Vancouver may be a growing city, but we can still feel a sense of small-town pride when one of our own makes international waves. That is certainly how I feel when I open magazine after magazine and see the beautiful work of interior designer Robert Bailey.
This 2013 Western Living Magazine Designer of the Year grew up in North Van and graduated from the Interior Design program at Douglas College. These days, he is asked to design houses around the world: Whistler, London, Palm Springs, Punta Mita. Bailey is known for his impeccable eye and his emphasis on quality craftsmanship.
He and his carefully chosen Robert Bailey Interiors team focus primarily on residential design. “We can be responsible for everything from the walls in.” They might work on the interior architecture, the finishes, feature elements, furniture, lighting. At times, clients ask them to collaborate with architects on the exterior finishes. Bailey will also work alongside consultants on mechanical and audio-visual systems and smart-home electronics. “It can be very holistic.”
Bailey has been widely celebrated for his West Coast design work. “The Fairmont penthouse, the Deep Cove project. They all have a modern contemporary West Coast flavor to them – natural materials, simple forms, more masculine than feminine.”
He does not, however, limit himself to one style. “Design is a big, big world. I wouldn’t want to be known for any one thing exclusively. In LA, for instance, we are working on a house in Beverly Hills that is more classic Hollywood goes modern. We’re doing a downtown penthouse that is a very chic, high glamour space that could be used for industry events, Grammy parties. Then, we’re doing a house above Sunset that is uber-modern, but with lots of vintage pieces.”
Bailey does find himself using more and more vintage pieces in his design work. “I’m very interested in vintage. Design is so slack in the marketplace. Everyone is knocking everything off. I try to find unique, artisan-craft pieces; that and vintage. We try to create really unique spaces for our clients.”
When the NCIDQ Registered Bailey first meets with clients, he doesn’t want them to bring mood boards or aspirational photos. “I want a fresh approach. I like to see where they currently live, to find out what they like to do, to understand their lifestyles. You have to be a fast study.”
When it comes time to start planning the space, Bailey will pull out his felt pens and tracing paper. “I draw free-hand before I put it in the computer. Drawing by hand relates to the human scale and to the body being the measure of things. For me, that is just natural. I’m not as comfortable starting digitally, perhaps because I didn’t grow up in that way.”
Robert started paying attention to interior design when he was a child. “My mother was always interested in different kinds of spaces. At one point, we lived in a great Russell Hollingsworth fourplex.” If his artistic mother dared to step out, she would return to a fully rearranged living room. Luckily, she appreciated his eye and would soon defer to him for all home design decisions. Robert found another champion in his fashion editor aunt. “She had a sumptuous, gorgeous apartment in Kerrisdale. She was always in Paris, London, New York. She’d met Coco Chanel. I found her interesting.”
Though he has always been fascinated with homes, Bailey’s first work out of school was in commercial interior design. “When I graduated, Vancouver was a relatively small city. There wasn’t a lot of wealth here. To do high-end residential work requires a wealthy clientele.” He ended up doing commercial work – hospitality, offices, retail – in big firms such as Architectura and Aitken Wreglesworth.
“In 2005, I decided to start out on my own. I had always wanted to work in residential. It happened very organically; I ended up having clients who made that possible.” The business grew quickly through word of mouth and Bailey has had to be disciplined in keeping Robert Bailey Interiors boutique-sized. “It’s tough to stay small, but I want to be involved with things. I don’t want to be struggling to keep up with the work.” Bailey does still take on some commercial work, such as his standout design work on rooms at the Opus Hotel.
He may favour his felt pens, but Bailey does appreciate the access the Internet gives him to resources around the world. “Things like 1st dibs. I’m probably on that site every day of my life. It’s fantastic. New things are added daily. It’s a great source for global vintage – furniture, artifacts, lighting, art. It’s beautifully presented and easily accessed. There are dealers from LA, New York, London… The world is just so small.”
Bailey does enjoy the opportunity to experience design and art in other places. “London is an amazing city. It’s huge, but it’s small. Nothing is too towering in central London. I love the British attitude – their sense of fashion, their style. It’s quirky and eccentric, but based on a really strong traditional point of view. It’s not just quirk for quirk’s sake.”
Bailey also relishes his time in New York. “It is the centre of design. I’ll go to the MOMA. I love ABC Home, wandering the design district. I’ll visit Pucci, Holly Hunt, Hermann Miller…”
Like the cobbler and his famously ill-soled kids, Bailey has not yet brought his design magic to his own home. “I moved in eight years ago, and I haven’t done a thing. I keep thinking I need to do my own space, but I don’t have time for another project. I plan to take it on in the next couple of years, to do a space completely for me. I want to do it completely new. You end up carrying things around for years and years. I’ll be ruthless in editing.”
Editing is something that Bailey recommends to those seeking quick design advice. “Choose the best things you love, not everything you love. I think we probably all have a bit of the hoarding mentality. We are gatherers. But, it’s amazing how good it feels to remove things.”
It is clear that work as a whole feels good to Bailey. “It’s always different. You get to work with great people and you are always learning. Every day, I think: ‘I’m doing exactly what I want to do.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton
Photos Courtesy of Robert Bailey Interiors