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A Firm Foundation

Articles

A Firm Foundation

Many Ngom

Award-winning designer Robert Bailey works at his studio in Vancouver.Photography by Hugh Zhao

Abeautiful, harmonious space isn’t an accident or luck  — it’s an expression, or even an extension, of the designer himself, who too must be in balance. The root of the designer must be creative passion, while problem-solving and professionalism are equally important cultivated skills of the craft.

“Work is not a job,” says Vancouver native Robert Bailey, owner of Robert Bailey Interiors and Western Living’s 2013 Interior Designer of the Year. He smiles, as grateful as he is sincere, standing wholeheartedly by one of his mantras — “Design is by nature an optimistic pursuit. You have to believe.”

For over 35 years, Bailey has been one of those special individuals who can bring his visions to life, known for commercial and residential design around the world, including interiors at Vancouver’s Opus Hotel and a $25-million penthouse at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel. 

“The business we’re in is about designing for living, so you’re interested in how you can improve living, how you can enrich it, and how you can broaden people’s cultural knowledge,” he says. 

But Bailey’s creativity doesn’t simply show itself in perfectly assembled aesthetic beauty in homes and establishments across North America.

 
That’s what your life is — it’s really just overcoming issues and problems. I think of them as opportunities, and everything is solvable.
 

“There are no unsolvable problems as a designer,” he says. “Challenges are what you feed on. That’s what your life is — it’s really just overcoming issues and problems. I think of them as opportunities, and everything is solvable.”

“Creativity is the tool to resolve everything,” he continues. “I think you realize that if you’re going to pursue this career, you can’t be a prima donna. You can’t just have ideas. You can’t just decide that you have a “look.” I think it’s more important to look at everything as a blank canvas. People bring different things to it: clients, budget, you from experience and from your vision of how you see the world and how you want other people to see the world. So you bring it all together.”

But like any master artist or artisan, Bailey’s confidence comes from his painstaking training and experience, which has helped him cultivate an unshakable foundation.

“We’re very big on the professional aspect of being an interior designer,” Bailey says. “Part of what we do is decoration, obviously, and that is the icing, but there is a lot of very important foundational work that needs to be done to produce good work, which is why I’m a champion of being a registered interior designer, and people working with registered interior designers.” 

Bailey believes the baseline for a designer should start with passing the multi-day National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) examination. Of course, Bailey’s experience and expertise goes far beyond this. In the first part of his career, Bailey worked for a big architectural firm, Architectura, and learned the importance of hyper-detailed documentation, a level of perfectionism that has set his design firm apart from others. 

“We really produce good documents to build by. We’re very detailed in our drawings, being very important in precision and not leaving anything out,” he says. 

That extra effort is just one example of how Bailey’s firm consistently goes the extra mile for his clients, a work ethic and standard essential today as he works with clients around the world in different time zones and needs to be available any time, day and night. But the challenges and difficulties provide an even sweeter taste of success. 

“It’s not a job, it’s a pursuit — it’s something you have to enjoy every day,” Bailey says. “I think the most interesting thing about being a designer is just seeing other people’s viewpoints and collaborating with them, learning from them, working with lots of people collaboratively in different disciplines, and bringing all those people together.”

Mr. Bailey’s Favourite Things:

 
 

Robert Bailey enjoys his basics with an unexpected twist, be it the “puppytooth” lining on his Burberry blazer, the funky angles of his Christophe Delcourt Jaz table, the playful Flos Taccia lamp in his office, or the heady notes of his Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb scent. Choices in art and decor, too, lean towards modernized classics: a nostalgic 1955 caned chair by Pierre Jeanneret; Andy Warhol’s Shadows paintings; or classical musicians in the interpretation of Kiri Te Kanawa are on one end, while the other trends towards the full-on eclectic, such as collages by Canada’s own Tiko Kerr or William S. Burroughs’ unconventional read, Naked Lunch. The designer appreciates the retro vibe of an oversized champagne-filled punch bowl at a party, or the vintage elegance of lily-of-the-valley blossoms, and he keeps his personal style laconic — a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo loafers are a staple, along with a work bag and shades by Louis Vuitton. A dependable Rimowa case comes handy on trips to the designer’s beloved New York City, where a stay at the New York Edition hotel is a treat, as is seeing Elaine Stritch in Broadway’s A Delicate Balance. His other travel must-have? “Great companions!” 

Text by Lindsay Wallace Produced by Many Ngom Photography by Hugh Zhao