Robert Stilin: Rockstar Of Luxury Without Pomposity

Robert Stilin. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
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Within the realm of interior design, there exists a select group of visionaries who possess the rare ability to breathe life into rooms within their clients’ lifestyle vision. Their creations are nothing short of enchanting, and leave onlookers spellbound in its design.

Yet, an air of trepidation lingers, because these spaces are so meticulously crafted, every element positioned with utmost precision, that one hesitates to disturb the delicate harmony. Robert Stilin is not that designer — Stilin’s creative prowess transcends the limitations of precious design, inviting clients to step beyond the role of mere observers and immerse themselves fully in his curated spaces. His work is luxury without pomposity.

With a sharp eye, he captures the essence of his clients’ vision during the discovery phase, infusing each project with his own inimitable touch. The result is an alchemical blend of style, sophistication, and authenticity, entirely unique to Stilin’s exceptional talent that utilizes color, texture, layering, art, and a dash of mid-century modern verve. His designs effortlessly bridge the gap between tailored elegance and contemporary chic, with a bent towards the gallant, striking a harmonious balance that reveals a profound understanding of the interplay between space and the energy of the desired lifestyle — of his client.

Robert Stilin. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
Robert Stilin. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson

Congratulations on making Architectural Digest’s Ad100 for 2022 as well as Elle Decor’s A-List for 2022. It’s been an amazing journey to watch your growth as a powerhouse in the field. You started in finance. How did you segue into interior design?

I learned from my dad how to be an entrepreneur. I was headed for a career in finance. I met my ex-wife in college and we decided we’re going to go to where she was from and take six months to figure it out. I took a job with a fashion company that friends owned. I tried to convince them to open more stores in other markets and laid out a business plan. I was super excited about it. My grandfather was in the fashion business so I tried to convince them to expand. I was so eager and I was 24 years old. I thought they were going to do it and then after a while I realized that they were just being nice to me and never going to do it.

It clearly didn’t stop you.

Well, we had our first little house that we were trying to put together. We were looking to figure out the design, but that interior design world was closed to the public in the late ’80s, even through the ’90s. It was after that it started opening up. So if you went to a design center and you weren’t an architect or designer, you couldn’t even go into the showroom to look at anything. If you went to an antique shop and you weren’t an architect or a designer, they would give you the sob story that ‘this is by the trade only.’ So it was really hard to buy stuff.

Courtesy of Robert Stilin

Looks like a problem to fix.

I decided to somehow figure out access to all of these closed places and create a lifestyle store where I could sell the things my wife and I wanted to have in our house. And that’s what I did. It started in Palm Beach and was called Robert Stilin, and it was a lifestyle store. It had custom upholstered furniture, antique and vintage furniture, objects, accessories, art — everything for the home all displayed as a lifestyle so that you were kind of buying a dream.

One day a customer came in and bought from the store and asked for help with their house. It was the beginning of my interior design career and the beginning of my education in architecture, construction, landscape, art, and every other relevant thing.

Courtesy of Robert Stilin

Your family seemed to have influenced you a lot.

I was raised to do something that you love because if you love it, it’ll never feel like work and you’ll always be successful. I don’t really feel like I work or that it’s a job. I’m passionate about it. Every job has its ups and its downs but pretty much almost every day, in spite of everything, I love it. There are a million things that could go wrong since you’re dealing with tangible things like shipping and handling and breakable things — but I still love what I do.

You’ve certainly developed a look so unique and it seems so effortless but you know a lot of effort went into it. Your style looks like lived-in art, it’s hard to describe.

I’m very big on authenticity and doing things that not only feel real, but are real. My job as an interior designer is to create homes and lifestyles for my client, not for me. It’s really about them and their home and how they’re going to live their lives with their families and their friends. My job is to figure out what their hopes and dreams and their particular needs are — filtered through me. Maybe it might be what they didn’t even know they wanted. Karl Lagerfeld was famous for saying that if clients knew what they wanted, they wouldn’t need us and I do believe there’s truth in that.

