Thursday, January 28, 2010


After my placeholder yesterday, I'm continuing my theme, with a variation, about those decorators who died early in their careers and who as a consequence never found a place in the canon of interior design history. Mark Hampton died relatively young at the age of 58 and most certainly cannot be described as forgotten.

These two rooms from the same apartment were designed in the early 1970s by Mark Hampton, when working for McMillen, Inc. The first, a living room, redolent of his association with David Hicks and the second, a drawing room, points to his own mature style - in fact, the room could have been created by him, and in many ways was, in the 1980s and early 1990s.

I turned the page expecting more of the groovy Hicksian mode and it was a surprise to see that drawing room, beautiful though it is. The rooms were on separate floors, so there was no question of a clash of styles, or lack of flow, as might be said nowadays, and clearly there's a difference in function. I know that the client was ultimately the arbiter, and these rooms were created in the early 1970s, but a suggestion of schizophrenia, stylistically speaking, is inescapable.

It could be the two photos embody the transition from one period to another, and maybe they do.

Mr Hampton's story is too well-known to need reiteration but his obituary summed it up in the following words.

"More a distiller than an innovator, Mr Hampton built his career on giving the public exactly the style it wanted at precisely the time it realized it wanted it. In the 1960s and 70s that meant discotheque modernism in primary colors, inspired by the work of his mentor, David Hicks, the flamboyant British decorator who died on March 29. It was crisp but comfortable traditionalism, however, that became Mr. Hampton's hallmark in the early 1980s, and that made him an icon of American style and one of the nation's most sought-after decorators."

Photos by Feliciano, from Architectural Digest, May/June 1974.
Quote from here.


  1. I like this quote. I should say I recognize this attitude (in myself at times) and appreciate Mr. Hampton's mocking it: "Those people who can say, 'I love Winterthur but I hate Lyndhurst,' people who have these enormous, refined senses of hate."

  2. I think this kind of contrast in styles is one of the things I really like about Mark Hampton: the fact that he was comfortable designing two rooms in such radically different styles in a single house. To me that's not design schizophrenia, but evidence of balance & contrast, the way different movements of a symphony are in different keys & tempos & dynamics. Change is good.

    That's one of the things I really like about the decoration of Beaux-Arts houses a few generations back: there was no sense that a Rensaissance dining room, an Adam-style drawing room, an Empire library, a Directoire bedroom & an Art Deco bath were necessarily incompatible. Too bad not many decorators get a chance to do that anymore. The way I see it, a really good decorator should be able to design a room in any style, whatever his personal tastes may be.

  3. I Have always loved this apartment.... the Burden's, right? I think HG or Vogue shot it also? Hampton really loved all styles. He just happen to come into his fame during the revival of high traditional. If he had lived I think we would've see him decorating with the times just like Hicks and very much like Hadley has always done.

  4. Anonymous - had he lived, Mr Hampton would have been 70 years old this year and like all the decorators I've posted about this past week, there is a sense of lost potential. I don't know it the apartment was the Burden's as the owners are not names. As to Mr Hadley, I rather think the times have moved with him.

    Magnaverde - That's an interesting way to look at it and I cannot disagree that a good decorator should be able to stand outside his personal tastes and give the client what is required if that client wants different styles in various rooms. That is not necessarily what I want but I accept there is a place for it. The contrast between the two rooms is a bit more than would suit my personal taste. However, I agree that this was not at all unusual in times past, though much less so today. Schizophrenia is a strong word, I agree, but I have to imagine that guests moving from one room to another would be a little surprised, to say the least. What is not shown in the photographs is the transition spaces between the rooms/floors... They may have helped the whole thing hang together more. I am certainly intrigued and wish there were more of the house to be seen.

    It is certainly interesting to see Hampton’s versatility and his ability to interpret different desires – even those of a single client. I like virtually everything Hampton did - at least all I saw published. The book about him due out in April will be a valued addition to my library.

  5. Lost potential indeed. The MH book of decorator's with his sketches and their profiles is still one of the best books to pick up & appreciated. It is so interesting that he missed out on the age of "every designer publishes lifestyle books about themselves before they have a REAL body of work." I honestly believe this. For me I love this space(s)-Don't you think the artwork creates this mod-ish look-A take away of them with the change of landscape? 18thc portraiture? and it evolves-One could walk right into one room from the other. Mark Hampton was a maestro interpreter. On a personal note-as a working designer-I have never had the luxury of doing my own "personal" signature style in many(any?) jobs.I have often thought HOW EASY would it be to regurgitate that each and every time-easy. The challenge has always been to do what a client wants and walk away with the satisfaction of knowing it is far improved and quite beautiful.

  6. It was Carter Burdens apartment, but I think it may have been when he was between marriges.

  7. Interestingly, there are some very basic common denominators between the two rooms. To me the very distinct difference between these rooms is the art. I think that designers have gotten better at resolving that dichotomy in recent years.

  8. Interesting conversation. I enjoy the art in the study of brown. Ironically the thing that caught my attention in the first was the field of can lights on the ceiling looking like lighting for an airstrip. My house has many problems but that can light mania is not one of them, thank god.

  9. I agree with Home Before Dark and generally deplore recessed downlights. I think this was a negative influence of Hampton's time with Hicks; fortunately Hampton eventually advanced past them. Today there are better methods if clients insist on lighting big contemporary canvases. But it is shocking to see the great numbers of interior designers and architects who still use hundreds of downlights on every residential project. I recently removed almost 300 from a house in Highland Park, Dallas.