Interior design is an art, and for Roric Tobin of Roric Tobin Designs, this is particularly true. A graduate of Yale, Tobin has studied art history, visited countless galleries and auction houses, and worked with an array of premier clients seeking both quality and artful appeal. Tobin's firm not only handles general interior design, but also furniture design and bespoke art selection. It's a comprehensive suite of offerings that underscores how well-rounded Tobin is when it comes to his craft. As part of our "BHS Design Collaborative" series, Tobin spoke to the Brown Harris Stevens Content team about his work, how he came to blend art curation and home design, and highlights from his illustrious career.
You’re known for your experience working with art collectors. Can you tell us about how you developed this niche clientele?
It was a combination of two factors: experience and focus. In addition to studying art history extensively while at Yale, I've always been an avid art lover, so I had the background knowledge. Then, over the last 20 years, my connections to the galleries, auction houses, and art fairs has given me the expertise to not only recognize quality art, but also understand the art market. So, if the client isn't deeply involved in the art world already, I can help them navigate what can be an otherwise intimidating experience. My focus is on buying the right art for the client and creating an environment that enhances the experience of living with art. That focus is important. It means I'm never trying to push something that isn't right and, conversely, I'm never in a rush to just fill a wall.
Art is incredibly personal; can you explain your process working with your clients when it comes to selecting art pieces or designing a space around artwork?
The interiors we create are art-focused: The art is considered an integral part of the design from the very initial phases, it's never an afterthought. Understanding the client's tastes and desires is critical. Many times, we purchase the art before we even design the room, but even if we don't know the specific piece that will go there, we know the genre and level the client will want there.
Who are some of your favorite artists? Who would you say inspires your work most?
I love the mid-century expressionists and color field artists like Frankenthaler, Noland, Ellsworth Kelly, etc. Those works are some I've had the pleasure of designing around. Contemporary artists I love are Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Murakami, Jonas Wood and Gunther Forg. I've also been very taken with Secundino Hernandez of late. I almost sold a couple of his works, but my clients were too slow to pull the trigger at Art Basel. It was an important lesson for them. You should act quickly if you like something, but it's still heartbreaking to lose a beautiful piece of art. The same goes when you get too caught up in negotiating the price. Obviously, you don't want to pay something inappropriate for the market. But I cannot count the number of times clients end up kicking themselves because they lost a painting over a relatively minor percentage -- especially when the work is worth 5x that price years later!
Are you yourself a collector of art, and if so, can you share your favorite piece in your own collection?
Not quite at the level of most of my clients yet, but definitely yes. The Lichtenstein "Lemon Glass," the Murakami "Flower Ball," and a Nara sketch are definitely my favorites. I also have an amazing, iconic Arthur Elgort photograph of Linda Evangelista in China. It was the first piece of "real" art that I bought at Christie's in my early 20s. I still love the piece and it has tremendous sentimental value.
What project are you most proud of, and why?
There may be some in progress that surpass, but the recent design of the Mayacamas Vineyards tasting rooms was a high point. The clients wanted to elevate beyond your typical vineyard experience. We were able to blend the materials of a mountainside vineyard -- wood, stone and metal -- in a very contemporary way. Every piece of furniture was custom, and they wanted to include major artworks. Designing a 24' long table with the Barn in the City team out of Amsterdam was amazing. So was commissioning one of the last works from Chuck Close before he died: a pair of massive, daguerreo-type wine grapes. Other works included a commissioned chandelier from Studio Drift through Carpenters Workshop, and works by Barnaby Bamford and Fredrikson Stallard from David Gill Gallery in London.
Can you share one of the most unusual or memorable projects you’ve worked on?
A penthouse in Jerusalem certainly stands out. Firstly, I love a challenge. The floor plan had to work, whether it was just four members of the family or a banquet for 30. To create a space that can be both intimate and accommodating is not easy. But most importantly, the project was custom to the nth degree. Not a single finish, detail, or furniture piece was something you would see anywhere else. The clients had a collection of both ancient pieces with important contemporary art, some commissioned directly from the artists. Creating a beautiful space to let those pieces truly shine is the best opportunity for me as a designer.
Your own home is in the current issue of Hamptons Cottages and Gardens. How would you describe your home?
Our home in Greenport is a historical home. So, we had to respect all the beautiful original detail but restore it and bring it into today. Use of color and furnishings makes the home very modern, while enhancing the classic backdrop. Over the years, my husband and I have developed our own collection, which we love being surrounded by. Most of the pieces are contemporary and colorful, so they not only have the memories of where they were acquired, but they bring a happiness to the environment.
Can furniture sometimes function as a work of art?
Definitely. That is one of the reasons I started my own furniture line and have begun designing lighting as well. The pieces are sculptural and unique but completely functional. We also use other art-as-furniture designers like Paul Matthieu, Vincenzo De Cotiis, Dominick Leuci, and Naimh Barr.