Alexandra Champalimaud on Creativity, Inspiration, and Digging in the Dirt

The Interior Design program at FIT has named interior designer Alexandra Champalimaud the recipient of the 2019 Lawrence Israel Prize. Champalimaud will accept the award and deliver a talk at 6 pm on Thursday, November 21.

The Lawrence Israel Prize, endowed by the late architect Lawrence J. Israel, has been given annually since 1998 to an individual or firm whose ideas and work enrich FIT Interior Design students’ course of study. Champalimaud has been selected for the prize because her practice stands as a role model for all students of design. She and her studio, Champalimaud Design, have won global acclaim while maintaining a reputation defined by exceptional craftsmanship, creativity, and meticulous attention to detail.

In anticipation of Champalimaud’s visit to campus, Newsroom sat down with her to gain insight into her creative process and influences. To find out more about this extraordinary designer, join us Thursday night.

Newsroom: What would you consider to be your most powerful influences, and why?

Alexandra Champalimaud: My studio and my partners within the studio inspire my creativity every day. We all bring different perspectives to make our work the best it can be. Over the course of my career, I have been hugely influenced by the magic of nature, by the great fashion designers, and by the power of color to generate emotional responses.

What are the most important things you have learned in your professional journey?

Always start your projects with a narrative. What is the essence of this project? What is its cultural context? How do we understand our clients’ own vision and then exceed expectations? Clear deliverables create accountability.

Keep moving forward. Roadblocks and challenges are part of the journey. Grit and communication are as important as creativity.

Make time and space for yourself. Reach deep and quietly as it’s that intimacy and strength of thought that succeeds.

Balance and combine a passion for detail with an appreciation of the bigger picture. It’s very easy to get lost in the work.

How would you describe your creative process?

First, I have a vision. Then the next goal is to inspire my team. We do deep research before we start a project. There is a clear need to understand the objectivity and the goal of the project in advance. We liken ourselves to cultural anthropologists in that respect. It is our hope that the end product of our work is transformational and it changes how one lives in the environment we have created. Design is one very important aspect of lifestyle.

Inspiration comes from all parts of my life—going for walks in the city, in the woods, or on the beach; traveling; experiencing different cultures; spending time with people I love and can learn from. Great, transcendent design isn’t taught in school, learned at a desk with headphones on or found on Pinterest. Those are all part of the process, but not all of it. My best ideas come as a complete surprise and quietly to me.

What have you seen in the next generation of designers that inspires you?

Among the best: spirit and fearlessness. A talented young designer is not contained by what has worked in the past. They take risks. Happily, they don’t have enough experience with failure and disappointment to be intimidated. That can be brilliant, as thoughts are fresh and that input feeds energy!

Name something about yourself that people would be surprised to learn.

I designed my first hotel, the Vilalara, when I was 25 years old. I am happiest when I am digging in the dirt, gardens are my soul. And, I love tequila.

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