Furniture Design: Robert Idol

Interior designer Robert Idol knows what it takes to design furniture.

Edited by Melissa Mauzy
Photography by Colin Miller/Strauss Peyton


Since establishing Robert Idol Design in the 1980s, Robert Idol’s work has taken him across the globe for projects ranging from commercial showrooms and retail stores to beautiful residential spaces. This past April he launched a cocktail table he designed at High Point Market.

SLHL: What does it take as an interior designer to be able to design furniture?
Robert: The ability to apply their creative vision in a new direction. Most every designer has “tweaked” an existing design, so creating an original piece often comes naturally. 

SLHL: What are the first steps in designing a piece of furniture?
Robert: To be a successful furniture designer, one needs to define a vision of the final designs. Then the big question; will it be a complete collection or pieces that can stand alone? Designing one specific piece is quite different than creating an entire collection. If your desire is to launch a collection it is crucial to find and partner with the right company. 

SLHL: How long does the design process take from start to finish?
Robert: It can be anywhere from a few hours to several months. Often the simplest designs require the longest hours and the greatest finessing. 

SLHL: Where do you get your inspiration?
Robert: For the last few years I had taken a hiatus from product design. It took a vacation for me to reconnect and start focusing again on product design. My pieces for Salvations, (one was launched in High Point) were inspired by some incredible door hardware I saw on a trip. I was fascinated with the detail of the basket weave; it was both complex and simple at the same time. 

SLHL: Tell us about the first piece of furniture you ever designed.  
Robert: The one that comes to mind was a contemporary, custom oval desk for a client. The piece was totally void of any detail, so the shape, scale and fabrication were crucial.

SLHL: Tell us about the piece you just launched at High Point this April? 
Robert: It is a cocktail table that is called the Zen table. It is a simple waterfall silhouette with a multi-faceted detail reminiscent of the raked lines of a Japanese garden. In the words of Salvations Architecural Furnishings owner Barry Remley: “Allow me to introduce you to the most expensive table that Salvations has ever built -- and one of the most striking, we think!” The current piece was handmade in stainless allowing us to achieve the subtle details. So, needless to say, we are working to find a more cost-effective production process that allows us to maintain the crisp lines and textures that define this piece.  

SLHL: How has your design aesthetic evolved? 
Robert: I think my aesthetic of clean, uncluttered and functional has remained consistent over my career. What has changed is appreciation of more complex textiles and how they can bring a new dimension to a space. 

SLHL: Is there a particular experience that shaped the direction of your design career?
Early in my career, I had the good fortune to be based in San Francisco, where I quickly embraced their love of natural materials and relaxed lifestyle. This, coupled with the exposure of international design, changed the way I approach projects.