Designer Profile: How Robert Passal Strikes the Perfect Balance

Designer Profile: How Robert Passal Strikes the Perfect Balance

Robert Passal’s luxuriously curated spaces have earned him a devoted following among design lovers, from financiers and corporate leaders to celebrities and professional athletes.

R enowned for his eclectic take on timeless design, Robert Passal approaches interiors with a collector’s eye: blending fine art and antiques with contemporary pieces and customized accents, his composed aesthetic revealing a singular gift for combining contrasting eras and styles. Thoughtful and unexpected juxtapositions – think 17th- and 18th-century furnishings in conversation with striking contemporary art, or bespoke fabrics and lighting alongside exotic global elements – coalesce to create richly layered and meticulously personalized spaces that balance comfort and sophistication.

While the clean lines of classical design are a hallmark of his style, Passal’s interiors are invariably animated with a willingness to experiment. He regards design as a process of discovery, an “evolution on all levels,” he says. This philosophy applies equally well to his own career: Passal dabbled in communications and hospitality before discovering his passion for interiors. As an emerging talent, he started working for the eminent antiques dealer John Rosselli before becoming a junior designer for Dan Barsanti and Patricia Healing. In 2000, ready to strike out on his own, Passal opened his eponymous Manhattan-based firm. Since then, he has achieved wide acclaim and expanded his business to serve a discerning international clientele. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the coveted Innovation in Design Award (IDA), and his work has been featured in Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Traditional Home, Luxe, Cottages & Gardens, Lonny and Elle Décor.

Discover more of Robert Passal’s signature style with his personally consigned pieces on Sotheby’s newly launched emporium .

How did you discover your passion for design?
Growing up, I always had an interest in making my home a special place. But it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I actually tapped into that creativity. A friend who knew I was trying to find my way in the world gifted a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The book is a self-guided twelve-week course in self-discovery. By the time I reached week five, I had absolutely no doubt that I wanted to pursue a career in interior design. My next goal was figuring out how to make it happen!

What is your favorite decorative object at home?
Hmmm, that’s a good question. I have a sculpture of a black embellished crown by Reinaldo Sanguino that was gifted to me. It’s a piece I will always cherish.

Can you pick some of your favorite items you are consigning and tell a little bit about what makes them special?
There are so many wonderful things in this sale!

The sapphire blue and sterling silver Italian ice bucket is a cocktail party showstopper. The glass is so delicately blown. The sapphire-toned glass is rare, and is just beautiful. The sterling handles and knob are beautifully detailed yet approachable.

New York City Tudor. Interior by Robert Passal, Photo by Joshua McHugh

Is design an art or a science?
It is most definitely an art. If it were a science, it would be much easier all around.

Do you have any go-to color or pattern combinations?
Well firstly, I have a belief that all colors can work together. If you look at some historic paintings, you will often see some very odd colors used together and they always work.

When we are working on designing a space where the client wants to create drama and impact, we will often only use tones of two specific colors, such as brown and yellow or blue and white. When you stick to two main contrasting colors, you create a tension between those two colors in the space. Once we have selected the color combination, we will infuse small accents of other varying colors through lampshades, lamps, pillows, accessories or even flowers.

When do you consider a completed project a success?
When my clients are absolutely head over heels in love with their new home.

Can you share your biggest design secret?
Wall dimmers, lamp dimmers and three-way bulbs (30-70-100 watt) absolutely everywhere.

“Good lighting makes a space. Bottom line.”

Kips Bay Showhouse 2019. Interior by Robert Passal, Architecture by Smith and Moore Architects, Photo by Joshua McHugh

What is the most common design mistake you see?
A poor sense of scale. Most selections are either much too large or much too small. I see it most often in rugs, art and upholstered pieces. I see these incredibly oversized sofas on rugs that are much too small for the space, with art above them that belongs in a doll house.

How do you balance style, comfort and functionality?
Prior to developing any aspect of a project, we take time to get to know our clients. We ask lots of questions about their lifestyle, personal aesthetic and how they see themselves living in the space. We often create what I call wish lists. That list will start with the most important elements of the home for my clients, and dwindle down to the less essential requests. This gives us a clear vision of their needs, aesthetic and lifestyle as we work through their project.

Is there a specific item you typically use as a starting point? (e.g. a rug, artwork, statement piece, furniture item)
We always start with vision boards that we will build with the client. We pull colorations that they like, as well as the feel of certain spaces they like. That leads us to floor and furnishing plans that dictate how a client will live in their space. We then build from there, pulling fabrics, wall finishes and rugs. There is a lot of give and take until we find a combination and a feel that we all agree upon.

Smitten with Robert Passal’s layered luxe style? Explore a dynamic selection of personally consigned pieces, expertly curated by the designer and available for purchase at Sotheby’s Buy Now luxury emporium.

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