While some people have the best of both worlds, Alexandra Champalimaud has the best of three. On weekends she lives in the oldest house in Litchfield, the Oliver Wolcott House built in 1754 where George Washington was once a houseguest. During the week Champalimaud resides in a sleek modern apartment in a Jean Nouvel building in Chelsea. And then there is the glamorous design world she thrives in as one of the most sought-after commercial interior designers working today.
“I love the juxtaposition of the two homes,” said Champalimaud. “The historic landmark house has a very old soul and reflects the New England aesthetic. It is full of porcelain and silver and period furniture. And our family loves being there together, along with our friends. In New York I need a totally different environment. It is much more minimalist. The apartment has a large glass front that overlooks the Hudson. I love the clarity that sky and water supply.”
Champalimaud was born in Portugal and grew up surrounded by impressive architecture and local craftsmen who excelled in creating silver and art. She went to school in England and Switzerland but returned to Portugal to continue her design training at the Espirito Santo Foundation in Lisbon. Housed n the oldest part of the city, her education included workshops where artisans practiced age-old crafts.
“It was the perfect foundation for my later life,” Champalimaud explained. “Working and living among such incredible talent in a rarified environment taught me to appreciate people and their skills, as well as defining the relationship between nature and design.”
In 1974 the Portuguese revolution interrupted Champalimaud’s life and her career. She and her then husband and their son fled to Montreal.
“It was a big challenge for me,” she said. “Cold climate and a totally alien culture. I did speak French, so that helped, but I needed to find work.”
And so she did. In an effort to promote her work, Champalimaud began to enter design competitions and winning. Her first major project was the Intercontinental Hotel in Montreal. That was followed by a project in Boston for the Swiss Hotel chain and ultimately her first job in New York City - the Drake Hotel.
Twenty years later, Champalimaud Design with a staff of forty five, is recognized as one of the premier design firms, specializing in commercial properties. It incorporates the essence of innovative yet practical and exquisite design.
The firm has done interiors for some of the world’s most prestigious hotels, from Raffles in Singapore, to the Waldorf Astoria, the Carlyle, and the Pierre in New York; the Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles; and the Connaught and the Dorchester in London. Champalimaud Design has also completed several major residential projects in New York City.
One of Champalimaud’ s strong points is her innate ability to understand what the client wants.
“It’s important to know the back story, the history of a hotel, what the clients are like. Whether they are public or private spaces, here or in Europe, one needs to research. You have to imagine yourself in a particular culture and understand its relevant points. What are the right colors? What do people like to do during the day? How do they like to sit? Is there room for their belongings? One always needs to insure that comfort and the highest level of taste are at the forefront.”
It isn’t simply a mater of creating a beautiful design. Space needs to have a heart and a soul fore it to be desirable and successful. And that is where Champalimaud excels.
Although she travels much of the time, Champalimaud finds time to enjoy the benefits of living in Litchfield.
“I love to take long walks with my dogs; nothing is better than snowshoeing in the windy countryside. The angst disappears and I feel much better. But, even then, I can’t help imagining what my next project might be.”