INTERVIEW: Hotel Design Guru Alexandra Champalimaud

Alexandra Champalimaud, the award-winning interior designer specializing in hospitality design talks to us about her current projects, what makes a great hotel, and which properties should definitely be on your travel shortlist.

Alexandra Champalimaud

Who does the hospitality industry turn to when they need to give their hotel a new look? If they’re seriously stylish and an iconic property, it’s most likely Alexandra Champalimaud. The designer has added her signature flair to over 60 hotels in 9 countries (USA, Germany, England, China, Japan, Sweden, Canada, Africa, and South America) and received numerous awards for her unique creativity and vision. Landmark hotels like the Carlyle, Algonquin, and Pierre in New York, and the Dorchester and Berkeley Hotel in London have all benefited from her magic touch.

Born and raised in Portugal, Alexandra was educated in Europe before emigrating to Canada after the famous Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974. Soon after, she founded Alexandra Champalimaud & Associates in Montreal, and quickly established a reputation for developing bespoke designs of the highest caliber. Today, the blue-chip designer runs her design empire, Champalimaud Design,  from New York City, developing distinctive design concepts for hotel suites, as well as fabrics for Holland and Sherry, carpets for the Rug Company, and furniture and lighting for leading manufacturers. In 2009, she was named Designer of the Year at the Gold Key Awards for hospitality design.

As an avid traveler, Alexandra spends about half the year on the road traveling for both business and pleasure, and draws much inspiration from her global peregrinations. A memorable trip to Bhutan in 2007 moved her to create Charym–a holistic spa and wellness retreat in Litchfield, CT, born of Alexandra’s personal quest for an integral approach to health and vibrant living in the presence of beauty. In a life of intense pressure and constant travel, Alexandra has made time to explore the great traditions of healing wisdom and intuitive preventive medicine throughout Asia.  She now infuses her work with those principles to create warm and welcoming environments that provide a much needed oasis of calm in a far too busy world.

Charym Spa and Wellness Retreat,

Charym Spa and Wellness Retreat, Litchfield, CT

So what makes a good hotel room?
An organized and spacious room with a clean, fresh, non-fussy design. A great comfortable bed with quality sheets is also important, as well as a good reading light. Copious amounts of natural light and a window that opens is also essential.

How much do your travels influence your designs?
Enormously. I am constantly inspired through my travels. I always see different textures, means and methods of building, and usages of space. I really enjoy experiencing different cultural styles and personalities. Charym is a good example of what can result from one of my trips, and I am very proud of it.

What trends do you see shaping the modern hotel experience?
Intuitively, travelers want to identify with the hotel in which they stay. But lately, people are seeking a specific energy and lifestyle that matches their needs.

What are your three favorite hotel brands and why?
I love The Dorchester Collection for its distinguished 6-star service and approach to a contemporary classic design, yet with a distinct twist and personality for each guest room. Aman Resorts, for their extraordinary luxury hospitality and low-key state-of-the-art design. And André Balazs properties, for his individual urban properties that are youthful with a laid-back contemporary design. His hotels are great for social networking.

What was your last project?
The renovation of a trendy ski-in ski-out resort in Hokkaido, Japan with unobstructed views of Hokkaido’s Mt. Yotei. The Green Leaf Niseko is one of the key properties of YTL Hotel Group. It’s a very serene though contemporary design, incorporating Alpine traditional elements while intertwining European sophistication and elegance with Japanese vibrancy and authenticity. All the guestrooms feature original artwork by celebrated Japanese artist Soichiro Tomioka (1922 – 1994) and art installations by Hokkaido artist Emi Shiratori.

What are you working on now?
The suites at The Dorchester in London and the complete redesign of the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles, which will re-open o in the fall of 2011.

Hotel Bel Air, Los Angeles, CA,

Hotel Bel Air, Los Angeles

Can you give us an inside scoop on what we can expect to see there?
We are working on a new reception area and boutique, new lobby lounge, guestrooms, suites and bathrooms, 12 new hillside accommodations, the spa and three guest lofts located within the new spa building. We’ll be creating a new generation of Bel-Air aesthetic; contemporary, fresh and extremely comfortable while evoking a glamorous lifestyle inspired by the golden age of Hollywood.

What have been your favorite projects?
I’ve enjoyed working on a range of projects, but three that come to mind are a great family compound I created in Taos, NM; a cool office space in New York City, which I just completed. And I am very excited about the renovations at the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles.

What advice would you give to travelers when choosing a hotel to stay at?
The first is to choose a location. Second, identify a hotel brand that offers you the experience you are seeking. Lastly, go on tripadvisor, they will tell you!

If you could stay at any hotel in the world for a week by yourself, which one would you choose?
The Ocean View Club in Harbor Island, Bahamas is one of my favorites because of it’s sunny, relaxed atmosphere, bright comfortable rooms, soft pink sand and beautiful turquoise waters I could spend all day in.

If you were going with your husband on a romantic trip?
The Six Senses in Phuket, Thailand for its privacy and Zen-like atmosphere.

If you were going with your family?
Skiing at the Green Leaf Niseko in Hokkaido, Japan. I love soaking in the spa and natural Onsen after a day on the mountain.

If you were going with your girlfriends?
La Mamounia Hotel in Marrakech
for its exotic elegance and unique sense of time and place. Laure Verchere just published her book, La Mamounia, after the 2009 renovations, and it is one of my favorites.