I have incredibly talented, sophisticated, very knowledgeable clients and everybody hires an interior designer for different reasons. It’s really about spending time with them. Literally, it’s just being around them, having lunch with them. It’s like visiting the job site, visiting their house, going on shopping trips with them, going to the upholsterer, looking at materials, having meetings and having this visceral experience with the client to learn what they want. And part of it is asking a lot of questions and listening. It is also the experience of trying to get into their essence and channel it through to bring out this product. When the job is done, I want my clients to walk into their home and I want it to feel like theirs. I want their friends to come over to their house and say, ‘Oh my God, I love your house. Who helped you?’ Not that it’s a Robert Stilin house. My work defines my body of work but the space is really about them.

Courtesy of Robert Stilin

Your work definitely encompasses the Robert Stilin essence though. We can tell a Stilin a mile away, and it’s in the richness of the layering, the colors, textures, the art and so much more.

It’s not just a house or apartment, it’s the people, dogs and cats, grandparents, the best friends and business associates, the lifestyle, the sports, it’s everything that you’re doing, living, and breathing in a home that is part of how you anticipate and incorporate it — but then to use it. If people don’t use their house, mess things up … I don’t feel like that’s a success. I love nothing more than to go to my client’s house and they’re using their house. They’re eating, reading, playing games, they’re out in the yard, they’re in the pool, whatever it is that they’re doing.

When I did my book it was really gratifying to go back and photograph some projects that were 10, 12, 14, even 15 years old and to see that not only do they look good and that they’re still relevant, but that they looked better than ever.

Your work has a timeless quality that doesn’t look like you’re pulling from current aesthetic tendencies.

I don’t like trends. I have no idea about them because I don’t pay attention to it. I like a trend that’s going to become something permanent versus a trend that is going to look like a trend in six months.

How do you feel about, say, something like maximalism. It’s so hot right now and maybe there’s a very good chance that it might not age well.

I think maximalism is a lifestyle and if I had a client who wanted to live in the maximum way, I would want it to be timeless. I would want it to be maxed out in a way that is still relevant five years or 10 years on.

Courtesy of Robert Stilin

We would love to see you design a maximalist house.

I’m not into doing things that are dated, in any genre or style. It’s the way you do it that matters.

You were once based on the East End. Do you still have a home in the Hamptons?

I do. I sold the house that I built 21 years ago last year at the height of the sales craziness and have downsized to a great little modernist ’60s bungalow near Northwest Woods off of Stephens Hands Path. It’s an 1,800-square-foot modernist that was designed by Andrew Geller for the Raymond Loewy Corporation of the 1960s. It has a little bit of design architecture provenance. It has been owned by people who are passionate about design and architecture. And it’s also kind of perfect for me and my life right now. I come back to the Hamptons as I need to for work as we normally have two or three projects out there and we have 20 clients who have houses there so there’s always something going on with the Hamptons. Like everybody else at this point, I come out for the weekends, or I come for a week here and there, or I go for holidays — different things like that, but I’m based in New York City.

Where can one purchase your book, “Robert Stilin: Interiors“?

They have it at BookHampton. I had one of my original book signings there. I’ve been a customer there for 25 years. I do like to promote small bookstores, because I’m a big book person. And if we don’t have books, or if we don’t buy books there will be no more bookstores.

How has it been doing?

So my book has done really well. I think it’s in its sixth printing.

That’s amazing.

I always knew I was going to do a book. I think it’s an important milestone in your career as an interior designer. And it also permanently documents your work, so I always knew that I was going to do it. I was always so prepared for that. In another part of my life, I am a creative person. I could easily be a magazine editor, a creative director, or something like that. I also used to model and sometimes still do — I love the creative process of photoshoots, be it for fashion, interiors, or whatever. The book was a big undertaking and we shot 22 projects in two years to put 15 in the book. It was really fun. I worked with Stephen Kent Johnson, the photographer, and I love my publisher. And Mayer Rus wrote it — they’re people that I’ve known for a long time and have long-standing relationships with. I just started to work on my next book, which will probably come out in two years.

