Designer Robert Stilin discusses his new book, “Robert Stilin: Interiors”


From traditional American country houses in East Hampton to contemporary penthouse apartments in Palm Beach, Robert Stilin has created a vast array of homes over the course of his 25-plus-year career. Now, the renowned designer is reflecting on the evolution of his professional life in the book, Robert Stilin: Interiors. We chatted with the industry vet about his new literary endeavor and the path that led him here.

How did the idea for the book come about and how long did the project take from initial inception to this month’s publication?

I pretty much always knew throughout my career that I wanted to do a book. It was ultimately about accumulating enough material to feel confident I could do it and now seems like the right time in my career — I’ve been doing this for 25 years, so I’ve been planning for a long time. About three years ago, I started to get more serious about it and started talking to publishers and photographers. In the end, I started working with Stephen Kent Johnson to photograph everything. I always knew that I wanted to shoot everything and have it come from one creative voice, and that’s a personal choice — some people choose to use 10 different photographers and that’s cool too. Stephen and I spent about two years on it — the last story we photographed was last spring. And I started working with Vendome Press in the late summer of 2018, so the whole process took about two and a half years.    

Photography is such an important part of the presentation — how did you choose to work with Stephen Kent Johnson and how do you feel his photography captures the spirit of your designs?

I’m a book collector — not only of design books, but architecture, art, gardens, fashion, photography. I felt that for my aesthetic, what I believe in and what I knew I wanted was a book with one photographer to have that consistency to the eye and seamlessness. I also wanted to have photos with warmth, depth, and romance, so I was looking for a certain kind of photographer. Ultimately, my friend recommended Stephen and when I Googled him and saw his work, I realized I’d actually seen a bunch of things from him that I really liked, and he’d just photographed Jovanovic’s chateau, and he’s a friend of mine. I called Stephen and we met and I liked him — we ended up shooting around 20 projects together and in the end edited it down to 15. 

How did you go about selecting the 15 projects featured in Robert Stilin: Interiors?

It was a combination of things. The clients had to first agree to it — many times, magazines want the client to be a part of the story and most of my clients don’t want publicity, so it’s a non-starter. A book is different because it’s about me, but even still, the clients want privacy. That said, all the clients I wanted to have in this project agreed to it. Also, I’ve been doing this for 25 years and a lot of the projects I did don’t exist anymore – people get divorced, things change, people sell their homes, all those factors. So the book is a combination of some projects I did that are 15 years old and some that were recently completed, and they were all shot in the past two years. That was an interesting experience, the whole book is very autobiographical and it tracks my career and is the culmination of 25 to 30 years of work. It was a very interesting, fun, and rewarding project and it was amazing to see those projects from 15 years ago that still look amazing and have stood the test of time. 

Stephen had a background as a magazine editor and stylist before he became a photographer, so he had a lot of experience in the technical aspects of pulling together a magazine or book, so he was very helpful not just while shooting but when we started editing. Then Mayer Rus was involved in the editing, and he’s an icon as a writer and editor, so the three of us edited in collaboration with the Vendome team and it was a really fun process. 

The projects featured in the book range from townhouses to country abodes — what are some of the common design elements they all share that you feel exemplifies your overall approach to interiors?

There are certain commonalities — generally, what I do is create a lifestyle for people. It’s about the client, site, location — each project is designed for them, it’s not for me, and each project is unique to each person. When we started doing this, Mark Magowan, the owner of Vendome, said one thing he found interesting when we started to put the book together was that he noticed there were certain things running through. I’m a huge fan of the Borge Mogensen Wingback Chair from the 1960s, so that’s in multiple projects. There are certain fabrics that I use often for sure, but of course, it all depends on the client. 

What do you hope readers (design junkies, aspiring remodelers, etc) take away from the book?

I just hope people love the book and enjoy it and it inspires them. My work is about creating super comfortable, very livable projects that mix art with vintage and antique furniture and that’s what I want to project out to the world, that you can live with your things; you don’t have to make things too precious or perfect. You can have a beautiful painting and vintage sofa and you can live with them. All the people in this book have lives in their homes with dogs and kids and grandkids, and they actually use their homes. 

What’s next for you?

I started the book tour and we already did book signings in L.A. and New York City and the Hamptons. We have stops coming up in Miami and Palm Beach, and then I’m going back to L.A. and have more things in NYC, and then Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle, Milan, London, and Paris over the next 9-12 months. And I still have my day job too!

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