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This past week I had the wonderful opportunity to have a Q & A with one of the leading Interior Designers in the industry. Through many years of hard-work and dedication, Robert Passal has risen to become one of the premier designers in the country.
Earning accolades from respected sources such as Traditional Home, Architectural Digest, The New York Times, House & Garden, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal. Robert has rubbed elbows with some of the industry’s elite. In fact, Robert was asked to design Guido Palau’s Manhattan Duplex. This is no small invitation coming from Guido who has been recognized as the “Best Hairstylist in the World.”
I urge you to stop what you’re doing and take a moment to absorb all of this information. We will dissect his personality, background, and approach. Powerful, inspiring, and insightful, Robert’s heart-warming words reveal just what it took to turn his dreams into reality.
The Making of Robert Passal
1. For those who are unfamiliar, how did you go from being a young college graduate working at a Restaurant to becoming one of the world’s leading Interior Designers?
There is a saying that I often think of which could not hold more truth, “It takes ten years to become an overnight success.” It often appears as though successful people come from nowhere and are suddenly a household name.
In my case I was one of the many college graduates who complete college having no idea what they want to do with their lives. I had worked my way through college working in the restaurant industry. It was familiar to me and I fell back into it on a managerial level after college. I worked at some big name restaurants which all sounds good but I was miserable. The hours were hell and I knew that there was no possibility of me working in that industry long term. At that point in my life I had a roommate who was an actor and was into the new age movement.
One day, knowing that I was in a transitional time in my life he gave me a book which he swore by. The book was The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. He gave me the rundown on the book, explained how it had helped guide him and he went on and on and on. Initially I was beyond reluctant but I had really noticed a change in his overall mental well-being and persona. Reluctantly I agreed to give it a try. The book is based on a twelve week program, each week focused on a different aspect of your life.
By week three it was clear that I had held myself back (for a multitude of reasons) from doing what really inspired me, interior design. By week four I had enrolled in interior design calluses at FIT and had also contacted a friend of a friend who was a designer.
At that point in my life I had never even met an interior designer. This friend of a friend helped me devise a resume so that it would seem as though I had some sort of experience in the field. Have you heard the term “fake it till you make it?” I took that resume to the Design & Decoration building here in New York City. I did not even know such a building existed. I started on the top floor and stopped into showrooms of which I liked the aesthetic. I handed out about ten resumes.
By the time I returned home I had a message on my answering machine from John Rosselli. We had answering machines back in the day… I worked in John’s showroom for about sixteen months when one of my clients I had come to know and like, Dan Barsanti or “Healing Barsanti”, came in and asked me if I would be interested in working with them as a design assistant. I worked at Healing Barsanti for five years, initially as a design assistant and then as a senior designer. I started my own firm in 2000 and the rest is history.
2. In your Bio, you mentioned that your designs are not characterized “by a single era, style, or approach.” How are you able to delve into the innermost emotions of a client in order to evoke a feeling that can be translated into design?
We spend a good amount of time with clients prior to building their projects. I consider my initial weeks with clients dating. It’s the period where we get to know each other and what makes each of us tick or even more important, what doesn’t make us tick. We do some tentative or fantasy shopping and have a few lunches or dinners. I also ask to meet their family and to visit their current residence. Both of which are exceptionally telling in regards to lifestyle.
We also ask that new clients complete a questionnaire which we devised ask some personal questions as well as some silly and off the cuff questions. All of this interaction truly gives us insight into who our clients are and how they live on a day to day basis.
3. What lifetime triumph stands out to you as being one of your most treasured accomplishments?
Initially it was my acceptance into the Kips Bay Show House in 2005. It was a venue I had visited for years, always in awe of what these top notch designers were able to conceive. My mom and I had a set a date every Mother’s Day. We would visit the show house, wander through the rooms and fantasize about living in such a space. One of my most gratifying moments was spending Mother’s Day 2005 in my room at the Kips Bay Show House with my mom.
Second on my bucket list was being featured in Architectural Digest. Through the years I had submitted several projects and had always seemed to have come so close to being published. Just this month, September 2013 I have had the absolute honor of finally being published in Architectural Digest. Margaret Russell was kind enough to send me an advanced copy along with a kind note of congratulations. Tears of utter happiness welled up in my eyes as I read the note and saw my work in print.
4. What future projects can we look forward to from Robert Passal?
Currently we are working on a very exciting project for a young, well know person in the fashion industry. It’s a project we’re having a lot of fun with. We are also working on several exciting projects in Miami where we have a satellite office.
5. Modern bathroom styles have been fairly common in recent years. Do you anticipate a decline in the implementation of these themes in favor of Rustic or Vintage applications? What are the major factors that influence interior design trends?
I pride myself on NOT following trends. I do what feels right for the architecture of the home and most of all the clients. Twelve years ago I renovated my bathroom and installed white subway tile and Carrera marble. I can honestly say I’m just as happy with it now as I was when it was installed.
6. What inspired you to form a partnership with Housing Works?
Through the years we have participated in many events and helped to raise funds for Housing Works. It’s a charity that is near and dear to me. They truly touch the lives of those who are in need in our community. It’s a cause I will always be a part of.
Trade Winds Imports would like to extend a special thanks to Robert for the rare opportunity to interview with an individual of his stature. You can find more information on Robert’s current projects by visiting his website.
Accolades continue to pour in for Robert who was recently presented with the Traditional Homes “Top 20 Designers Award.” You can congratulate Robert on his September 2013 Feature in Architectural Digest by leaving your comments below!
About this Post
Cheryl Khan had the opportunity put together this Q & A on behalf of Trade Winds Imports. She considers Robert to be one of the leading designers across the country as well as an incredibly kind-hearted individual. Thanks Robert!