Chic `antique'. Designer makes period pieces with a touch of modern wit. HOME FURNISHINGS

MARK HAMPTON, a leading New York interior designer, is a trend setter par excellence. With an international array of design accomplishments to his credit, including the historic Blair House in Washington, he has now ventured into the commercial furniture field - a move that will make reproductions of some of his favorite pieces widely available.

Being introduced here tomorrow at B. Altman & Co. will be the Mark Hampton Collection of furniture that he created for the Hickory Chair Company of Hickory, N.C., a mass-market producer of traditional furniture.

Next week the show will have its debut at Marshall Field's in Chicago and later at a select group of other stores across the United States.

This unique collection of reproductions and adaptations has both elegance and wit. It combines several 19th-century styles, including Regency and Victorian, with comfortable, chintz-covered, early 20th-century sofas and chairs.

Although the refined mood of the English country house is evoked, it is the same appealing mix that underpins many of Mr. Hampton's own decorating jobs, as well as the decoration of his own Manhattan apartment and Southampton cottage.

``These hard-to-find antique pieces have been accumulated by my wife, Duane, and me over a long period of time. They evoke the style and ambiance with which we live,'' said Mr. Hampton in an interview.

``We have loved them, tried and tested them, and we know that they appeal to many tastes and are workable in a multitude of different settings,'' he added.

``By reproducing them, we are making available at affordable prices copies of antiques that would cost thousands of dollars on the market today, if they could be found at all.''

He pointed out a Regency chair that he found in London many years ago, a Regency-Beidermeier table made around 1830, and a gallery credenza, which he said was his dressing-room cupboard in his house. The credenza reproduction will sell in retail stores for about $1,300.

Some of Hampton's pieces are exact reproductions; some he has rescaled. A few designs he has interpreted from historical references, including a breakfront/bookcase, a classy Regency dining/library table of ash burl and mahogany, and an elegant black lacquer serving table with brass trim and gallery.

A variety of woods and finishes is used in the collection. A favorite sofa was inspired by Syrie Maugham, an influential English interior designer of the 1930s.

Hampton referred to his choices as ``rather special pieces that have a different sort of quality about them, and also as transitional pieces that can fit happily into many types of d'ecor.''

He described them all as ``homey in feel and looks, informal, very practical, and altogether comfortable.''

The antiques reproduced, he said, are neither ``serious nor necessarily of museum quality.''

Hampton says that the ``feeling'' for this kind of look has been building over the last 10 years, and the interior design world has been preparing people for it.

Hickory Chair, now a division of the Lane Company, felt the need to hire a top interior designer.

``As a traditional house - our 18th-century James River Collection of mahogany reproductions is one of the best known in the country - we needed to add more 19th-century pieces to our groups,'' said Hugh Boyer, president.

``We contacted Mark Hampton because he knows 19th-century styles and how to present them. Although he had never before designed a furniture line, he came down, rolled up his sleeves, spent days at the plant learning the ropes, and the project took off.

``The resulting collection speaks for itself,'' he remarked.

About 3 years ago, Hampton and Mario Buatta, both of New York, were asked to help redecorate the classic interior of Blair House, in Washington, D.C., which for decades had put up numerous visiting kings, queens, and heads of state and their respective retinues.

The 115-room guesthouse at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue had been closed for six years.

Hampton and Mr. Buatta were put in charge of redecorating 75 rooms, which were to be ``welcoming, gracious, comfortable, and representative of the United States.''

Selma Roosevelt, the State Department chief of protocol and honorary chairman of the 42-member National Council for the Restoration of Blair House, reminded the decorators that ``Blair House says something very important about us to our visitors. And our VIP guests must have a sense of being well treated and graciously received.''

The first overnight guests, due to arrive this week, will be the president of Mali, Gen. Moussa Traor'e, and his wife.

The decorators chose 18th- and 19th-century English and American furniture and contemporary fabrics for the fresh, stylish look that they achieved.

Hampton designed the dining room, two ground floor parlors, the Lincoln Room, the Blair library, and seven bedrooms.

Hampton takes a special interest in the restoration of important period buildings and interiors. He recently completed work on the official residence of the vice-president in Washington, and on Gracie Mansion, the home of New York's mayor.

Other restoration projects of his include the National Gallery of Art, the US Department of the Treasury, and the historic town of New Harmony, Ind.

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