Upstate Diary
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In Bed With a Genius

Robert Couturier

Photographs by Kate Orne Originally featured in No 4

“We wanted the bedroom to be fairly small and extremely cozy, hence the fabric on the walls; personally I don’t like the cold and the snow so this bedroom is a perfect refuge against that!”

“We wanted the bedroom to be fairly small and extremely cozy, hence the fabric on the walls; personally I don’t like the cold and the snow so this bedroom is a perfect refuge against that!”

 
 

Self described as, “proud to be an immigrant,” this French architect and designer is recognized as one of the most-in-demand decorators in the world — and that’s no exaggeration.

Who better to shed an intimate light on Couturier than good friends like fashion designer, Isaac Mizrahi; New York Magazine Design Director, Wendy Goodman; Vanity Fair’s long time special correspondent, Amy Fine Collins; former Paris Vogue Chief Editor, Joan Juliet Buck; Illustrator Maira Kalman; former Travel & Leisure Chief Editor, Nancy Novogrod, and writer Andrew Solomon.

“ Miranda Brooks  did the original layout of the gardens from the road to the house along with the paths and the edges. The actual planting, upkeep and maintenance is done by  Clive Lodge  who also redesigned the boxwood edges and gave them their distinctively French feelings...”

Miranda Brooks did the original layout of the gardens from the road to the house along with the paths and the edges. The actual planting, upkeep and maintenance is done by Clive Lodge who also redesigned the boxwood edges and gave them their distinctively French feelings...”

First encounter, first impression:

“My first impression was dominated by his great sense of humor and his very attractive boyfriend. I was terribly shallow then!” — Isaac Mizrahi

“I had read so much about the amazing property he was doing for James Goldsmith in Mexico. I was totally dazzled by how much history he knew, and what he had already accomplished at such a young age.” — Wendy Goodman

“He was the most charming person I’d ever met. So often, you go to interview someone and have a one-sided conversation – which is appropriate but not very winning. Robert immediately wanted to talk back and forth about all kinds of things. I thought he was worldly, sophisticated, hilarious, glamorous, and kind. All of which I now know to be true.” — Andrew Solomon

On his architectural design: “What was important to us was the ability to be happy at home and to accommodate our things and, most importantly, our dogs!!”

On his architectural design: “What was important to us was the ability to be happy at home and to accommodate our things and, most importantly, our dogs!!”

“We met in New York in the late 1980s. It was either right before or right after I became Editor in Chief of HG; Anna Wintour’s reinvention of House & Garden, and Robert was a wildly talented and interesting young designer from Paris who had been living in New York since the early part of that decade. I thought he was fabulously amusing and talented, and despite his sophisticated French roots, he did not take himself too seriously.“ — Nancy Novogrod

Dora and Robert in the beautiful light of curtains embroidered by  Lesage .

Dora and Robert in the beautiful light of curtains embroidered by Lesage.

 On Conversation:

“The thing that is always true about conversation with Robert is that it swings randomly from heavy, existential or political subjects to matters of history, decor and the ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’ in a matter of seconds.” — Isaac Mizrahi

“Our first conversation was about a woman who appears fleetingly in Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace,’ whose exact incarnation he found me to be. We also talked about the Valentino raincoat I was wearing, a gift from the designer with whom I had just spent time in Rome.” — Amy Fine Collins

“It was about Galla Placidia, fifth century Roman princess, founder and ruler of Ravenna.”  — Joan Juliet Buck

“He has an extraordinary ability to see the dark side of humanity but keep his sense of humor. We talked early on about a world under siege, about the challenges there were to acceptance of gay people in the United States, about the tendency for those in positions of power to manipulate and exploit that power. We talked about the disparity between wealth and elegance. We talked about our parents, and how they had delighted or disappointed us in love. We talked about all those profound questions at great length, and somehow we laughed even as we did so.” — Andrew Solomon

Clara, Hercule, and dora in their chairs. “We had always wanted a sort of a winter garden orientated east / west so it would always have sunlight, whose proportions were completely determined by the classical order that we had chosen. In this case Tuscan. It features a white stone floor with black slate cabochons.”

Clara, Hercule, and dora in their chairs. “We had always wanted a sort of a winter garden orientated east / west so it would always have sunlight, whose proportions were completely determined by the classical order that we had chosen. In this case Tuscan. It features a white stone floor with black slate cabochons.”

A corner of the dining room.

A corner of the dining room.

 Favorite spot at his home:

“The dining room is one of the most perfect rooms I’ve ever experienced — and “experience” is exactly the right word. The room is suffused in light from windows that run the length of it on either side, which is filtered by these marvelous filmy curtains embroidered in India by Lesage. There are extraordinary 18th century portraits and gorgeous silver, porcelains, linens, and place settings. It is a dream.” — Nancy Novogrod

“The octagonal pavilion that is his library, and his dining room, which I think is one of the most elegant rooms I’ve ever seen. He has a truly divine sense of proportion — almost like Palladio or Pythagoras. Buried beneath his decorative flourishes is an exquisite mathematics, which is particularly evident in those two rooms.” — Andrew Solomon

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©KateOrne_UpstateDiary.jpg

 Country living:

“I think that, as Robert travels the world all the time, to have this retreat that he has dreamed into being with his genius for design, where he has created comfort, elegance, and exceptional beauty; this has to feed his soul, whether he and Jeffrey are there alone or entertaining.” – Wendy Goodman

“I think he has a penchant for topiary!” — Isaac Mizrahi

Picking up Clara’s doodles while Hercule heads to the library for some serious reading.

Picking up Clara’s doodles while Hercule heads to the library for some serious reading.

His sense of humor:

“Making Robert laugh is the greatest. This elegant, worldly, refined man can go to pieces like a child at the drop of a hat. You just have to know the hat.” — Wendy Goodman

“His humor can be lacerating, erudite, and silly, all at once.” — Amy Fine Collins

“Robert has the sense of humor of an American, which is a great compliment for a Frenchman!” — Isaac Mizrahi

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What inspires him?

“Robert always gets a “contact high” from being around people with fine minds, original taste, and lightning wit.”— Amy Fine Collins

“Reading, talking, remembering, looking, and anything to do with dogs.” — Joan Juliet Buck

On acquiring his decorating tips:

“I have never asked him, but I am sure that if I did, he would say, ‘Begin again darling.’” — Maira Kalman

“I refrain from asking anything pertaining to my own living environment!” — Wendy Goodman

“I love his favorite code word, which is weird. If he is appalled by something I am considering buying, he will say, oh so gently, ‘You know, my dear, it might look a little bit weird in that room.’” — Andrew Salomon

“We wanted a room that was open on the four sides, whose proportions were classical and very regular. At the same time we bought the very large cabinet on the far wall, an Alsatian kass, dated 1601; and the fireplace, 17th century Florentine bought in Italy. These dictated the size of the room...”

“We wanted a room that was open on the four sides, whose proportions were classical and very regular. At the same time we bought the very large cabinet on the far wall, an Alsatian kass, dated 1601; and the fireplace, 17th century Florentine bought in Italy. These dictated the size of the room...”

 If he hadn’t become an interior designer:

“Had Robert not been a designer, I think he might have been a good psychiatrist. I think his bedside manner is one of the great parts of the work he does. Getting people to see things his way.” — Isaac Mizrahi

“An academic. A sage. A priest, a high priest. A philosopher. A governor of a distant and staggeringly beautiful province the entirely eclipses the empire it belongs to.” – Joan Juliet Buck

“Ah, perhaps a couturier!” — Maira Kalman

Robert Couturier: Design Paradise by Rizzoli.

Learn more www.robertcouturier.com