The challenge we handed Alexa Hampton for her first assignment as crew member was a bit out of the ordinary. Our twenty-fifth anniversary project house in Carlisle was a designer show house before it became a private home, so we invited in a wide range of designers to work on the individual rooms. Alexa's challenge was to lay the groundwork for the designers, to develop the perfect canvas on which they would create their designs.
That groundwork involved all the myriad details that most people never notice, but that make the difference between a home that feels right and one that feels somehow "off." Moldings need to be the right size for the ceiling height, or they'll appear uncomfortably out of proportion. The width of the floor planks has to suit the scale of the room. Window hardware must be functional and beautiful, yet unobtrusive.
"I've been working on it since about April," said Alexa. "I wanted to respect the outside of the house—you see too many homes where the interior has no sense of 'ownership' with the exterior. I started by doing due diligence on the Greek Revival style, so I could make the intellectual decisions. Then when I met the architect [Jeremiah Eck] we talked about his vision for the project, so I could work in line with that—I think you get a better product that way."
Research into the Greek Revival style gave Alexa insight into the right window casings, door styles, and mantel details, but such research has its limits. "There's no such thing as a Greek Revival Sub-Zero," laughed Alexa. "We'll have a charming, function-driven kitchen with all amenities. No Louis XVI, no sleek Eurostyle. I asked for off-white cabinetry with rubbed bronze hardware — it looks organic and it won't hem in the kitchen designer."
After the research was done, Alexa says that the unique conditions of this particular project drove her final choices, as she specified a long list of interior details, from casings and moldings to plumbing fixtures and bathroom tile. The sheer number of decisions is mind-boggling, as anyone who's ever renovated can attest. Interior doors, flat or paneled? (Paneled.) How many panels? (Six or three, depending on the size of the door.) Wide-plank floors or narrow? (Wide in the barn, narrower in the ell and main house.) Dark wood floors, or light? (Medium, throughout the entire house.) And so on.
The electrical plan required Alexa's input as well. Where do the outlets go? What about the light switches, the dimmers, the three-ways? To tackle that, Alexa needed to come up with a furniture plan for the house, even though individual designers will furnish the show house rooms and the eventual homeowners will put their furniture wherever they please. But thinking through a furniture plan now is critical, so those future owners won't find themselves running extension cords throughout the house.
"If you want a seating group in the barn, you'll need outlets in the floor," said Alexa. That's the sort of thing that only becomes apparent once you sketch out where furniture might go in the oversized living hall. A reasonable, flexible furniture plan allows for smart placement of outlets and switches now, protecting future homeowners from trying to squeeze a dining room table under a light fixture that's in the wrong place.
Most of the time, the action in Carlisle was outside the house. Fortunately for us, Alexa's work ensured that we were, indeed, ready. Her careful planning brought us to the day when we started assembling that perfect canvas, which already existed in her mind's eye. Our show house designers will then come in to create their masterpiece rooms as overlays on her groundwork. As with any work of art, the canvas itself will recede into the background, except for the calm confidence it instills in those who work on it—and the comfort and joy of those who admire the finished product.
Mark Hampton Inc.
654 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10021