Given the Instagram outpouring of grief and disbelief last week upon news of the death of British interior decorator and AD100 Hall of Famer Robert Kime, aged 76, it’s fairly clear that he was worshiped—not too strong a word, methinks—by the world’s top talents, many of whom could be considered competitors. Some of the encomiums they posted were: hero, genius, master, teacher, legendary, inspiration, remarkable, great, and esteemed. To many, his London shop is a shrine, and his products, from antiques to fabrics to wallpapers and more, are nonpareil and aesthetically essential.
Why? For one, Kime’s rooms were as welcoming and as unassuming as the man himself. Even when he was tapped to shake up Highgrove House for the Prince of Wales (apparently with the cheerleading of the future Duchess of Cornwall), the results were heirloom-rich rooms in which anybody could feel deeply comfortable, as well as gently stimulated. Ditto his work at Clarence House, the royal couple’s London digs and one of the reasons he was named a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order in the 2004 New Year Honours. His international commissions included fashion entrepreneur Tory Burch’s French country house, which was featured in the March 2020 issue of The World of Interiors.
“Robert was an extraordinary designer and one of the most charming men in the world,” Burch writes via email. “He was elegant in every sense of the word, and his eye for beauty was simply unmatched.” Kime and Burch also worked together to create a fabric and wallpaper collection based on Japanese documents—and they recounted its development on my former podcast, AD Aesthete. Burch adds, “I will miss my brilliant, dear friend.”
What Kimes’s interiors did not appear to be was professionally decorated, which might puzzle many observers. They looked assembled over time, casual even, and that overused word: soulful. His eye was unerring. From his childhood in Hampshire, he reportedly grew up among collectors and was forced as a youth to sell off the family’s belongings to support his mother after his parents’ marriage fell apart. An abiding interest in archaeology and history followed through his life, and a story is often told that, at the age of 18, he returned from a rough-and-tumble trip to Iran with two carpets so fine that more than one expert was astounded that Kime had recognized their worth at such a young age—and managed to spirit them back to London whilst battling amoebic dysentery. A career in antiques dealing was born, followed by one in decoration.