The work of John Robshaw is frequently on display in the pages of glossy fashion magazines and design publications, in the homes of design aficionados as well as in spaces as famous as the White House and most recently, in his newly opened Connecticut boutique, a project which was a dream for the designer. Working on the boutique, Robshaw was able to let his creativity reign supreme.
In the shop as with his design work, his unique vision can be seen clearly in each and every project the beloved textile designer lays his hands on, a vision that is bursting at the seams with joie de vivre, bold patterns and glorious, joyful color. While he has always been a lover of art and design, it took a life changing trip to direct his focus and channel his vision into the one of a kind prints and patterns that he is known for today.
John Robshaw has always had an eye for design. He began designing prints and patterns, first as a student at Pratt and later while studying block printing in China, though his work really came into focus when he traveled to India in search of natural indigo inks for his work. The designer explains, “I wanted to be an artist and in my 20’s worked around the art world realizing design is art in many ways.
Once I went to India I was mesmerized by the artisans who were constantly working on hand made pieces which made me realize this is what art can be anyway.” Once in India, he learned from the fabric-making traditions of the local artisans and added his own unique twist. He would “apply a painterly aesthetic to traditional methods by mixing up patterns and overlapping them in a more formally artistic way.” Back home in the United States, he continued to use what he had learned to inform his work.
“Traveling has helped me see the power of color combinations, working with a variety of textures and light in different countries. I have learned and been inspired by so many artisans around the world, it’s a rich world and I am so happy to have seen a lot of it!”
Traveling has also provided him with the chance to shop for special pieces for his own home – each with its own memory attached of course. “I used to go to Sumatra in Indonesia when I started traveling around Indonesia and found lovely textiles in a small town called Mindanow. One day I ran into John Gillow, the textile guru, we were both digging through piles of textiles and I was fortunate enough to have lunch with him that day. Sadly, later on, he seemed to have caught Typhoid. I appreciate that day and how it had been so fun to meet this incredible textile guru on the hunt.” Indeed this story has all the hallmarks of great design, which according to Robshaw can be described as: “A point of view, conviction, and luck!”
Closer to home, his new shop, provides a constant source of inspiration for the designer as well. The boutique, located in Falls Village, where he invites shoppers to: “explore one-of-a-kind vintage Indian furniture, textiles, bedding, and of course lots and lots of pillows,” can be found in a beautiful older home once owned by designer Michael Trapp.
“It also has a barn which I have renovated to hold antiques. I am focused lately on Naga furniture, bone inlay pieces, modern Nagashima chairs, artwork from my collection as well as my own artwork-it’s a work in progress which is the fun of it all! My process is always keep things moving, changing, and editing. The shop is now a great playground where I can move things out by selling them and/or if they don’t work it enables me to try something new, it’s very forgiving.”
In his own home, he surrounds himself with beauty as well: “I love antique textiles they are a huge inspiration for my prints. In my home I will hang, drape, or even wear them- whenever I can.” This willingness to experiment has allowed him to create a dreamy home for himself and his family where layering, bold color choices, pattern and art all play a major role. To those looking to add a touch of whimsy to their own home, he suggests: “Go deep and get some amazing antique textiles to create a patina. And don’t buy one of something buy eight! Make groups and collect! I’ve learned as I build something out I learn continually and that learning leads you in unforeseen directions. Remember not to overthink things – who cares what the world thinks!? Have fun!”
A new twist in his own design process at home has been making adjustments with his young child in mind. “We installed gates all over the place for my baby daughter! Patterned wool rugs are great when things get spilled on and performance fabrics for sure I cannot live without now! Since becoming a father, I had to put away all my tribal spears!” Helpful tips to be sure and also a wonderful reminder that life, much like design is a constant evolution.
Three Questions with Designer John Robshaw
TLV: What are some of your design influences?
JR: I met Charles Jacobsen early on, he has an amazing showroom in LA and he had a magic for working furniture textiles from all over the world into his showroom, I am still amazed at what he did in his own way. In fact, one of his clients, Janet Stein, had the most magical house that she worked on with Charles. I remember how just seeing the pieces go out into the world and how she lays them all out, it was incredible.
TLV: Are there any dream projects that you have yet to work on that you would love to do?
JR: I would love to work on a small hotel/ a type of bed and breakfast. We have done some rooms and small projects with them in the past but I think creating a really interesting hotel that has a fun, artful,l home like quality for people to stay in would be exciting like they stepped into another world of print ,color, and texture.
TLV: What are three words you would use to describe your work?
JR: Block print, Handmade, Messy
Click here to shop John’s TLV Favorites.
All Photo by Rachel Robshaw / Courtesy of John Robshaw / Text by Liana Hayles Newton