With his recent rebranding, local perfectionist-slash-interior designer Lee Robinson rolls up his sleeves and puts on his (figurative) hard hat. His Lee W. Robinson Company is designing from the inside out and the ground up. And this is good news for anyone with a wallet and a roof.
Even when he’s sipping a Ketel One martini in his favorite chair at 211 Clover Lane, Lee Robinson never rests. Five minutes into our last apres-work meeting, the legendary local/bicoastal designer had three TOPS staffers furiously scribbling down his ideas as fast as we could scribble. A meeting with Lee is like five meetings and a business dinner with anybody else. You get more than you came for; if you can only keep up. Lee Robinson is like a very well-heeled Energizer Bunny.
“I’m always juggling 30 clients at once,” says Lee. “And I’m not pushing them off on an assistant. I give them all me. It’s wild, but it’s great.” And with his recent restructuring, it’s about to get a little wilder. In a move that matches what’s happening with design firms globally, Lee has added architecture and construction to his menu of services.
“It’s one stop shopping for design,” he says. “And it’s where this industry is going.”
Aesthetically, it makes sense. Instead of coming in when it’s too late and designing interiors around sound and not-so-sound architectural choices, Lee and his team (including hand-picked architects and builders) can come up with a complete design from the outside in that can be flawlessly executed from foundation to finials. “What it means is that you don’t have a decorator, an architect and a builder all fighting for their point of view or their piece of this,” he says. “It’s a much more harmonious process.”
It’s also, however ironically, less expensive. “When one company is involved in every facet, we can lower the markup on the interiors,” he says. “We can spread it over three profit centers… so we just saved our clients a lot of money.” The financial piece of this new business model isn’t lost on Lee who has a background in finance and a flair for finding economic efficiencies. “I’m tired of being obtuse about how designers charge,” he sighs. “I’m for total transparency. For me, it’s $15 dollars a square foot. And then every product is wholesale cost plus 60 percent.” (Those of us who don’t have degrees in economics can still do the math. That would mean his lofty services come with not-so-lofty price tags. His fee for a ten-by-ten room, for instance, would be $1500. And the markup on products is lower than it is at many retail shops. Triangulation pays.)
In its new incarnation, his business has moved from his digs next to 211 Clover Lane to a 3,800 square foot carriage house at his River Road area home, Malverne. “There are inherent inefficiencies with showrooms,” he says. “When you have showrooms, you have to push products. Your interests compete with your client’s best interests. What I charge is paying me to be objective.” And instead of his decisions being guided by a collection of light fixtures or throw pillows, it’s guided by an uncompromising artistic vision—for which Lee is well-known. His homes represent a stunning spectrum from modern transitional to aristocratic traditional to glamorous and gilded. Lee never comes up short in either energy or inspiration. “The next home I’m about to finish, we started from scratch on the back of a napkin,” he says. “This is the new wave of this industry. It’s not to stock all of this stuff and be product pushers. It’s about creating designs that exceed our clients’ wildest dreams.”