Sometimes it happens that nothing goes the way you think it will. You're on your way to a meeting, you've prepared your questions, you've parceled out your time, and then the moment arrives and somehow magically the conversation takes on a life of its own and you're taken up in the momentum of recreating the world. This is more or less what happened to us recently in the course of a lunch date with Robert Couturier.
One of the many things that struck us, in stark contrast to the image that is sometimes painted of Couturier, was his absolute and utter modernity – not a superficial modernity that is merely the mirror of the latest trend, but a modernity that speaks of a deeper understanding of the world in which we live today and the one in which we will live tomorrow, a modernity which bestows the exceptional skills that one needs to be an actor there. Robert Couturier is at once a man of this modern world all the while having preserved and developed the choicest bits from the past.
His childhood was spent in Paris, in the beautiful demeure of his grandmother, a majestic townhouse that had been decorated by Jean Michel Frank who was then an ardent follower of subtle modernism and who was adamant about the kind of quality and chic that largely disappeared after the war. However, as his family had been forced to leave Europe before World War II, they ended up living successively in Argentina, Jamaica, Canada and then in the United States. Couturier settled in New York in the 80's, where he grew to become one of the prominent figures in the world of architectural interiors and decoration, not only in New York but on an international scale.
One could say that the Couturier style is in part a reflection of his personality and the multiple dimensions of his character, subtle, classic, exacting, sophisticated, but also personal, original, curious, open to diverse cultures, revolutionary, provocative, strong and vulnerable. When one examines his creations one often finds objects, structures or pieces of furniture that have disappeared from the lexicon of many contemporary designers and thus the houses they furnish: massive bookshelves, art books, sumptuous curtains and exotic upholstery. A testament to his passion for exceptional fabric, one finds these in their infinite variety, both antique and modern, in almost all of his rooms.
One finds there too another constant; the objects he selects are not only authentic and of superior quality, but they're carefully chosen to give form to the spirit of each house, to surprise you, to stun you, and to provide key points of reference.
Robert Couturier has the exceedingly rare "je ne sais quoi" that knows just how to give a soul to the territory he touches. These dwellings that he's conceived are not easily classifiable because each one has something unique, something that invariably reminds you that your home is also the reflection of a lifestyle that is the signature of its occupant.
Traveling has become so much smarter that it doesn't matter if you're going to work in Russia tomorrow, or South America next week, and then Alaska after that. I work all over the world. I've even considered working in China and I don't think it would make my schedule that much crazier. I mean, often it takes longer to get to Southampton from NY than to Paris and actually I much prefer having a job in Europe than having one on Long Island.
It's necessary today that we all think of ourselves as part of the whole world
When I look at my clients I see that these people are no longer nationals, they have no boundaries – marriages are more and more international and these people's children are living in five different countries of the world - and no one thinks that having a nationality has any value at all. Today we only have a world culture. You know I've always thought that we're living a Tower of Babel kind of syndrome, that is that we were once one, and then we became many, and now we're gathering again to become one."
For me however it's always different from one country to the next
I think the basic system is the same but the way it's applied differs broadly in every country.The construction that we're currently doing in Baku is fantastically solid.. The walls are filled with concrete because that's the way they build. It's been their way for thousands of years and that's the way they do it. Baku is a fascinating city. It was the only city in the known world at the time of Zoroaster that accepted different religions. There was never one god, one king and one religion. It's fascinating and when you're there you can actually feel it. It feels spiritual and you can't help but feel moved very deeply much the same way as when you visit Jerusalem.
69 Mercer Street
Photos: courtesy Robert Couturier