On a recent visit to Edmonton, interior designer Amanda Hamilton had a hard time recognizing her hometown. “The city has so evolved,” says Hamilton, who has lived and worked in Calgary since 2002. On her visit, she lunched at Woodwork and dined at RGE RD. She spent an afternoon in the Art Gallery of Alberta then perused The Artworks, marveling at how the city’s design aesthetic has become increasingly defined.
Hamilton moved to Calgary after a tough first two years of a general arts degree. She comes from a family of educators; however, when she happened on a catalogue for the interior design program at Mount Royal University, she recognized a career fit. “It seemed to be a good combination of my skills. I get to be creative, yet also hone my business interest.”
When Hamilton tells people she now makes a living as an interior designer, most think she spends her days fluffing pillows and picking paint colours. “Television has done our industry a disservice in setting up impossible expectations. ‘Look, you can make a couch out of a mattress!'” says Hamilton, “or, ‘You can renovate a room in a day.'”
Her company, Amanda Hamilton Interior Design, works with residential and commercial clients whose needs are often incredibly technical and very high-risk – especially in commercial work, where they are on tight budgets and timelines. Delays can have major financial implications for her clients. She and her five staff work with mechanical, electrical and structural engineers, with architects and kitchen designers. Decisions on shades of red and the fixtures’ finishes come long after Hamilton untangles health and safety regulations – and municipal building codes. Hamilton has worked closely with restaurants, like The Beltliner, Holy Grill and Native Tongues in Calgary, perhaps because she spent most of her university years working as a hostess, then server. Her favourite position was behind the bar mixing drinks. She came to love making Caesars: “I love how they are crafted. Dip the cup in the water, salt the rim, then add ice and vodka and juice, then all
the garnishes. I love the complexity of it.”
It is a lot like her design approach: Classic, with colourful flourishes and complex finishes. “People are opening up to the idea of mixing design aesthetics,” she says. While she often works with clients on spaces that will stand the test of time, “I always love a little bit of weirdness.” Her own home is classic contemporary, spiced with surprises and a Moroccan edge. In her powder room, a neon sign is mounted instead of a mirror. And a bronze statue in the living room gets people talking about its prominent middle finger.
Hamilton’s creative license has expanded to include a home decor line. The linens and pillows are designed, cut and sewn in Calgary, and evolved from sketchings Hamilton would do in the evening as a stress reliever. Last year, she designed a kimono. “I wear kimonos all the time, so I thought, ‘Why don’t we design one?'” she says. “People sometimes ask why an interior designer is selling clothes, but I’ve had more sales on that kimono than any of our home accessories line.”
Her company’s expansion into Edmonton started with her home decor line retailing in Dwell Modern. Then, in 2014, Hamilton began work on a couple of large residential projects. In 2015, she plans to take on more commercial clients in her hometown, and expand the home accessories product line to more retailers. She says, “It feels good to be back.”
At the end of her afternoon at the AGA, she wandered into the gift shop, where she bought an oracle made by local artisan group Concrete Cat. The artful, short, heavy vase sits on her desk. “Now every time I reach for a pencil, it reminds me where I come from, where I am now and how I’m coming back to the city.”
On her regular trips, Hamilton frequently picks up decor treasures for clients and herself. The following questions guide what she buys, so that she remains “present and mindful” while spending other people’s money.
Is it of the Hand?
She bought an oracle from Concrete Cat because it had been locally and consciously designed and made. She recommends: “Value the work that has gone into the production of your art and decor pieces.”
Is it the Heart?
Her great-grandfather left her his handmade guitar picks and she uses them in her home’s decor. She says: “Don’t keep things purely because they are sentimental, but good design should pull a little at the heartstrings.”
Is there a Story?
In Portland, she bought a glass dish made from all the leftover pieces of glass the artisan had. She says: “I put salt in the dish in my kitchen, and every time I reach for salt, I remember Portland.”
Is it Fabulous?
“When you see a piece of art, if you really, really love it – buy it!”