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January 01, 2017

Personality and design

Amanda Hamilton brings personable design palette to Calgary show homes

Pepper Rodriguez

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She isn’t one of your usual ebullient, bubbly designers regularly seen in the TV home renovation shows, but Amanda Hamilton’s shy and reserved exterior has not stopped her from becoming one of the most in-demand interior designers in Western Canada.


Her Amanda Hamilton Design Studio is based in Calgary but she has done residential, restaurant, retail and office design work in Edmonton and Vancouver as well. Her latest work can be seen in Homes by Dream’s Arrival Collection of show homes in Evansridge, which certainly display her wide-ranging tastes and talent in crafting inviting, livable spaces.

With an insatiable need for adventure, Amanda travels extensively, stumbling upon inspiration and a few glasses of Rose along the way. She currently resides in Calgary with her husband and their adored pup, Pepper.

She has also had a hand in evolving the distinct modern feel of  many inner-city infill homes like the ones she has done in in Scarboro and Elbow River that we see in this feature.

Interior design was life-changing for her, and Amanda has decided to give deserving kids the same opportunity, as she has launched the launch of the Amanda M. Hamilton Interior Design Travel Scholarship. This annual academic achievement scholarship through the Mount Royal Bursaries program will be awarded to one student that is involved in the Interior Design program; financial assistance provided to those that are passionate about the design industry.

In this special feature, New Home Living talked with Amanda on a wide range of topics from her design inspirations, to what led her to this career to shed a light on this emerging talent in the field.

Tell us about yourself. How did you get started in the industry? What was your first break in the industry and how did you get it? 

I’m 34 going on 45. I thrive on change, exploration and experience. Believe it or not, I’m actually an introvert who is good at being an extrovert. Conversation is intellectual foreplay but I could always lock myself up in a cozy chair with music, wine and a pile of books. If “reader” was a career, I may have also considered this alongside Interior Design. I don’t really sleep much, I love Sci-Fi films, my purse always looks like a paper graveyard and I’m an annoying morning person who loathes coffee.

After graduation I took a short breath to reignite my soul before taking on a position as at a well-known Architecture and Interior Design studio. I was (very thankfully) thrown into the deep end of great restaurants, retail and custom residential projects. After about three years, I started to receive quite a bit of interest for work outside of the studio so I decided to make the leap. It was in the midst of a recession and everyone thought I was crazy, which I probably was. With that said, I don’t think I would change a thing because frankly, I’m likely somewhat unemployable now — marching to quirky off-tempo beat of my own personal tambourine.  

Where did you study? When did you know that this was the career you wanted? 

I graduated from Mount Royal University in 2005 with a Bachelor of Applied Interior Design. Previous to this, I was an “A” student gone sideways, crushing “Cs” in what should have been simple courses at the University of Alberta. I come from a family of educators and “going Post-Secondary” is as serious as going rogue. With a background in visual, dramatic and the musical arts, I hadn’t quite nailed down what I wanted to study. After some soul searching and research, I had an epiphany — Interior Design! It was a career that I had never really heard of but is seemed to suit my skills so I packed my bags and moved to Calgary.

What do you think is the first thing people and clients should know about you? 

That I’m quite literally obsessed with continuing education, learning, reading, exploring, questioning and constantly evolving. Being my friend, team member, partner or my client probably isn’t a breeze. I want to be challenged and I want to challenge others in every interaction. I have high expectations of myself and of those around me. I blame my parents of course for this.

What inspires you? And how do you translate the inspiration into design? 

This commitment to exploration bleeds over into my work so inspiration is found in my day to day interactions and adventures. Significant cultural and social influences like literature, art, music, film and fashion are all purposely woven into our work, providing depth to the design narrative. When translating this into the design intent, it’s imperative for the work to subtly reference the inspiration so it doesn’t become a literal reflection that is at risk to appear too thematic or contrived. These little “nuggets” of curiosity should be planted throughout and take time to discover. Basically, don’t go to second base on the first date.  

Tell us about your process in coming up with a design plan for your residential clients. What comes first, vision or budget? Give us a typical step-by-step process. 

I can’t give away all of my secrets! However, I can confidently attest to the importance of balancing the vision with the more practical elements of the project, which include items like the budget, schedule and joint expectations. We always start the planning process by laying out the groundwork for the vision after fleshing out the functional requirements. It’s easy to become caught up in the creative process as it’s often associated with the being the fun, tangible portion of the project but it doesn’t matter how beautiful a space is if it doesn’t actually work for the users.

How do you bring personality into interior design? I’m sure some clients would just tell you to do whatever you feel is best, but how do you engage them into bringing their own taste to their home? 

We start all of our projects with a discovery process, which typically runs two to three hours that is fairly intensive and it is expected that all parties are fully committed and engaged. We chat about everything from what an average day looks like and family structure to the dog’s habits and how much time someone spends in a bathroom. It is an intimate process because we truly need to understand the lives of our clients beyond the surface level to imagine and construct an environment around them. While our work is sometimes recognizable, pursing client inclusion throughout a tailored process ensures each space embodies the values and captures the character of each client.

What’s important to you in staging a show home? And how do you accomplish this vision? Tell us of a specific project you’re most proud of. 

Contrary to the advice from some industry professionals, I don’t agree that you should clear out your whole house when staging for a sale. I think quite the opposite. While I agree that your home shouldn’t look like an episode of Hoarders, it should showcase the character and style of the owner for the potential buyers to experience. Many people are very visual and while not all buyers agree on style, the right buyer will be able to envision themselves in the home. Show homes can quite often be generically staged so that it feels like anyone could live there — this is likely the point but we don’t want everyone, we want the right people because you are curating a neighborhood not just a house.

We recently completed seven show homes with Homes by Dream and we really particularly love the projects we completed out in EvansRidge for them. While we’ve never done work with a builder to this level of detail, we love that we were able to create a story about the future owner without constraint. We created five unique lifestyle concepts and represented three of these in the show homes, Kinfolk, Minimalist & La Maison Rêve. Each had its own story, with “people” as the design intent.

What do you think is the trend for interior design in 2017? It can be a colour, or style of furnishing, or a “look”. 

I don’t follow trends, I avoid them. Once a trend has emerged, it’s already old news. Inspire your own trends, don’t follow them. My two cents!

If money was no object, what would you choose first in designing the main floor of an estate home? What’s next? 

I would start with art and then design all of the sightlines to allow the homeowners and guests to engage with this art from multiple vantages. Next, I would probably source a cozy bench from which to perch with a great vintage of red wine while I drew inspiration from whatever was hanging in front of me.

What do you think sets you apart from other interior designers? What’s your edge? 

Calgary is a city filled with incredible talent and when I’m asked this questions by potential clients, I always support this fact. You are going to get great design from this petri dish of talent — that’s the baseline, the expectation. The part that gives you the edge is what else you bring to the table. For us, we value the long term relationships with clients and encourage an authentic, wild, raw, creative adventure and we look for clients who are up for the challenge. We don’t have a niche and we don’t want one; we want only to explore design in a way the leads, inspires and educates.  NL

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