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Watch the Video | Robert Kime: An Appreciation Part 1
Robert Kime: An Appreciation Part 1
Robert Kime: An Appreciation Part 1
This autumn, Dreweatts has the great honour of holding the auction Robert Kime: The Personal Collection. This auction celebrates the life and work of the late Robert Kime, known the world over as a titan of design and the ‘great assembler’ of beautiful things. Paying tribute to Robert, listen to Nina Campbell, Annabel Elliot, Liz Elliot, Will Fisher, Robin Birley, Rupert Thomas, and Michael S. Smith reminisce about their fondest moments spent with their great industry hero, mentor, peer, and above all, friend.
It is a measure of the esteem in which Robert Kime was held, that when he passed away last year, tributes appeared across publications around the world. Each spoke with admiration of Robert’s personality, enthusiasm and expertise, acknowledging his profound influence and celebrating his lifetime’s work. More personal tributes came from fellow designers, clients and friends conveying both the affection with which Robert was held and the inspiration he gave.
Photo: Tessa Traeger
What made a Robert Kime interior so distinctive and desirable was that it did not appear to be professionally decorated. The rooms he created looked assembled over time, generating feelings of timelessness, comfort and continuity. Former first lady, Nancy Reagan summed it up when she said, on seeing the New York flat that Robert had designed for Andrew Lloyd Webber: “Its madly clever. Nothing matches.” The seemingly effortless layering of fabrics and furniture, paintings and prints was the result of years of immersion in the world of the arts – exploring, travelling, learning and enquiring – allied with an innate ability to understand the space with which he was working.
In Robert Kime’s book, a profile of twelve of his projects, Alastair Langlands wrote: “To Robert, it is essential that a house or room should convey a sense of safety and a feeling of permanence… The rooms he designs are places of calm, retreats from the cares of office life, sanctuaries from the busy world, and they are always supremely comfortable. It is also of importance to him that they resonate with the past… by being associated with the past and the present, his rooms become timeless.” Robert himself struggled to define it: “What I have been trying to put into words….is that I think I am trying to create an atmosphere.” He went on to suggest that this need began in his childhood, when he found a sanctuary in a garden shed, surrounded by the furniture and artefacts stored there: “There was this world that I could change to my own advantage and pleasure, and that’s when I started what is called interior decorating now.”
Photo: Tessa Traeger
Robert’s route to dealing and design was neither straightforward nor traditional. He did not refer to himself as an interior designer, preferring the term “assembler” and saying: “In a funny way… I don’t see it as anything different from what I do all the time anyway, so it doesn’t seem to be a job, it’s just something I can do and have always done.”
After leaving school at 16, Robert travelled to Italy, Greece and Massada in Israel to take part in archaeological digs. His passionate interest in the ancient world and its’ artefacts became fully fledged here and never left him. On his return he took his place at Worcester College, Oxford to read Medieval history. During his time as an undergraduate, he oversaw the selling of his grandmother’s furniture for his family, and after this induction into the antique trade, with the approval of his college, he continued selling from his rooms. Dealing in objects unearthed in Oxfordshire antique shops, selling to a range of clients, including the Ashmolean Museum. After Oxford, Robert had the opportunity to sell pieces from Miriam Rothschild’s collection, before establishing his own premises. His reputation as an interesting and knowledgeable antique dealer grew along with the creation and decoration of his own home. Requests to decorate followed.
Photo: Barney Hindle
Robert’s love of pattern and textiles led to the gathering of great knowledge about Turkish, Central Asian and Near Eastern carpets, fabrics and textiles. All were used, in many layers, in the rooms of his homes and projects. This love affair with textiles ultimately extended to the launch of his own line of fabrics 30 years ago, when the antique examples he prized were becoming scarce. The Robert Kime fabric collection has become a signature of a Kime interior and has extended to encompass lighting, upholstery, wallpapers and paint at Robert Kime Ltd., his eponymous shop on Ebury Street.
The focus within Robert’s projects was never on monetary value but an unerring eye for excellence and what unites the pieces in this personal collection is their innate quality. Embracing unexpected items from unusual sources was one of the keys to Robert’s style, the incorporation of the everyday or the eclectic alongside the elegant, though not necessarily the expensive. As ever, Robert stated it best, “If you only buy from smart antiques shops, your house will look like a smart antiques shop. If you put a great tapestry together with a farmhouse table that has a bowl of cowslips on it, you will probably see the cowslips first. The eye doesn’t know how expensive the tapestry is.”
Photo: Simon Upton
The range and stature of Robert’s projects belies this modesty. He created homes across the world for among many others: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tory Burch, Daphne Guinness, The Duke of Beaufort, Gela Nash-Taylor, Stephen and Aileen Nesbitt and Gilbert and Elfie Lloyd. Perhaps most famously, he worked on Highgrove and Clarence House for His Majesty King Charles III, then Prince of Wales. At the latter, a deft touch was required to remodel the interior after Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother had passed away. Rearranging the existing interiors and adding to them with works from Windsor Castle and elsewhere in the Royal Collection. Robert said of his approach: “If you have a view of it being a palace, you are sunk. The part that is on view to the public had to be slightly monumental, because it is an official residence, but I also wanted to create an atmosphere where one can carry on an ordinary conversation with The Prince without feeling over-awed. It had to be as comfortable for the gardener to sit down and talk to him as for the Queen of Spain to do so.”
Whether for a client or for his own family, the location of each project would be taken entirely on its own terms and the homes that Robert created for his clients did not hugely differ in atmosphere from those he created for himself - always engaging the same dedication to creating a place that conveyed both beauty and ease. This immensely personal collection also charts the creative partnership he had with his wife Helen Nicoll, the celebrated children’s author and audiobook pioneer. This sale is an insight into the countless decisions that the couple made together over the course of many decades. The array of textiles, furniture, paintings and objects in these pages reveal a family life, shaped by discerning eyes and creativity.
Photo: Tessa Traeger
This sale acts as a reference point for Robert's inspirational personal style, as well as the continuation of the conversation regarding Robert Kime’s unique skill and his far reaching contribution to design over the last 50 years - a contribution which will undoubtedly be remembered for generations to come.
Perhaps it is best left to Robert’s most famous client and collaborator, His Majesty King Charles III, who wrote, when Prince of Wales: “You often hear of people who are said to have ‘a good eye’, but Robert Kime’s must surely be one of the best… How he achieves this is a process of genius, for it is all in the minute attention to detail and the subtle choice of colour and marvellously original materials. You invariably wonder how on earth he found such extraordinarily irresistible objects, pieces of furniture, fabrics and carpets. His prodigious knowledge of both history and art invests all his projects with a timeless elegance and originality that are simultaneously comfortable and reassuring.”
MUSIC Intermezzo No. 2 in A Major, Johannes Brahms | Created by Brooklyn Classical | Artlist.io Impromptu No. 3 in G-Flat Major, Op. 90, D. 899, Franz Schubert | Created by Michele Nobler | Artlist.io
Directed and Produced by Laura Warner Cinematography by Zoran Veljković, Alex Metcalfe and Danna Kinsky Assistant Camera by Jason Cleaver, Bradley Shemmell, Baltazar Veljković and Sarah Anderson Edited by Richard Lozeberg