Meet the Designer: Robert Couturier

A renowned decorator and architect, the Paris native has worked all over the world.
Robert Couturier, Designer. At Home In Ct.

Photography by Peter Ross Photo

Growing up in Paris, raised by his grandparents, Robert Couturier filled papers with pictures of houses and rooms “for happy families,” leading a mentor to suggest architecture as a logical career choice. After graduating from the prestigious Ecole Camondo, Couturier came to New York to work for designer Adam Tihany. Then, he became a participant in the Studio 54 social scene.

Decorating a New York City townhouse for colorful English tycoon Sir James Goldsmith led to a 10-year stint designing exclusively for Goldsmith’s properties all over the globe. Since starting his own firm in 1987, Couturier’s work in Azerbaijan, Morocco, India and Mexico has led to his inclusion on international lists of “best designers.” He resides in a stately white frame home in northwest Connecticut with his historic preservationist husband, Jeffrey Morgan, and Clara, Hercule, Dora, Zazou and Zadok their five pampered Shih Tzus. See below for a special interview with HC&G and Robert Couturier.

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How did growing up in Paris influence your style?

French culture was then incredibly precise and particular and pervasive, all-encompassing—literature, architecture, decorative arts, the way of thinking. Even if you didn’t want to be influenced, you lived it.

What is “good taste?”

I have never believed in “good taste,” but in something that suits a person. When people love things independent of each other and put them together with a good sense of balance and colors it becomes beautiful—that’s their taste.

How does a background in architecture aid in design?

It is essential because it gives you structure, the skeleton on which you build things. Things are held together by that structure.

You named your book “Designing Paradises.” What makes a place a paradise?

When it’s totally in parentheses from the rest of the world. You wake up, you look out, the weather and garden are beautiful, and there’s no inkling of what’s happening, no noise coming from the outside world.

Who’s your ideal client?

Clients who are honest with themselves and their own taste, not trying to be someone else. When someone comes in pretending to be an English peer, I realize that client is going to be a nightmare.

What are the drawbacks of a longtime focus on a single client?

It’s enormous, it isolates you from the rest of the world. You are not available to other opportunities, and it also limits your inspiration.

Why do you prefer to work for fees instead of commissions?

I think working for commission is like hiding something from the client. You and the client want to be as honest as possible, and a fee is a clear understanding at the beginning.

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You’ve designed residences in far-flung locales. How do you accommodate cultural differences?

I’m a bit of a blotter—I go to those places and absorb what I see. Being raised in Europe, encountering different cultures, gives you a big flexibility. You understand the people, civilization, history of who created it. I don’t believe one culture is better than another.

Why do you say modern furniture is “art?”

Furniture used to be useful—chests of drawers for clothes, armoires for sheets. In contemporary apartments everything is built in, so furniture created today is not so much for use as for ornament. The piece of furniture is the only thing you see in a room, so it becomes a piece of art.

You’ve been on the Best Dressed List. What links clothes and interior design?

Personal refinement should be in everything you do. I always wear a suit and dress properly. Elegance is an attitude you have to life, and respect you have for people for whom you work.

How has Covid effected home design?

We’re much more focused on comfort and pleasure to the eye and all your senses. Everything in your house today matters, you see it all the time, so it’s much less about “what is my friend going to think about my apartment?” You’re not pleasing anyone but yourself.

What future do you see for interior designers you’ve dubbed “dinosaurs?”

In the old days when fabric, furniture and accessories were “to the trade,” clients had no choice. But today everybody has access to information on Pinterest, the internet. The midrange is completely gone; business will be left to real professionals.

To a Parisian, what is the appeal of the Connecticut countryside?

If somebody told me I was going to go live in Connecticut, I would have said you are out of your mind. But I wake up here with a view of the lake, the garden, my dogs, Jeff. It’s quiet, beautiful, it’s a great joy. I feel respite and peace in the country.

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Robert Couturier.
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