T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings

T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings


Although born in Britain, in 1905, Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings was one of the most important interior decorators in America in the 1930s and 1940s. Robsjohn-Gibbings received a B.S. from in Architecture from the University of London. After college he held several jobs in the design world, for instance he designed passenger-ship interior and worked as an art director for a motion picture studio. In 1926, upon a recommendation from Lord Duveen, Robsjohn-Gibbings began working for Charles Duveen, an antiques dealer who specialized in Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture. In 1929 Duveen sent him to work in their New York office.

Robsjohn-Gibbings was greatly influenced by Greek decorative arts and in particular by the Klismos chair, which he saw while traveling in Greece. In 1936, Robsjohn-Gibbings opened a shop on Madison Avenue where he sold antique as well as contemporary furniture. It was around this time that Robsjohn-Gibbings began to take on private clients for whom he designed interiors. His clients were the famous and the wealthy, people like Elizabeth Arden, Doris Duke, and Alfred Knopf, all wanted to work with him. Robsjohn-Gibbings’s reputation preceded him from his days of working for Charles Duveen in London and New York, where he also had many prominent clients.

From 1943-56, he worked as a designer for the Widdicomb furniture company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Robsjohn-Gibbings partnership with Widdicomb proved to be a wise business decision as he designed some of his most famous pieces, including the Mesa Table in 1951, for the company. The designer famously rejected the International Style and was also unimpressed by the work coming out of the Bauhaus school. Instead Robsjohn-Gibbings embraced the clean and elegant lines of the Art Deco, he also loved expensive woods which were characteristic of the time period, which he mixed with his beloved Ancient Greek styles. A Robsjohn-Gibbings interior would always feature mosaic floor reproductions, sculptural fragments, and sparse furnishings, which when combined achieved his trademark brand of modern historicism.

Robsjohn-Gibbings most celebrated interior was the Casa Encantada, the home of socialite Hilda Weber, in Bel-Air, California. Built between 1934 and 1938, Robsjohn-Gibbings designed over 200 pieces of furniture for the house, which had over twenty bedrooms, all in the Greco-Roman style. This home represented everything Robsjohn-Gibbings loved. In this interior he was given free-reign to incorporate hallmarks of Greco-Roman design such as sphinxes, dolphins, lions’ paw feet, and Ionic columns in table bases, torchères. While it would seem that these elements would produce an over the top interior, the resulting design was still simple and elegant. In 1952, Casa Encantada was sold intact with all of its furnishings to Conrad Hilton, and was passed on to its next owner, David Howard Murdock, in a similar fashion. However, in the 1980’s, Murdock decided to sell of most of the objects from Casa Encantada. It was during this time that there was a resurgence of interest in Robsjohn-Gibbings’s work.

In the 1960s Robsjohn-Gibbings relocated to Athens where he became decorator to such local dignitaries as Aristotle Onassis and the Niarchos family. He also formed a partnership with the Sardis Company, owned by Susan and Eleftherios Saridis, to design furniture inspired by Ancient Greece. In particular they sold the Klismos line of furniture, which drew heavily on classical forms. The nineteen piece collection is still in production today.

In his lifetime he also published several books on antiques and decorating, Goodbye, Mr. Chippendale (1944), Mona Lisa’s Moustache: A Dissection of Modern Art (1947), and Homes of the Brave (1953). He was known for his quips such as, “The surroundings householders crave are glorified autobiographies ghostwritten by willing architects and interior designers who, like their clients, want to show off.” (“Robsjohn-Gibbings Names the Biggest Bore” Town & Country Jan 81) or “If Thomas Jefferson visited your home, he would judge your furniture for its utility not for its antique charm.”(“If Thomas Jefferson Visited Your Home” American Home Volume: 32 1944).

During his career he received the 1950 Waters Award and the 1962 Elsie de Wolfe Award.