Mark Hampton An American Decorator, the long-awaited book by Duane Hampton for Rizzoli.
Many designers that worked in the office have gone on to have thriving design businesses. Their experiences with Mark Hampton have informed how they design. Everyone I spoke to mentioned his fantastic sense of humor .
Paula Perlini worked for Mark Hampton in the hey day of fabulousless and grandeur. She was the lead designer and project manager from 1979 to 1988. In addition, she is Duane Hampton's sister, and Duane was Mrs. Hampton, the reason this fantastic book came together in the first place. In 1993, Paula she started her own firm, where she works in a beautiful traditional style, mixing fine antiques and colorful fabrics.
Days started early. Designers would get a call at 6am in the morning or 11pm at night. Hampton got up at 4am to call England, and check on orders. The office was run with great efficiency, and he sent everyone in many different directions. They had a meeting every day and you would be assigned a job to go to the workroom, see a job, find antiques. You have to see it, look at the joinery and patina to know if it was what he wanted. He could draw everything and anything to visualize what was going to be, and he would render spaces to get ideas across. He wrote everything down on yellow legal pads. Schemes would start with fabrics first then go to the rug. He used simple fabrics and signature window treatments involved using a polished chintz on a curtain’s leading edge and the same fabric across the bottom. Fabrics were in perfect scale, and he loved rich colors. Coca cola walls and furniture slip covered in white muslin with great accessories made a signature room in 1982. The staff was encouraged to go out and reproduce the Mark Hampton look, not their own. They laid out the schemes on a big round table in the office, and Hampton would work with the designers to put it all together. Designers shopped so they could see everything in their office, bringing in accessories and chairs on loan from all the great dealers. Placement of furniture was key. It involved lots of conversation groups in a room, with many pieces, so that clients could move pieces around for larger groups.
Hampton had a great sense of humor and viewed design as being enjoyable. The hunt and the search was really the fun part, and his enthusiasm was contagious. According to Paula, he was, "a great talker, and amusing." Painting watercolors started his day and he would paint 3 or 4 cards every day. When he traveled, he sent them to the office to check in, reveal a great story and show a beautiful Italian city or remote town in France.
Mark disliked chaos, and decorating for him was a way to push away chaos – "A place for everything and everything in its place" was a phrase he loved annoying me with, since I am pathetically sloppy and unhousebroken, but he believed in it, and it showed in his work.
Decoration was intended to give pleasure – to the inhabitant of the place decorated as well as to the people who came into the rooms done, and Mark was a great believer in pleasing the senses – for instance, he liked trompe-l'œil for its look, its concept, and its intellectual wit. I am reminded of the faux stone walls he had painted in his office at 654 Madison. He loved using painter Robert Jackson for floors and walls (Blair House, in DC, for instance, as well as many other places.)
Of course, being a successful decorator involves a great understanding of human behavior and Mark was a master at guessing what his clients really wanted, and why, and then giving it to them in ways they hadn't perhaps expected but deeply appreciated. That is talent in action. He was also loads of fun to be with – and when you spend a lot of time with someone in something as personal as decorating a house, it is a great advantage for that person to be someone you like spending time with. Mark's clients fought for his time – yes, he was frequently overstretched, as were we in the office – and that led to frenzy and craziness but also made us all work harder and sharper, too. We learned to juggle.
The only area Mark seemed, to our general amusement, to have some problem with was measuring custom lampshades. He would give us these odd dimensions which we would look sceptically at to his great annoyance, only to have the weirdest-shaped lampshades, in beautiful écru box-pleated silk, complete with lining and trim, come back (at $400 each net, and this is in the 1980s!) and have him shrug, sheepishly, and say "Well, store 'em on top of the cabinets with the other ones".
