Lunch and Learn

On September 24th, NYSID welcomed a visit from Alexa Hampton, owner and featured designer of Mark Hampton, LLC., the design firm founded by her late father, Mark Hampton. Alexa, a NYSID board member, author, award-winning fixture on Architectural Digest's AD100 list and designer of furniture and home décor, generously shared her valuable insights on how to have a successful interior design business with NYSID students. 

Alexa Hampton is unique in the interior design profession for having inherited the prestigious design business of her father, Mark Hampton, a internationally known designer. She went on to receive countless accolades for her own work around the world and her design collections for notable brands such as Kravet, Hickory Chair, Stark Carpet and Home Shopping Network.

Alexa answered student questions and shared valuable advice. Here are Alexa’s top 10 tips on how to have a successful interior design business. 

1.   Design Education is Key. “Your degree is an irrefutable value.” She thanked the students, stating, “as future designers, you will add further to the value of the profession.”  She also emphasized, as did her father, the value of continued lifelong education through visits to museum exhibits, notable buildings, and homes.

2.    Create a Brand Package.  The brand package functions as a blueprint of business goals and “what you want to be when you grow up.”  Alexa mentioned that she often refers back to her brand package, which outlines her philosophy, values, and goals of her practice. She also sends it to potential business partners as a concise summary of her brand to convey its value. 

3.   Define Your Vision.  Alexa sold her designs to licensing partners by identifying  the specific characteristics of untapped market segments.  She said “I am that customer,” and designed for him/her. Picking a phrase that defines you and sells you, “will help keep you honest about it.”

4.   Save for Working Capital.  Alexa shared one of the best pieces of advice she ever got, which was how to avoid being another statistic among the many small businesses who do not make it past 5 years due to the lack of capital. She stressed saving 3 months to a one year’s  operating costs, this includes salary, rent, insurance, payroll taxes, etc.  This “…gives you peace of mind, helps you stand your ground” with challenges such as late payments from clients or the need to make advance purchases on behalf of clients.

5.  Invest Time and Capital in Marketing.  Alexa stressed that the students must have good photographs of their design work. Images, social media, and participating in events such as showhouses are all important marketing tools. “If you do a showhouse, only do it if you plan to do it all the way. If you always wanted to use elephant-breath colored lacquer or make a prototype for your furniture lines, this is the opportunity to take creative risks. It’s all advertising.”

6.  Diversify. Alexa emphasized licensing not only for the diversified income stream it provides, but also “when feeling stressed or burnt out, you can go design and draw the lamp for a collection.”

7.  Work with the Media.  Alexa’s father stressed the importance of being a source of information for the media and being comfortable speaking in interviews.  Even if they call “asking for your opinion on pink shag carpets, not at all a part of your brand or taste, refer another designer. This way you generate good will and are seen as a go-to person.”

8.   The Challenges Never Stop.  Over the years, Alexa has spoken to many established designers and they all agree, there never is a time when the challenges stop. While some challenges, such as an unhappy client (which all designers face at one point or another), are fixable, every day the profession presents “multiple design challenges that are just fun.”

9.   How to Handle an Unhappy Client.  Alexa advised that a team approach and honesty are best. Saying and meaning “We’ll fix it” assures a client that a solution will be found together.

10.  Always Be Gracious.  Alexa stressed that the answer to, “Do you love my room?” is always “Yes.” One careful, small observational correction and one genuine compliment will also go far, if asked for more advice.

Alexa concluded by reiterating her gratitude for the students who have chosen interior design for their future, stating, “You help to make the profession more valuable” for the future as well as for those, such as herself, who have paved the way. Thanks to Alexa Hampton for sharing her time, talent, insight, humor and wisdom!

Phyllis Greer