How I Travel : With Thomas Hamel

We chatted with US-born, Sydney-based interior designer Thomas Hamel, about how travel is an essential part of his frenetic working life.

For US-born, Sydney-based interior designer Thomas Hamel, travel is an essential part of his frenetic working life, allowing him to check in with various projects around the globe and informing his creative eye. Here, he tells IT his favourite places to shop, his earliest travel memories and the reason that packing light is just not an option.


What is your first memory of travelling?
As a child we would take the annual car trip from Virginia to my grandparents’ house just north of Boston. I always entertained myself in creative ways. Besides needle work and reading, I used to make an entire hook rug during each trip.
I always pleaded for us to stop each year in New York but there was always a ‘reason’ not to – I was very sad as I saw the Empire State Building pass us in the distance. To this day the NYC skyline is very important to me.


What do you love about travel?
I love new experiences – I couldn’t survive without them. But consistent travel to places I love is great too.
You can feel like a local in many cities. I stay in the same hotels in Paris, London, NYC and Istanbul now so each visit is like coming home. You immediately pick up relationships with people in each city and it feels like you have never left – I really love this!


What destination are you planning to visit next?
The next extended trip is to the US in May. Projects are beckoning me in Florida, Telluride and Montecito, all of which have such varied surroundings and situations – they are equally special in my heart.
My partner and I have a home in Los Angeles so the difficulties of travel around the US is made easier as I can pack lighter (for me that is).


Do you travel predominantly for work or for pleasure?
I am fortunate enough that with my interior design career, the boundaries of work and pleasure are very blurry.
Besides travelling to visit various projects in the US, Europe or Asia, I spend a great deal of time shopping with clients in foreign places.


Have you mastered the art of travelling light?
Unfortunately there is no light travel for me. Even in this technologically advanced age I still need large scale floor plans and tangible images of furnishings.
Then there are the wood, stone and tile samples plus carpets, rugs etc. – my right shoulder pays the price of carrying a sample library! I am trying to leave some samples in LA now but the items you want always seem to be in the opposite city. So when in doubt I now take it with me.


Cities or beaches?
Both; I need cities for stimulation and shopping but they are not restful.
For relaxation, there is nothing like a beach walk. For Christmas we went to Vietnam, which provided both: a week at the Nam Hai Resort [Hoi An] with beach walks and some village shopping (by bicycle), then we had a few days in Bangkok for serious shopping for art and artefacts.


Where is your ultimate dream location?
I love Istanbul – I have been there four times but wish I could visit every year. The layers of culture and society are incredible – the monuments, museums and galleries, not to mention the shopping.
And the Four Seasons at the Bosphorus is wonderful.


Which cities do you visit time after time?
I usually start in Hong Kong or Singapore, then London, Paris, NYC, Miami, LA with side trips to Chicago, Naples and my annual visit to Capri.
Thank goodness for round-the-world tickets.
What is your favourite travel souvenir?
This is a very difficult question as each trip reveals a new and treasured souvenir.
In the sitting room in Sydney is a pair of Timorese fertility drums which I adore. They are so sculptural and have pride of place on opposite sides of a Portuguese desk now filled with the porcelain treasures brought back from Hoi An, Vietnam.


What is your favourite hotel?
I am such a fan of the Firmdale Hotels in New York and London. They are owned and designed by Kit Kemp who understands creative comforts and special details – you feel immediately at home.
In NYC it is The Crosby Street Hotel (until their new one opens in mid-town soon) and in London it is the Knightsbridge Hotel or Number Sixteen.
In June I am trying their brand new addition, Ham Yard Hotel.


What was the last book you read on your travels?
It was a silly book called Crazy Rich Asians, but I loved all the well-researched details.
It tells a glamorous story of wealthy families in Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and the world really – it was a fun fantasy and even included a favourite Sydney restaurant, BBQ King on Goulburn Street.


Bespoke luggage or backpacks?
All of my luggage comes from a wonderful store called T Anthony on Park Avenue, NYC. The bags are made of navy canvas with smart brown leather piping.
I have their bags in all sizes but typically I use the larger ones.


Luxury or adventure?
I have to say luxury is always an important consideration: I ask myself, why would I want to stay in a place not as comfortable as my own home?


What are your favourite design stores around the world?
First to mind is an amazing store called Willer on Holland Street in London; Kneedler Fauchère and Coup D’Etat in San Francisco; and Jean de Merry and Gray Gallery in LA.
I always make an effort to visit these stores.