What is your favorite city and why?
I love my hometown of Lisbon. It has great charm, history, beauty and the bacalhau (dried and salted codfish) is to die for! I recommend the Bairro Alto Hotel, which overlooks the Tagus with stunning views of the city.

Where haven’t you been that you still want to go?
Capri is top of my list.

Do you have any good packing tips you can share with us?
Be selective. I like to use clear zippered storage bags. Pack items per category in each bag, this will help you unpack, repack, and maintain everything in good order.  For extra care, use tissue paper in folding your better pieces.

What are your favorite beauty products you like to travel with?
Charym body oil, Floracopeia essential oil, and my collagen face mask, all at charym.com.

To read more about Charym in Litchfield, CT – click here for our earlier story or watch Alexandra talk about her work in this video:

alexandra champalimaud on her first residential project in new york from designboom on Vimeo.

Kate Ayrton

Kate Ayrton

Co-Founder & Editor at WanderMelon
Kate was one of the first founding members of WanderMelon and is now based in Sydney where she works as a transmedia digital producer and freelance travel writer. Her stories have been published in California Home & Design, Condé Nast Traveller, Eating, New Zealand House & Garden, NZH&G On Holiday, Vogue Entertaining & Travel and Vogue.
Kate Ayrton

Latest posts by Kate Ayrton

13 Comments

  1. Kailyn Hart on May 3, 2011 at 10:16 am

    ok wait one minute! Black hairy Dog on a white plush couch? Am I the only one having anxiety attack… Anyways, the design on the Bel Air Hotel is incredible. I love the fire place.

    • Eric Hiss on May 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

      lol! right… you would think that would be verboten! oh well, another crazy dog lover (like me 🙂

  2. Kate Ayrton on May 4, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    That’s the beauty of Alexandra’s designs… they’re not just all about aesthetics, but creating spaces that are comfortable and lived in. Woof! Woof!

  3. Amanda Price on May 4, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I love Alexandra’s work, it’s beautiful and elegant, yet has a sense of relaxed warmth… very much like her. She has an amazing vision and is a wonderful person to work with.

  4. Alexandra Champalimaud on May 4, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    So its simple ..Oscar my dog is special .. He certainly does have a great life, but in fact he is rarely allowed on my white sofa .
    He is a dog with a huge personality .. once a British subject of distinguished origin , he is now both a cool New Yorker and a proud resident of Connecticut .
    So here is an Oscar story …

    As a 9 week old puppy , in London the night before he was fly home with me to the U S ,he was baby sat by the front desk manager at the Dorchester Hotel . For a good part of an evening and well into the night , awaiting my return from a long business day trip, he was being cared for and also entertaining the front desk staff at the Dorchester . A huge bond had formed in my absence and I was greeted by a besotted and Oscar devoted smiling front desk manager holding Oscar in his arms and a very happy night staff !. It was a sight ..and very endearing .
    Then I trotted a very tiny Oscar down the very grand large corridor ..to our duite .. Headded for a good nights rest …He brought such a different life to the place .. to
    The next morning there was a knock at my door. To my amazement there was stood a bellman holding a huge wrapped present ..bigger than he ..
    I had no clue what it could be ..Who would have sent me such a present .. Surely a mistake ?
    It was in fact a beutifu Dorchester dog bed , and a Dorchester ceramic dog bowl,
    Presented with a beautiful hand written note from the General Manager , and addressed to t” Prince Oscar Hardy ” thanking him for his patronage, hoping that he had enjoyed his stay and inviting him to return to the Hotel again
    as their guest .
    I thought this to be the most charming gesture and impeccable hospitality .
    Only at the Dorchester can one ever expect to receive this sort of curtesy and attention , delivered with subtle English humor . Top notch .
    …Oscar continues to provoke the most friendly of reactions .
    But he also rarely allowed on the sofa .

  5. JR on May 5, 2011 at 6:12 am

    I love that each of Alexandra’s designs is tailored to the distinct personality of the hotel/location…and clearly reflects her passion for deisgn !!!

  6. JK on May 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Looking forward to the Bel Air reopening! The rendering is fantastic and trust the final result will be even better!

  7. ALD on May 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Alexandra’s dedication to her work is so clear in the finished product. I look forward to seeing what she has done with the Dorchester suites!

  8. Janie Gestal on May 5, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Alexandra’s has a sense of simple, essential luxuries that are inherent to who she is. Her home embodies that sense as do the hotels she designs.
    I always know that when I am with Alexandra I will be introduced to a lovely scent and feel of an essential oil and luxuriate in a bed made with the finest linens and comfiest duvets! True pleasure!

  9. Harvey Kader on May 6, 2011 at 6:20 am

    I’ve been a huge fan of Alex’s work for almost 20 years. Her style is unsurpassed and inspired. Guru is a good moniker to attach to her.

  10. Kelly on May 6, 2011 at 6:56 am

    It is clear Alexandra lives for design and has such a passion for this career! I love how she brings life into each project with her classic style and touches of her unique spunk. Ask her about any project she has worked on and I guarantee she will have a great story to tell (Oscar’s story is one of many). You are in for a treat if you have the pleasure to stay at any one of her beautiful hotels!

  11. Eliza on May 6, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Dog should always be allowed on couches 🙂 Beautiful work, Alexandra, I continue to be in awe of you. Kate, I love the site! Fabulous, just like you. xxx

  12. Alison Pick on May 9, 2011 at 10:57 am

    What a great interview! Such a pleasure to hear a big talent like Alexandra share her insider’s tips. I can’t wait to try out all the hotels. 🙂

    Congrats to all.

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