Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings
(1905-1976) architect, decorator, furniture and industrial designer
Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings was born in England and received his degree in Architecture from the University of London. After college he worked as a naval architect designing ocean-liner interiors and as a motion picture studio art director before joining the interior design firm of Charles J. Duveen. In 1929 Duveen sent Robsjohn-Gibbings to work in their New York office where he developed professional associations with important clients such as Elizabeth Arden and Nieman Marcus. In 1936 Robsjohn-Gibbings opened his own showroom at 515 Madison Avenue. There he featured pieces based on his renderings of classical Greek furniture from ancient artifacts in the British Museum: curve-legged Klismos chairs, chaise lounges and tables pared down to their essential forms. The dramatic impact of his timeless furniture designs in the starkly elegant showroom helped launch his career. By the late 1930s Robsjohn-Gibbings became one of the most important decorators in America.
Among Robsjohn-Gibbings’ most important early commissions was Casa Encantada, Hilda Boldt Weber’s 43-room mansion in Bel-Air. Completed in 1938, he created over 200 pieces of refined blonde-wood furniture for the mansion, which in 1950 was bought with all its contents by Conrad Hilton (and later by David Murdock). He also designed houses and interiors for such famous clients as Doris Duke, Alfred A. Knopf, and the New York River Club. His 1944 book Good-bye, Mr. Chippendale promoted his aesthetic views and sealed his place as tastemaker for the American public. From 1943 to 1956 Robsjohn-Gibbings became principal designer for the Widdicomb Furniture Company. The resulting industrially produced pieces had the look of high-quality handcraft, and influenced many other designers in turn. Among the most famous of the Widdicomb-produced pieces was his Mesa Table design in 1951, and many of the designs were regularly featured in Town and Country, Interior Design, Vogue, and House Beautiful magazines.
In the early 1960s Robsjohn-Gibbings teamed up with Athens furniture firm Saridis and created the classically inspired Klismos line, based on his early British Museum drawings. He moved permanently to Greece in 1966, where he continued designing for prominent Athenians such as Aristotle Onassis. In the 1970s he began writing a series of guest columns for Architectural Digest, which he continued until his death in 1976.
Robsjohn-Gibbings challenged the status-quo modernism of postwar America and redefined conventions of traditional elegance. His classically-inspired design aesthetic combined passionate, selectively ornate detailing with a simple, restrained sense of proportion and space, and his singular mix of classical and Art Deco design achieved an iconic modern historicism. His furniture continues to be highly collectible, and his pieces fetch impressive prices at auction.
“There must be a profound understanding of the past as well as an awareness of the present if there is to be a future.” - T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings
- 1950 Waters Award
- 1962 Elsie de Wolfe Award
- Goodbye, Mr. Chippendale (1944)
- Mona Lisa's Moustache: A Dissection of Modern Art (1947)
- Homes of the Brave (1953)
- Furniture of Classical Greece (1963)