Mark Hampton: An American Decorator

Mark Hampton: An American Decorator

Mark Hampton: An American Decorator Rating:
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A celebration of the career of the late interior designer Mark Hampton (1940–1998), whom the New York Times called "an icon of American Style."

In the tradition of Albert Hadley and David Hicks, this is a comprehensive look at the career of the late Mark Hampton, one of the most famous and admired American interior designers of the twentieth century. A classic American success story, Hampton grew up in small-town Indiana and went on to worldwide fame. He began his career working for some of the greatest interior designers of the age: Mrs. Henry Parish II, David Hicks, and McMillen, Inc. He later went on to design for such clients as Brooke Astor, Estee Lauder, Jacqueline Onassis, and the Henry Kissingers, in addition to his work on the White House, Camp David, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the American Academy in Rome. Known for the tremendous depth and breadth of his knowledge, Hampton refused to be pigeonholed into a trademark style, moving effortlessly from sleek modernism to English country and back again. A highly popular lecturer who drew crowds, Hampton was also the author of two books, as well as a designer of both furniture and fabrics.

Rich with original materials including Hampton’s watercolors, sketches, and notebooks, as well as hundreds of images of Hampton’s important commissions, and impeccably researched and intimately written by his widow, Duane Hampton, this will be a visual feast for everyone interested in interiors as well as an important addition to the history of interior design.

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Comments

  1. Rating

    I grew up in a Mark Hampton house, so the subject is near and dear to me. The book publisher needs to do a bit of spell checking though.

    Also several of the photographs are printed backwards.

  2. Jesse Kornbluth says:

    Rating

    Talk about being born for the job! When Mark Hampton was wearing shoes, his feet were exactly 12 inches long — he could pace off a room without a tape measure.

    In every traditional way, though, you look at his background and wonder how he became the most celebrated American decorator of the 1980s and 1990s. He was born and raised in Indiana. His father was the local undertaker. In boyhood summers, he swam in a creek. As a teenager, he rode a tractor and helped with the harvest. And then, after college, he went to law school before switching to art history.

    This is not, you think, the background of someone who will grow up to create beautiful yet comfortable homes for President and Mrs. George H.W. Bush (including the White House, Blair House, the residence of the Vice President, Camp David and more), Brooke Astor, Carter and Susan Burden, Anne Bass and a gaggle of Fifth Avenue gazillionaires.

    And yet…. there were signs.

    When he was six years old, he told one of his mother’s friends, “Jean, that dress doesn’t do a thing for you.”

    When he was twelve, he refinished the shutters of his bedroom window.

    And then he set about learning everything about everything.

    I met Mark and Duane Hampton and their delightful and ubiquitous daughters in the early `80s. For the first few years, I kept my mouth shut and just listened as, over dinner, Mark talked about everything but decorating. One night, prompted to speak by some self-destructive impulse that years of therapy had apparently not cured, I ventured an opinion about a certain painting by the German artist Max Beckmann. This was, I thought, way outside Mark’s expertise. Well, didn’t I get schooled that night….

    Mark’s intellectual range was a circle, ever widening. ”I have absolutely no interest in a trademark style,” he explained. ”Some would say, ‘He has no style, no look.’ Well, I don’t get it. That isn’t what I set out to do. I just set out to be a decorator, to do a good job and have fun. I’ve wondered with envy at people who like one thing and work at it and it becomes their realm. Those people who can say, ‘I love Winterthur but I hate Lyndhurst,’ people who have these enormous, refined senses of hate. I love Winterthur, Lyndhurst, Greek Revival and French houses. Of course, I daydream constantly about English houses, and those shingle-style American houses…”

    Okay, so he didn’t have a style. Of course he had some preferences — English-tinged rooms, with chintz-covered chairs and some swag in the curtains, obelisks and urns on tables — but he had a Midwestern resistance to gaudy showplaces that looked as if they only lacked price tags. Hanging a set of plates on a wall was about more than aesthetics: “I took great pains to put the nails in a dark part of the pattern of the paper because I thought (hoped) that in a few years I would probably be taking the plates down and hanging posters of Bruce Springsteen or whomever and I wanted to be sure the nail holes from a previous era would go unnoticed.”

