Robert Couturier made design history in 1987 when the billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith, who could have engaged any architect and decorator in the known world to do his bidding, followed his legendary instincts and entrusted the 32-year-old Couturier with what would amount to the single greatest private commission of modern times: the re-conception, execution, and continuous embellisment – down to the last gilded detail – of Goldsmith’s 20,000-acre kingdom on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Crowned by a 60,000-square-foot vaulted-and-tile-domed hilltop palace called La Loma, the estate, before the designer was through, would come to include vast satellite villas and assorted guest pavilions. He would later complete the grandiose picture by decorating Goldsmith’s Boeing 757 (”a flying carpet with a motor”), double-width Manhattan townhouse, and historic French chateau.
Two decades later, the New York-based Couturier maintains his place at the top of his profession, continuing to execute grand-scale commissions in the U.S., Europe, South America, and Russia. His name, included in Architectural Digest’s prestigious annual list of the best decorators and architects in the world, has become synonymous with continental and international style. But to the deep understanding of the classical that he acquired at the Ecole Camondo in his native Paris, Couturier adds his own inimitable and witty take on things, and his design heroes remain a jaunty, motley lot (Renzo Mongiardino, Frank Gehry, Charles LeBrun, Serge Roche, Robsjohn Gibbings, Robert Mallet Stevens, Jean Michel Frank…).
Décor, Couturier believes above all else, must be appropriate to the architecture, to the clients, and to the setting. The last thing he sees his interiors as are stage sets – rather, they are spaces for living people to move through and function in. And, in fact, they work superbly.
Couturier has contributed to major architecture and design books. He lectures widely at galleries and at arts and antique fairs, and participates in charitable and design-industry events. His work has been featured in such publications as Architectural Digest, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Town and Country, the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, House and Garden, the Robb Report, and Elle décor, and has distinguished the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club Showhouse, Decorator Show House, Hampton Designer Show House, and the French American Designer Show House.
All in all, Robert Couturier can be said to lend a sense of connoisseurship, imagination, and even experimentation to the traditional design landscape. As he likes to say himself, recalling the rich interiors in which he spent his childhood and youth, “It is to both grander and greater ends that one invents when one can start with one’s own past.”
SALLY ANN CALABRESE