When she packed up her four-bedroom Victorian in Hastings, England, to move to Brooklyn with her husband and infant son, interiors stylist Hilary Robertson had to part with most of the furniture and objects she had lovingly accumulated over several decades. The family struggled to feel at home until she and her husband, a former antiques dealer, made a trip to the storied Brimfield Antiques Market in Massachusetts. Inevitably, Ms. Robertson’s passion for stuff was reignited. In The Stuff of Life (April, 2014/Ryland, Peters & Small), Ms. Robertson finds company in like-minded collectors.
You moved to the U.S. more than eight years ago. Have you become drawn to any particular period in American design since then? I became thrilled by the exuberance of Hollywood Regency and mid-century modern interiors. American film sets from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s—Mame, Pal Joey, How to Murder Your Wife, North by Northwest—were my flea market shopping inspiration.
Rough, refined, matte, high-gloss, organic, man-made—all of it appears to come together in your lovely home without betraying the least bit of effort. For most, this is a talent that is extremely hard to come by. Any tips? Travel, even if it’s just armchair by way of flipping through a magazine, informs all of my aesthetic decisions. For inspiration, travel, go to museums, look at everything, watch foreign films.
What is the primary difference between American and European approaches to decorating? Generally speaking, Europeans don’t feel the need to throw money at interiors. There seems to be more of an emphasis here on hiring professional decorators to spend thousands of dollars on, say, drapes—beautiful but unnecessary.
Your home is quite feminine. There’s that curvaceous pink linen sofa and liberal doses of sparkle. How much say in matters of décor does your husband have? I love to joke that Al is man enough for the pink sofa and often follow up that point by making another one: Pink was considered a masculine color in the 18th century.
What role does art play in your home? I like to buy from friends. I am particularly drawn to sculpture that can be moved around easily. Moving things around changes a room’s energy.
How has your style changed over the years? When I lived in Europe as an adult, France was my reference, thus my predominantly feminine style. I grew up in a house filled with Scandinavian modern furniture, which didn’t inspire me then. Now, I have drifted toward a more masculine aesthetic and have begun appreciating the spare, strong lines of the pieces my mother favored.
You are constantly hunting down props for photo shoots. Care to divulge your favorite sources? I try to support independent retailers. I go to Loopy Mango for accessories and linens and Michele Varian for great stuff from lighting to kids things, both in Soho. Thomas Sires and Haus in Nolita are good for presents and small props. Of course, ABC Carpet and Home is amazing, too. I love the 28th Street flower market and Jamali, a shop in the same area, for pots and vessels. Terrain in Westport, Conn., is an excellent resource for all things garden related. We spend a lot of time upstate near Hudson, one of my favorite places to prop hunt.
As an interiors stylist, you create very specific environments for your clients. How do you handle assignments that clash with your personal aesthetic? It’s good exercise to interpret visions that differ from my own. I always learn from that style stretch. Most challenging are color palettes that I wouldn’t normally choose. Particularly tough are hard, unnatural colors.
What makes a good interiors stylist? Whose work inspires you? One must be a visual sponge, traveler, borrower and recycler. A strong understanding of photography and the nuances of light are essential. I’ve always loved the work of Sue Skeen from World of Interiors. She approached styling with an artist’s eye, so her work was interesting, never obvious. I like what the stylists at Casa Vogue do—it’s bonkers.
What have you acquired in America that will one day make the return to England? My tables with industrial bases and stone or marble tops. Also, I couldn’t leave my growing collection of Ben Seibel bookends and my 1940s mirrored dressing table.
In a fire … After family and cats (obviously), I’d grab my Monica Castiglioni rings—gifts from Al—our Tobit Roche painting and the portfolio of drawings by my son, Gus.
What is your dream styling assignment?
A hotel would be fun. I have just returned from Puerto Rico, and it seems that it deserves a stylish hotel, perhaps one in an old colonial building. That would be a great project. ν