Anyone who travels—and travels well—knows Alexandra Champalimaud. The New York–based interior designer, who counts more than 200 luxury hotels among her vast portfolio of high-style projects, practically wrote the playbook on modern hospitality. “It requires both the left and right brain,” she says. “You need to create for a purpose. It’s not entirely for yourself; it’s for others—and it must be executed perfectly.” Achieving that perfection means regularly combing the globe for one-of-a-kind furnishings and materials and drawing inspiration at every turn, whether shopping in Paris, on safari in Kenya, or enjoying a moment with her family at home in Connecticut. We caught up with the consummate creative for an education on good design—and how to find it in every aspect of life.
To the Trade Born
I grew up in Portugal in a very beautiful place called Cascais, which is known for its light and landscapes. My upbringing and exposure to beauty every day—and quite simply understanding what beauty is—sparked my love for design. But as a career, it wasn’t until I came to Canada and began working for the firm Mitchell Holland that I realized design was my calling.
Into the Wild
I met my husband over a conversation about paddling down the Amazon. I’ve always enjoyed rough, off-the-beaten-path places. Nihi Sumba resort in Indonesia is one of those. So is Enasoit in Kenya. It’s glorious, chic, and small. It’s a remarkable place to fantasize and take in the countryside.
Hunting and Gathering
Every trip is an opportunity to shop—an explorative moment. Lisbon has a few haunts full of beautiful things, including Leitão e Irmão, a jewelry store that also carries some lovely tabletop items. But London is my favorite. I’m a fan of Jamb for antiques and also Rose Uniacke Interiors. And don’t forget the Marché aux Puces in Paris!
I really love old silver and Chinese 18th-century export porcelain. I mix them with Dutch and French pieces. I also collect Roseline Delisle, a Canadian artist who creates striking ceramics that are so uniquely statuesque and elegant. I have two of her pieces, and I treasure them.
State of the Art
Richard Serra is my favorite sculptor, and I love Brancusi and Rothko. I also enjoy the work of Les Lalanne and Walton Ford. These are people we take lessons from every day. More recently, my husband and I purchased two pieces by the Russian painter Nicolai Vassilieff: a portrait and a landscape that have masses of color and huge personality. He’s a well-kept secret, in the hands of only a few collectors.
Making the Cut
Fashion designer Dries van Noten is unparalleled. His pieces are slightly exotic but not frilly, and the fabrics are extraordinary and of enormous quality. I get the sense that at one time he studied uniforms; the execution is a perfect mix of structure with an element of adornment. On the other end of the spectrum is Isabel Marant. Her work is simple, and I can pair it with everything. This is important in my life. I’m always on the go, so it’s necessary to have simple staples in my wardrobe.
When it comes to jewelry, I’m easy. My favorites among my collection are 18th-century pieces with rough-cut diamonds from Brazil. They’re from my family, and they are, well . . . me. I am also drawn to sculptural jewelry from designers like Claude Lalanne and Maiyet. I wear only a few pieces at a time. I am not one to drown myself in jewelry.
Where There’s Smoke . . .
I watch films for a good laugh. I look back to the ’70s at Cheech and Chong because they make me very, very happy. Up in Smoke is the best! You just haven’t lived if you haven’t seen this stuff.
I may be biased, but Troutbeck in Amenia, N.Y., is one of those truly special places. Not only is it family-run—by my son Anthony and his wife, Charlie—but it’s also designed by us. The grounds are breathtaking and the food fabulous. But what I love most is the sense of a salon, where strangers become your friends.