Modern Classic, Before and After

Robert Idol, the vice president of corporate design for Lane Home Furnishings, reflects on the changes he recently implemented in his Ansley Park cottage.


Clinton Smith: Your home’s décor is sophisticated, but comfortable; classic, but contemporary, too. Was that your intent?

Robert Idol: I just wanted a place that was relaxing, serene, tranquil, and was an escape from my hectic days. A soothing calm interior is the best antidepressant I can think of.

From the Saladino sofa to the Biedermeier chests, your house seems well edited and looks as though it has evolved over time and wasn’t just “put together.”

It has taken me years to collect the pieces that fill my home. While some people have photos of their journey through life, I guess the pieces I have collected are my version of those snapshots. Each piece has a significant meaning or reflects my travels and are pieces that can stand on their own. The edited look comes from the understanding that you can admire a piece but not have to own that piece. That way my clean, pared-down look is not compromised. A space that is too busy or crowded is not relaxing. I appreciate negative space.

All of your furniture, and not just the klismos chairs, looks very sculptural and seems to be placed as such. But it’s not standoffish. You really let all the forms and shapes speak for themselves.

Again, I have a strong appreciation for scale, so sculptural pieces catch my eye. The klismos chairs hold a special place in my heart as they are like pieces of art with function. Again, I think that the mixture of styles keeps my interiors from becoming rigid or stiff. Richly textured fabrics create a great base and add interest but don’t compete with the artwork that most of my rooms are built around.

Is there a Robert Idol “look”? If so, how would you describe it?

Most of my interiors are best described as clean, simple and uncluttered, but all of my projects have an architectural element. I feel the furnishings should not overwhelm the “structure” but act in harmony with the space. This comes from my years of space planning and my focus on interior detailing.

What is your favorite room in the house?

My den. I can hang out there, have a fire in the winter, and the French doors overlook the rear garden where the spires of the Midtown buildings are bracketed by large trees.

How do you shop? Where do you shop?I’m sure your travels influence your purchases.

My brain never seems to shift into neutral; it is always examining and looking for interesting objects. Friends hate to go to the movies or a play with me as I am always looking at the set design and absorbing details. As far as shopping, I have a much more focused idea of what I am looking for to complete a space and set off with that in mind. This is not to say that I don’t stumble across great finds in the process. I love ADAC; the showrooms are a great source. In Paris I love to wander the streets of the design area and the flea market. They seem to always be ahead of us, and it helps to open my mind to new possibilities.

How do you disconnect your work for Lane Home Furnishings with your own house? Or can you?

While I set the look at the Lane showrooms and retail stores, it has to have a broader appeal than what I might do for my home. Also, I get to work in traditional spaces, so it is a great outlet for that part of me. But still my clean, uncluttered look was visible with the attention to detail and need for negative space.

Your kitchen: In a word, wow! Do you entertain a lot?The house seems to flow very well from room to room, but I bet I know where everyone ends up!

Due to so much travel I don’t entertain as much as I like. When I do, it is simple meals and focused more on the conversation and connection with friends. Like the interior, I just prefer a more relaxed evening. And yes, like every home the kitchen does seem to be where everyone wants to hang out. However, from my first house in Atlanta I learned a valuable lesson that the kitchen has to flow with the other space but still be a separate room. I think the open floor plan is overrated, especially when you are as nervous a cook as I tend to be. Besides, most of my friends are great cooks and it is hard to compete, so presentation has to rule.

Tell me about your neighborhood? What drew you to it? Especially to your house in particular, since you have changed it inside and out.

Simply put, Ansley Park is convenient for my life. I can easily get to Buckhead, downtown and walk to Piedmont Park or the High Museum. It just feels like a little oasis in the middle of the city. When I bought the house it was a duplex but had great bones, and I knew that I could create a space that flowed well. From the moment I walked in I knew I would be happy living here.

Compare your design work now with what you were doing 10, 20 years ago. Your work now looks timeless. Is the same true of what you were doing while living in California back then … or have your tastes changed?

While my interiors are still clean and uncluttered, they are much richer and more complex than my earlier work. Part of this is simply that I am more mature. While I always loved antiques, I didn’t use many in my early work, but now I always anchor every room with at least one. The patina that comes from an antique is a great way to offset a more streamlined modern piece.

Back to your house. How did you come up with the palette? The neutrals are a great backdrop, and the punches of color, like in the kitchen, are smart touches. What is your relationship with color these days? That, too, has changed over the years, right?

I have almost always lived in neutral spaces; they are calming and offer a great backdrop for art. While in the last few years I really am starting to embrace color and had planned to step away from my neutral backgrounds, I knew myself well enough to use it as accents so it becomes a great surprise. My relationship with color seems to be coming full circle. Early on I loved more vibrant colors, but the main body of my work had been in muted palettes. However, a couple of years ago I really started to reconnect with color and love to use it as a surprise element.

You have designed your own line of furniture for Lane as well as lighting for Currey & Company and accessories for Austin. And one of your most recent designs, a console for Lane, is in Vanessa Williams’ character’s office on the hit ABC TV show “Ugly Betty.” So, what’s next for Robert Idol?

For one thing, a more balanced life is in store for me. Not that I can fool myself, as even I know that a life without new challenges would not be for me!