think would be in the fabulous home of the fabulous Mark Hampton!" she says. But there they were, and there they still are.
Symmetry And Obelisks
In her own designs, Hampton says she tries to veer away from a signature look — "I want to be versatile and speak the language of design of the person for whom I'm working."
But favored characteristics do recur. She is partial to symmetrical furniture placement ("Sometimes I'm teased by my office mates that I'm not able to break out of 90-degree angles"). Rooms she designs typically include a mix of furniture with legs and skirted pieces. She likes ebonized treatments and Greek key designs.
And, she says, "I've never met an obelisk I didn't want. If I can buy one for you or me, I'll do it. Ultimately it's about living vicariously."
For more from my conversation with Alexa
Eight interior designers are creating room vignettes for Interior Inspirations, a design weekend sponsored by the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern
They are Paula Perlini of New York; Ellen V. White of Boxwood Interiors in Old
; Victoria Vandamm of Vandamm Interiors in
; Melissa Lindsay of
; Melissa Barbierii, based in Greenwich and
; Hannah Childs of Hannah Childs Inerior Design in Old Lyme; Lawrence Hamre of Lawrence Hamre Designs in Essex; and Richard Ott of Richard Ott Interior Spaces in
The show runs today and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Lyme Art Association, 90 Lyme St., Old Lyme. Tickets are $25, $20 in advance.
The event includes a boutique and a speakers series. Honorary co-chair Alexa Hampton will speak Saturday at 2 p.m. and sign copies of her new book, "The Language of Interior Design." Other speakers include landscape artist Louis Raymond today at 11 a.m.; New York designer Larry Laslo today at 2 p.m.; designer and lifestyle author Alexandra Stoddard on "Creating an Inspired Home" Saturday at 11 a.m.; as well as a designer roundtable today at 4 p.m. Tickets for each talk are $10. A three-day pass for all events is $75.
Call Judy Lovelace at 860-443-2896, Ext. 901, or go to