Robert McKinley

New York,
If you’ve walked into a hotel or restaurant lately and felt immediately at home — or, alternately, like you wanted to take all of the furnishings home with you — chances are it was designed by Robert McKinley. The New York interior designer has the beachy, vintage-meets-modern aesthetic on lock, and yet is constantly throwing us high-drama curveballs — like a whole room washed in  grassy green, a strangely Baroque upholstery fabric, and a massive, double-height tapestry — that only serve to deepen the intrigue.

What is American design to you, and what excites you about it?

With no intention of sounding trite, American design is freedom. It’s free from many of the cultural and historical expectations that are attached to design in other countries.

This always excites me because I don’t feel bound to a certain aesthetic or style, I feel limitless in seeking inspiration from a broad spectrum of references, cultures, styles and movements. This limitlessness allows a real originality to emerge from the American design scene.

What are your plans and highlights for the upcoming year?

In 2020, we will be working on a number of residential projects. These are ground up projects with a broad design scope, so we are excited to take on a bigger kind of scale — both architecture and interiors. The McKinley Bungalow — shoppable homes we’ve designed with some great design partners — have been very successful for us and we’ll be unveiling another one of these in summer 2020, though with a different, more minimal aesthetic.

We are also excited to continue working with long standing clients like Sant Ambroeus Hospitality Group. We’ve been working together for over a decade now. It’s been really amazing to come up together, we’ve developed a real sense of trust and confidence in the aesthetic of their space. In the first half of the year, we will debut one of our biggest collaborations to date in New York — more to come!

We’ve designed a few restaurants with a great partner in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, and will be opening one more — a restaurant called March. And a very special wine bar and cheese shop upcoming in Brooklyn.

What inspires or informs your work in general?

I am always inspired by place. The story that is told by the energy of a city I’m in, the smells and sounds of a restaurant I’m eating at, or a hotel that sets the perfect scene when you walk through the door.

Also, textures, colors and a patina that I see and feel while traveling and exploring are like little gems that I collect and put in my pocket for later. In 2019, I was really inspired by Italian glass, and many of our projects included glass from a studio in Murano, Venice — where I spent a lot of time this past year.

In deciding how a space should look the most important thing is to first figure out how it is meant to feel. For me design is always first and foremost the emotional reaction I have from the physical design and experience. When that feeling is determined I always create a soundtrack for each project and I play those songs during creative sessions and in my day to day life. This score has a certain cinematic quality that is always very exciting to me.

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