    Mark Hampton died — he was just 58 — in 1998. Because he was smart in every area of his life, he’d had the good sense to marry a natural American beauty who writes extravagantly well. And now Duane Hampton has produced “Mark Hampton: An American Decorator”, a combination biography, analysis and catalog of his work that is thick as a college yearbook and ravishing as the flowers in the dining room of the Carlyle Hotel.

    You can be dazzled by these pictures and conclude, “Beautiful, yes, but every client is so rich, every room is so big — there’s not a single idea here that I can use.” And you’d be right. This isn’t a book for do-it-yourself decorators who want to create champagne rooms on a beer budget. It’s something else: a high-wire act, balancing money and taste but caring less about either than about comfort.

    Mark Hampton’s first great gift was friendship, and that was the entrance to his creativity. His clients were rich and celebrated, but they were also fraught. For these are rich people, often short on gratitude, often hard to please and proud of that. Mark Hampton befriended them, and amused them, and calmed them down. And then he pleased them, just not quite in the way they anticipated — he gave them rooms in which they could drop some of their cares.

    “We all know that interior decoration is seen by many as a frivolous career full of ruffles and flourishes and preposterous fashion statements,” he wrote. “Yet to transform the bleak and the barren into welcoming places where one can live seems to me an important and worthwhile goal in life. Sometimes the transformation can stun the eye, sometimes simply gladden it, but these are not frivolous pursuits.”

    In fact, they are not. Which is why this book isn’t really about decorating — it’s about art. Indeed, it is art.

  3. Vera Dixit says:

    Rating

    Dissapointing book. It could have been better.

    His work was always nice, and I remember a lot of projects from magazines publications.

    But it doesn’t come across.

    But his work is important within American decorating history.

    His Drawings were beautiful. If he was living today,

    he would do more beautiful and ecclectic work

    , and probably less classical.

  4. House Doctor says:

    Rating

    Great photography and logically laid out. Gives just enough history to let the reader know his background and how he evolved and refined his look.

  5. J. Landau says:

    Rating

    This book is an instant classic — much as its subject was. Mark Hampton created some of the great American homes for not just the wealthy, but those with exceptional taste themselves. Anyone who was consistently chosen by clients such as Estee Lauder, Teresa Heinz, Henry Luce, Jacqueline Onassis and Brooke Astor to decorate multiple homes must have delivered what was desired, and here we see that he did.

    This book is filled with full page color photographs along with a few of Hampton’s signature interior watercolors. It spans his entire career and presents multiple photos of each interior. And how great they were. His grand apartment in River House for Carter and Susan Burden, for example, featuring their huge collections of books and drawings, is a masterpiece of style and comfort despite the numerous objects in each room.

    Yes, he was from a small town in Indiana; so were Bill Blass and Halston. Working for David Hicks before he was 21! Walking in to see Sister Parish and being hired on the spot. Later, working on the White House for multiple presidents. Each career step demonstrated his charm and ambition, just like Blass or Halston, but neither characteristic will suffice without extraordinary talent. The book displays his skill convincingly.

    Mark Hampton was one of the great 20th century American decorators, secure among a handful of names at the very top of the profession such as Sister Parish and Albert Hadley or Billy Baldwin, and this book will be a classic which anyone interested in American decor must own. The quality and consistency of his work over his career are beautifully illustrated. The text is helpful and we are surprised that anyone could rate this book at anything less than five stars.

  6. Charles F. Allen Jr. says:

    Rating

    MARK HAMPTON: AN AMERICAN DECORATOR is a biographical book as well as a decorating book. The amazing thing about Mr. Hampton is that he was an elegant gentleman as well as an amazingly gifted decorator. The thing I love about his work is that he created wonderful rooms that never had that “decorated” look and personality. His designs were the kind that you or I or whoever could sit down and enjoy and feel comfortable in. This wonderful biographical expose by his wife is great reading and great decorating at its best. Go buy it!