Glenn Lawson was with the office from 1990-1995, and today has his own design firm, Glenn Lawson Inc., in New York City, where he specializes in transitional and updated traditional residential design. He was there in the early years. Glenn reflects on the experience here:
When Mark left McMillen Al & Marilyn of Belfair (Curtains) gave him a spot in their workroom to set up his desk and business. His first office was in the parlor floor of a town house on East 65th Street between Park and Madison, a few doors closer to Madison, near where Daniel is now. He was astoundingly bright by nature; he was extremely literate, attending his ongoing book club several times a year; I never witnessed it myself but I am told he could sit behind a piano and play amazing classical passages. He also loved Peggy Lee and Stevie Wonder!
Design Training - Better to have more lights than you think you need. Then dim them, control them or use lower wattage.
Sense of Style - I equate this with taste which I equate with appropriateness. So much of what makes a room is about who will really be using it and for what.
Approach to Design - select your key pieces first and build the room around them. Often one item or object will inspire the whole room composition. Most typically this would be an Oriental rug.
Room Layouts - How challenging & how much fun it can be to make several seating areas in a very large room. It is something like a puzzle and it is so gratifying when it works.
Fabric schemes - Keep it very simple - 3 fabrics can be enough per scheme; if your client is very visual and sophisticated you may want to show up to 5 per room.
Business approach - He kept (& I do also) a daily sheet in the inside pocket of his blazer, folded in quarters. Upper left for phone calls, lower left "to do", upper right appointments, lower right "to shop". For me to forget it would be like leaving home without my keys.
Working with clients - when a client meeting would be wrapping up Mark would take out his pocket calendar and set up 3 follow up meetings (to keep the momentum).
Markham Roberts also resides in New York, and continues as a legacy of the firm creating a fresh take on elegant design at his firm. From 1992 to 1998, he was shaped by great experiences.
I remember my first day of work at Mark's office. He took me to see a few projects, one of which was the massive apartment he had transformed for Gayfryd and Saul Steinberg - the former Rockefeller apartment at 740 park. I was blown away by the apartment's size at 24 rooms and the sheer opulence not to mention chic taste. There were so many beautiful things to look at and to take in. I knew I was lucky to have gotten the job, and I knew I was going to love it.
I was also touched by how warm and genuinely affectionate Mark and Mrs. Steinberg were together. It was evident to me how fond of one another they were. Mark's charm was great - his clients and friends adored him. He could be very demanding, but he was incredibly smart and funny and fun, and the work was so interesting. One of the things I am proudest of in my life is having earned his respect, and one of the things I am most grateful for is having had him as a mentor.
That first day leaving the Steinberg's apartment, he commented on the way down in the elevator, how lucky he was to have such a lovely client who was interested in making something so beautiful and who got it. That was certainly true and very humble of him to think in those terms. Equally lucky though were his clients.
Years later, when I decided I wanted to open my own firm, I was so nervous to tell him what I wanted to do. he took me to lunch one day at the century club to discuss it, and he instantly put me at ease. He couldn't have been more supportive, and I knew he was happy for me, which meant the world to me and was a great reflection on his generous nature.
There was no place I could have worked which could have better prepared me or have exposed me to so much. There isn't a project i do where I don't find myself wishing I could show it to Mark.
He learned how to do things the right way. Mark was all about follow up, follow up follow up.
We had to be there at all phases, to see progress and oversee things until installation. In order to stay on top of things, we went to check on local projects on a daily basis. His rooms always felt cozy, and one of the reasons for this is that there always had to be chairs of different scale for different types of people to feel comfortable. One of the reasons his interiors look fresh today is that he stuck to classic elements. In the 80’s when I was there, the work was very clean. Mark did not play to trends. He liked symmetrical arrangements and having that one element that was not. Another reason spaces were cozy is because sofa and chair fill was always 100% down, and cushions would sink down.
He and Paula often found themselves pitching in and helping one another, there was great camaraderie on the office and a familial aspect. Mark included the office, inviting them to birthday parties and other events.
Dennis loved hanging pictures with him. They would lay everything down on the floor and arrange the layout. He would hang bigger things at the top and smaller ones at the bottom, so you could see them. Hanging art is still one of Dennis's favorite things to do.