Living by design July 14, 2012
Our nation's penchant for travel is a perfect fit for those who like to mix cultural references through objects.
You'll often find Thomas Hamel in the shorter queue at the airport. This is because the interior designer is a great fan of baskets, so each time he returns from a trip he finds himself with something to declare.
Having met with clients in London and Provence, he's in Italy when he speaks with Domain, where he's just bought a set of eight ''little Chinese bowls in a little wooden case. I thought they'd be fantastic for a scoop of ice-cream after dinner,'' he says.
Such objects, he says, hold the stories and memories that individualise interiors. He admits when overseas the temptation is often to buy larger pieces, but even little things can add personality. ''Fun things for dining table settings [are] always a great idea when you're travelling,'' he says. ''It brings back all the memories for you and adds a lot of interest to the table as well.''
Seamlessly integrating cultures is a specialty of Mr Hamel's, who moved from New York to Australia two decades ago. For the first 10 years he worked mainly in Sydney but these days he estimates 40 per cent of his business comes from Melbourne. ''Which is great, I love it. It's a whole different mentality, they put so much more effort into building homes,'' he says.
To celebrate his 20-year anniversary working here, Mr Hamel created a coffee table book, Residence. Released in 2010, it features more than 150 images of homes he's worked on in Sydney, Melbourne, Asia, Europe and the US. ''There's a simplicity that Australia has brought to me,'' he says of the evolution of his work the book reveals.
''I look at American magazines and they're too cluttered, there's too much visual noise in a room, whereas Australia has taught me that editing and simplification is a wonderful tool.''
Australians' penchant for travel has also enlightened him. ''I've never seen people who travel so much. I think that forward vision that Australia has is incredible and that certainly opened my eyes to this cross-pollination,'' he says, referring to the seminar he will be presenting in Melbourne on Thursday.
Mr Hamel is one of the speakers at the International Industry Seminar Series, part of Furnitex and Decoration + Design 2012. His topic is Current Design and Global Cross Pollination, which will address a challenge for many designers as they are increasingly offered unprecedented access to suppliers from all corners of the globe.
''When you see what's going on in India now and China, and all these new markets of huge wealth, they are certainly going to lead the direction of where things are going … because the fabric manufacturers, the furniture manufacturers, they realise these are incredible markets they need to tap into, so they are going to adapt their styles to the tastes of those people,'' says Mr Hamel, who also has his own line of bespoke fabrics, which are manufactured in Melbourne.
For Mr Hamel, whose home is filled with antiques from north Africa, France, China and England, the challenge presented by these new markets is their demand for the new and the glitzy. The idea of a piece of furniture being seen as an investment and something to live with for years has been replaced by a disposable mentality, he says.
''That's my conundrum with this new world, that none of these things have a history and people aren't interested in the history, they just want a showroom full of new things. So it's going to be a trick of how then you can still soften that up and give some personality.''
Which is why travel is so important. ''I think even if you've got the glitziest, most Russian-palace room, to have an amazing Japanese woven basket or something from Indonesia, helps tone it down and gives it that earthy quality.''