PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT HANS FONK
His New York apartment is located in Mercer Street, Soho, immediately above his studio. These are the premises where he works and receives his clients. Robert Couturier, French by birth, is highly sought after in America as an interior decorator and designer. He was born in Paris and received his cultural education at the École Camondo in the French capital. In 1987 he opened his design studio in New York. He combines French elegance with American functionalism, in a style that denies unequivocal definition. “I give soul to everything I do. That is essential for me. I try to combine all styles, from classical to modern.” Robert Couturier. OBJEKT©International visited this remarkable ‘créateur’ in New York.
The apartment is on the fourth floor of a building in Mercer Street in the heart of Soho. The design studio is housed one floor down. Robert Couturier lives here during the week. He spends his spare time in his residence in Kent, Connecticut. His metropolitan living space is seemingly in a constant state of flux. And, similarly, his working style is ever changing and varies according to his clients.
“You can’t pin me down to one particular style. Some people say they can recognise an interior I’ve designed by the mixture of classical and contemporary. I do indeed like to combine styles. That is part of my quest to give a soul to what I do. I feel that is essential. I really enjoy my work and no doubt that enthusiasm is always apparent. I couldn’t do anything else. There’s always a way to make something interesting; it’s always fun to take on someone’s house”, as Robert Couturier put it. And this amiable designer went on: “A project is as good as the client. Everything depends on his or her sense of excitement. If I don’t get along with a client, the project, whatever it may be, will be a disaster. In the past I’ve been known to concentrate on acquiring a particular project and when I’d actually landed it and got to know the client, I wondered what on earth I was doing. And I called it off. In my work, the vital factor is the fun and excitement I experience with the client.”
He not only addresses interiors, but also tackles architecture if the assignment appeals – from small interventions, to the building of an entire house or castle. Like any great artist he does his job as a matter of course, though he did go on to describe it as a kind of top-class sport. Whereas in sport every tenth of a second counts, it’s the smallest detail that’s important in an interior.
Couturier completed his studies in interior architecture and environmental design at the École Camondo in Paris and then moved to New York. He took his first professional steps as a designer at Adam Tihany’s practice in New York City. Within five years he was a partner in the firm and left his stamp on many a Manhattan nightclub and restaurant interior. In 1986 he opened his own design studio, which covers the whole gamut of his metier: from selecting the furniture for a room to creating entire houses.
His star rose rapidly, certainly when the British financier, Sir James Goldsmith, asked him to design his estate on the Pacific Coast, in Mexico, as well as casually inviting him to transform his private plane (a Boeing 757) into a motorised magic carpet. After that Couturier’s career soared and clients from around the world sought him out to design their homes and interiors: from classical castles to contemporary condominiums.
After those early steps on the road to fame, he continued to adhere to his philosophy that designing an interior is more than putting a few chairs in place. The key to really good design is a vivid imagination. “For me, an interior must match the architecture, the location and, in particular, the people who live there.”
This personal perspective has made him one of the world’s leading interior designers and architects. Although he says he does not aim at a distinct style, he has made his name with creations that are modern yet have a link with historic buildings. Authorities describe his approach as generous, light, sensual, experimental and witty.
Comfort is one of the essential elements, as is the way the rooms are used by their occupants – how they live in them. Couturier draws inspiration from may different style periods, from the 18th century to the Modernists of the 1940s and up to the present day. He lists as icons Renzo Mongiardino, Frank Gehry, Charles Le Brun, Poillerat, Serge Roche, Robsjohn Gibbings, Mallet-Stevens and Jean-Michel Frank – all shining examples for him.
Even with his busy work schedule Robert Couturier still finds time for philanthropic activities. He plays an active role in activities on behalf of Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club Decorator Show House, the French American Designer Show House, the School of American Ballet and the Hampton Designer Show House for Southampton Hospital.