Borrowing from the past and embracing the present: Designer Ellen Hamilton

The extraordinary work of New York-based designer Ellen Hamilton has been praised for its nuance, artistry, and narrative qualities. Her unique ability to translate the rich life experiences of her clients into homes that speak to them and nurture their individual lifestyles is unparalleled.

Philadelphia Horse Farm | Photo by Max Kimbee

 Each home she designs tells the story of the people who live there with depth, elegance, and beauty. This sought-after designer is one who dives deep into each project, noting that “every project starts with buying new books” which serve to jumpstart her creative inspiration. In addition to the work she does for clients, she has carved out space in her schedule to support the architectural heritage of Brooklyn and emerging talent in the world of interior design. As the Co-Founder of the Brooklyn Heights Designer Showhouse (which is back this fall beginning September 23rd) she helps preserve the character of this beautiful neighborhood while creating opportunities for upcoming designers to show their work.

Galerie Showhouse | Photo by: Francesco Lagnese

Today she is a well-established designer whose wide-ranging projects include a gorgeous Greek-Revival townhouse in Brooklyn Heights, a stately horse farm in Philadelphia, and an absolutely inspired office for the director of the Brooklyn Museum. Before pulling off some of the most richly detailed and aesthetically interesting designs for the clients of her namesake firm, she spent ten years in corporate design, though given that she worked with design icon Peter Marino whose larger-than-life personality and style are surpassed only by his striking work, her experience was no doubt unique.

Galerie Showhouse | Photo by: Francesco Lagnese

Always one to soak up creative inspiration, she recalls appreciating the unique designs in her own home as a young person. “My mother and all of my aunts and both grandmothers loved making their houses lovely. They would buy remnants of fabric and make curtains or slipcovers. Take an old piece of brown furniture and “Antique it” in the backyard. I was lucky always to be surrounded by this kind of do-it-yourself-make-it-lovely spirit. My father and uncles were more or less in the mechanical engineering world. I think both of these influences were important in becoming an interior designer. Although I grew up outside of Philadelphia, my mother was from the eastern shore of Maryland, so she was a bit southern…I loved her old house.”

Hill Farm | Photo by William Waldron

This handmade, one-of-a-kind design sensibility has stayed with her and impacts her point of view to this day. She describes her goal for each space she works with simply: “to make it original.” The designer elaborates on the notion: “Original has many layers of meaning. At its most fundamental, making it original means that it becomes a reflection of the people who will live there. This generally leads to design solutions that feel like I have not used or seen the exact composition before. My eyes need to tell me that it is fresh and original- not following a formula.”

Hill Farm | Photo by William Waldron

From a client who requested their Manhattan home look like “we’re Italian aristocrats who lost all of our money” (the results of which utilized a color scheme “inspired by frescoes by the early Renaissance painter Fra Angelico at the Convent of San Marco in Florence”) to a former dairy farm she transformed into French country style escape from city life, each project the designer works on has a richly detailed story weaved into its concept. The process of getting to know her clients and their needs is something she loves. One of her favorite elements of her work involves “making a client’s home feel like them and getting under their skin to know what makes them happy in their homes. I want truly happy clients. It’s always a deep dive and a puzzle to figure out. I like that. I have been privileged to work with many of the same clients for over 20 years. I consider this my greatest accomplishment. To have the honor of making their homes and to call them my friends, and some are now family.”

Hill Farm | Photo by William Waldron

Part of what makes the originality so authentic in the work she produces is her wholehearted belief that if you buy what you love, it will all work together. “Buy what you like. Don’t worry if it ‘belongs together.’ If you like it and you keep buying eventually, it will become you, and it will all belong together.” This philosophy is exemplified in her description of her own home: “When people ask me about my apartment, I laugh and tell them the truth… I have dead people’s furniture. Pretty much everything I own belonged to someone in my family or my husband’s family. It all has meaning, not so much value as just meaning to us.” It is no surprise that antiques play a significant role in her designs. On the topic of antiques, she puts it this way: “They are essential. Without the past, it is not a home but a showroom. As an interior designer, all of the past is there to inform the present. This is liberating.”

Photo by: William Abranowicz


Click here to Shop Ellen’s TLV Curated Collection.

5 Questions with Designer Ellen Hamilton

TLV: Is there an era or a design style that you are particularly inspired by?

EH: The Victorian era fascinates me not because I particularly like how it actually looks, but the Victorians were Revivalists of every epoch that had come before. I think of this as being creative and free spirited. Borrowing from the past and embracing the present and future informs my work.


TLV: What is your dream project?

EH: I dream so much on all of my projects that for me they are all dream projects. I just hope that I am lucky enough to keep them coming and keep dreaming.


TLV: Favorite Brooklyn Heights shop/ restaurant?

EH: Holler and Squall Antiques, Goose Barnacle, Salter House, Colonie Restaurant


TLV: Favorite thing to do in Brooklyn Heights?

EH: I like to walk around the neighborhood at twilight and look at all of the beautiful parlor rooms. I never tire of the beautiful streets and houses.


TLV: What are you currently reading / watching?

EH: ‘Why we dream” by Alice Robb. No surprise here I often get my best ideas in my sleep. This book explains why. It is fascinating. I am currently re watching all of Paolo Sorrentino’s films they are so beautiful!


Images Courtesy of Ellen Hamilton  |Profile Photo by Levi Mandel | Text by Liana Hayles Newton


To learn more about the 2022 Brooklyn Heights Designer Showhouse visit their website and be sure to watch for our upcoming coverage of the event.

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