Interior Designer of the Year 2021: Amanda Hamilton Interior Design

Designer Amanda Hamilton wants to bring great design to people who share her passion for it—and that's meant gorgeous spaces and meaningful collaborations.

Her eponymous firm just passed its 12th anniversary—but Amanda Hamilton has been doing things her own way for a very long time.

For starters, our Interior Designer of the Year’s first industry job at a small boutique agency—after graduating from Mount Royal University—wasn’t destined to last long, because she couldn’t help but moonlight the odd gig here and there. “I was designing 5,000-square-foot restaurants on the side, with one year of design experience,” she says. “So the owners took me aside and said I’d have to choose.” She ultimately decided to stick it out a while longer (“I felt they were the best firm to be working at in Calgary; onboarding was kind of like christening by fire,” she explains) until a client floated the idea of Hamilton breaking out on her own.

“I had never really considered being an entrepreneur, or having my own firm, really,” she says. “But I decided to make the leap in the middle of the recession, August 2009.” And It’s been quick pivots ever since. She now helms a team of 10 from her studio in Calgary’s Victoria Park neighbourhood, currently juggling up to 65 projects at a time—from furniture packages to multimillion-dollar custom homes, with a handful of restaurants and multi-use spaces in the mix, too.

The range in scope, styles and designs is intentional, of course. While her firm’s initial goals were solidly to be at the top of their game in the luxury sphere—and many projects still are on the high end of the luxe scale—Hamilton herself felt as though she was missing out on serving a large segment of the population: those who had great taste but not the million-plus budgets. “I really like working with super down-to-earth people,” she says, “and I like working with people who are design savvy, and just passionate about having interesting spaces.”

That’s why, in 2017, she created an entry-level design service for those folks who wanted to plan a space but didn’t have a big budget, yet. Palette Archives is a collection of over 35 bespoke “palettes” of tiles, paint colours, cabinetry, countertops and carpet samples, along with their specs and where to source them. “Instead of targeting a market, or a price point, we’re super driven by working with interesting people that make us happy, and bring us joy,” she says. “And that’s really changed our experience in the studio.”

The firm doesn’t have a signature look, and that too is intentional. “We’re super client focused, so if you want steampunk, we’re going to do steampunk for you. If you want country cottage, we can do that for you,” she says. “I always just say: the only thing we don’t do is bad design.”

And that philosophy shows in her wide-ranging portfolio of work. For a rural acreage just outside of Red Deer, the designer created a home that’s a combination of cozy, casual and sophisticated. (“Such a great family,” she says. “Their girls are dressed in pink and tights, but they go play in the dirt piles outside, too.”) High-end finishes like book-matched marble in the kitchen, backlit onyx on a basement bar and richly textured, ombre metallic Phillip Jeffries wallpaper in the theatre room pair with playful accents throughout—like an oversized pair of gold lips on the wall of the home theatre, “because you kiss in the back row of the theatre,” Hamilton says with a laugh.

For a pair of empty nesters in Canmore, her renovation of the family cabin treated the existing motifs with respect (whitewashing the yellowed tongue-and-groove ceilings, building out an original stone fireplace with proper wood storage beside it) while opening up the space for a more Scandi-modern design. Mementos from the couple’s travels (a Moroccan rug, a Mandela bust) find pride of place among cozy furniture pieces. The new design is white and bright, save for a listening room on the upper level, where moody navy walls and a sage-green velvet sofa provide the perfect space for his collection of guitars and vintage LPs.

And for a penthouse, it was an exercise in finding middle ground for a couple with disparate tastes. He liked contemporary design with a traditional edge to it, while she loved feminine, French spaces—tarnished mirrors, brass rails, lots of curves. Add in the twist that the condo itself had developer restrictions for some of the interior finishing (“They said you’ve got to pick the light palette or the dark palette,” says Hamilton), and the negotiations had the potential to be complicated. The team brought in accents to work in with the existing materials, the most dramatic of which is the separation between the dining area and main living space, and an office and media room: an Art Nouveau-style set of framed-glass doors in black steel are highlighted with brass, creating that European vibe without getting fussy.

It’s work that puts the client front and centre, but shows deft skill in creating a clear design story from room to room. Judge Mitchell Freedland of Mitchell Freedland Design noted that each project executes a level of sophistication and professional competence, and exquisite material selection. And judge Paul Lavoie of Paul Lavoie Interior Design agreed: “Well done! Fashion and interiors as one.”

Of course, Hamilton is not one to just see design as a top-down affair, and so the naturally outgoing designer has been creating spaces to talk about design, too. A monthly speaker series from her studio pivoted to online during the pandemic, but, as of September, the rebranded Hard Bar Fridays—cocktails and design conversations—will return to their offices. She’s also got plans in the works to offer her library to interior design students for an initiative she’s named Office Hours. “Ultimately, they’d have access to our finishes and materials in our design library—to see what It’s like to be in a studio, and have access to really high-quality finishes and materials,” Hamilton says. “You don’t always get access to the great material in school libraries.”

Yes, she loves the potential that new faces bring to the office, but it’s more than that. “I feel I have a social responsibility to the design community within my city, and at large,” she says. “Really, first and foremost I try to give back to the community by creating an interesting space for people to hang out.”

Just as her work does for the countless clients who’ve trusted her to apply that thoughtful approach to design on their own homes.

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