The year 2021 represents a number of milestones for interior designer Thomas Hamel. In 1991, 30 years ago, Hamel arrived in Sydney and established his own practice. This year also coincides with the Graduate Membership Program that his practice, Thomas Hamel & Associates, will be sponsoring annually. For Hamel, who graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York in 1984, majoring in interior design, followed by a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Interior Design) in London two years later, it’s an opportunity to support a young and talented designer who shows the same passion as when Hamel graduated and started looking for his first position. “I want this graduate to be well rounded, understand design history and the importance of working with clients,” says Hamel. The fortunate graduate (from anywhere in Australia) will most likely start at Thomas Hamel & Associates ironing and sorting sample swatches, something he feels is valuable for someone starting in the industry.

After Hamel graduated in London in 1986, he returned to New York where he was one out of the thousands of applicants who successfully gained employment with the eminent practice Parish-Hadley in New York. Under the guidance of Albert Hadley and his team, he also started on the ‘bottom rung’ but quickly worked his way up. A chance meeting with the late antique dealer Martyn Cook in Europe, whose store was based in Queen Street, Woollahra, led to Hamel moving to Sydney in 1991 and, soon after, establishing his own practice. “Martyn was a visionary in Australia when it came to collecting antiques. He was also extremely generous, introducing me to many of his clients, including Lucy and Malcolm Turnbull and others such as the Gandel family in Melbourne. “Sydney is often seen in terms of the view, but in Melbourne it’s the totality of the house, the garden and often the beautifully curated collections, whether it’s their furniture or art,” says Hamel.

With Australians being keen travellers (at least before COVID-19), Hamel sees how the global stage of interiors has infiltrated interiors Down Under. Hamel enjoys sometimes being part of this travel with clients or simply working with them from his base in Sydney, now with 30 staff. And rather than simply producing a ‘look’ that can be easily attributed to the designer’s ‘signature’, Hamel studies at each house, apartment, hotel or other commercial project with fresh eyes. “If you are creating homes for the one family, it simply wouldn’t be appropriate to create duplicate designs. They don’t want to feel like they’re visiting their own homes,” says Hamel, who from the outset in his practice, was mindful of providing great service as much as design. “I still love walking into a client’s home and seeing a piece of furniture, object d’art’ or painting that comes with a story, whether it’s a reminder of a certain place, or a person,” he adds.

Hamel and his team generally start each project by getting to know their clients as much as the spaces that need to designed, and importantly the flow of these spaces and how they fully connect to the garden and outdoor spaces. And rather than treating each building in terms of a ‘segment’, such as interiors, he works closely with his team, including architects or with one of Australia’s leading architects, or an international architect if required. His training at Parish-Hadley taught him the importance of the word ‘suitability’, of not trying to make a building, or client for that matter, something that it’s not. Hamel also steers away from gimmicks or fads of the moment, looking for a sense of timelessness in everything that he does. He is also mindful of the history of the building, whether it’s an elegant Georgian-inspired home or something that’s more contemporary; often a nod to the past but giving an interior a contemporary, yet subtle, edge.

Unlike his American clients, Hamel finds Australians generally wanting more understated and relaxed interiors/homes. They are also, unlike the Americans, keen to change and evolve and are open to new ideas. “And of course, the outdoors is much more important here, given the climate,” says Hamel.

Hamel feels extremely fortunate to have been educated by leaders in their field, passing on their knowledge in design from a broad spectrum. He trained with Bebe Winkler whose clients included the late Gerald Cantor who had the largest collection of work by Rodin outside of Paris. Hamel hopes to imbue the fortunate graduate who receives the one-year mentorship program with the desire to follow in a similar, yet obviously different, path to the one he experienced as a young graduate in the mid-1980s. He sill recalls his reaction when he first arrived in Sydney at the start of the ‘90s. “I was telling all my friends back home it was like being in London, but in the sun! It’s with this backdrop that I continue to find inspiration,” adds Hamel.

Thomas Hamel

VISIT THOMAS HAMEL

Thomas Hamel

ABOUT THOMAS HAMEL

Thomas Hamel

CONTACT THOMAS HAMEL

Thomas Hamel

VISIT THOMAS HAMEL
Lifestyle & Design

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