Courtesy of Robert Stilin

We can’t wait to see it. Where have your projects been taking you of late?

In the past year we’ve completed projects in Montana, Washington State, Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Kentucky, Connecticut, the Hamptons, New York City, and we’re working on projects in Washington, DC and another in Seattle plus we’re going back to Kentucky again. We’re starting a new project in Miami. I’ve never actually worked in Miami before so I’m really excited about it. I travel a lot for sourcing and I would really love to work internationally.

It’s probably just a matter of time.

Maybe. I almost had a job in London for a client who moved there, but they ended up renting.

It’s a really different market. I spend a lot of time in Europe and have been going to Paris since I was 19 years old. And I love Rome, London, and Madrid. I go to all these places on a regular basis, but also try to go to new places that I haven’t been to before.

Courtesy of Robert Stilin

What is important to you in terms of style.

I have 30-plus years of experience doing this but I have the same filters for everything. What’s the quality, is it authentic? Is it real? Does it fit? Do I like the materials? How does it stand up? Is it going to stand the test of time — and that’s the same for everything whether I’m buying a house or if I’m buying a sweater, a painting, or a photograph. It doesn’t always have to be expensive. I don’t think about money all the time but I’m actually thinking about value. I do know that if I had nothing, I’m still going to have as stylish a life as I can afford.

And I love the question when it gets asked: if you lost everything today, what would you do tomorrow? I would just get up and start over.

That’s the entrepreneurial thing. That’s the bootstrap ruggedness.

People see their careers as a necessary evil or something you have to do. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a part of who I am. It’s just my life. I have wonderful family, friends and I travel. I do all these things that make up my life, but I think having a purpose in life, which tends to be a career, doesn’t have to be, but even if it is a career, it can be meaningful.

Do you believe in the famous Hamptons light?

I do think that the light is extraordinary and I find it to be particularly extraordinary in the winter. Covid-19 was a sort of double-edged sword maybe for a lot of people because I think it exposed so many, who never spent time in the Hamptons other than the summer, to all the different elements of the region.

Courtesy of Robert Stilin

What do you do for fun, is there any downtime?

Well, I travel a lot. I go to Paris every year for business. I source a lot there for antique and vintage pieces and also Milan and somewhat in London, and other places, too. Then sometimes we make pieces in Europe. I do think that whatever we see, this becomes a part of who we are and my inspirations come from everything that I’m seeing all over the world. In this digitized world it’s great because if you’re buying vintage furniture from someone in Stockholm or Rome and you’ve never been there, or you don’t know them, you haven’t seen their work, it’s just fraught with problems. You don’t know what you’re getting into. It’s never the same as seeing it yourself.

I’m also very into health and wellness and taking care of myself. I’m 57 years old and there’s a lot of maintenance that it requires. I do acupuncture, therapeutic massages, and working out. I ski, swim, cycle, and hike. I’m a very social person, though as I’ve gotten older, I really like to be alone too. I remember being younger and if I had plans and people canceled, or they didn’t show up and they let me down or whatever, I would be so annoyed and frustrated. That’s a gift now.

You must have had a lot of solitude during the lockdown?

Although it was horrible for so many reasons, it was also amazing. I got Covid and the second time I had it I didn’t feel great for two or three days, and had to stay home. I just remember being so thankful. It was a magical time walking down a New York City street for four blocks and not seeing a single person. It was surreal to see the empty buildings and there’s no activity in them — it was a stunning experience. I hope that there are books and books and books that are being written about it so that we will get to relive that part of it a little bit.

To learn more about Robert Stilin, visit

Ty Wenzel

Co-Publisher & Contributor

Ty Wenzel started her career as a fashion coordinator for Bloomingdale’s followed by fashion editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine. She was also a writer for countless publications, including having published a memoir and written features for The New York Times. She is an award-winning writer and designer who covers lifestyle, real estate, architecture and interiors for James Lane Post. Wenzel is also a co-founder of the meditation app for kids, DreamyKid, and the social media agency, TWM Hamptons Social Media.

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