Thursday 18 April 2024

4 November 2022: In memory of Robert Kime, by his friends and colleagues


In memory of Robert Kime, by his friends and colleagues


Elfreda Pownall pays tribute to the late antique dealer and decorator Robert Kime, followed by memories from his friends and colleagues


By Elfreda Pownall

4 November 2022

November 2022


'Ican’t explain,’ said Robert Kime when asked how he had put together his exquisite London flat so quickly. It took just one week – but also a lifetime of looking and collecting. Robert, interior decorator to His Majesty, King Charles III and at least five English dukes, plus pop stars and potentates, died on August 17, aged 76. He never made a room plan and was very clear he was not an interior designer. Robert believed in putting beautiful, old and curious things together, assembling the contents of a room to make it settled and comfortable: ‘I want my rooms to be lived in, not looked at.’


From childhood, Robert was fascinated by history. He collected coins from the age of five and, later, was happiest when rearranging the furniture in a shed in his mother’s garden. By the age of 16, he had won a place at the University of Oxford to read medieval history, but, too young to go up, spent 18 months working on archaeological digs in Greece and Israel.


During his first term at Oxford, his mother arrived to say he had to leave, as his stepfather had walked out and there was no money left. His tutor would not hear of it and gave Robert the rest of the year to sort things out. He always said that selling the furniture his grandmother and his mother, an avid collector, had amassed was how he learnt his trade. He researched each piece and he learnt where to sell it to get the best price. ‘I had to – we needed the money,’ he explained.


By the time he returned to Oxford, he was an experienced dealer, taking the bus every Thursday to the antique and junk shops in the Cotswolds. In typically self-deprecating fashion, hea dmitted to making quite a few mistakes in those early days, but he learned to be decisive. His friend Alastair Langlands, who wrote the 2015 monograph Robert Kime (Frances Lincoln), was astonished when he saw the habitually gentle, soft-voiced Robert in operation at antique fairs: ‘He was extraordinary, always first at the gate as it opened, deciding instantly what he wanted, concluding deals at lightning speed.’


After Oxford, a chance meeting at a student house party at Ashton Wold, the Northamptonshire home of the scientist Miriam Rothschild, led to his first shop. She had a mass of furniture she wanted to clear, but had fallen out with the two great auction houses. Robert persuaded her to let him sell it for her, and she set him up in a shop in Oundle.


The party also brought him his wife, Helen Nicoll. They married when he was 23 and moved to a gothic schoolhouse at Mildenhall, near Marlborough, using two wings of the cruciform building as his shop. Wiltshire remained the centre of their family and work lives, though in the course of a long and happy marriage, they also had homes in Cumbria, the Luberon, Ireland and Faiyum, in Egypt. Helen, the author of the acclaimed Meg and Mog series of children’s books, died in 2012.


Robert was frequently asked by his customers to decorate their houses. At first, he would give only Fridays over to decoration, but the clamour became insistent. In time, he built up a prestigious worldwide clientele, about whom he remained discreet. His mantra ‘Every room begins with the rug’ meant he travelled constantly to Turkey and Egypt in search of antique rugs and textiles. Once, on a Turkish bus, he bought the headscarf of the lady in front of him – a kandili print with a pattern of pea pods. When, in 1983, he realised that the supply of antique fabrics he had been using for curtains and upholstery was drying up, he turned to fabric expert Gisella Milne-Watson. Together they began to create a range of fabrics – including one inspired by the pea pods. A collection she had discussed with Robert before he died is under way.


Swangrove, a hunting lodge on the Duke of Beaufort’s estate was described by Robert as ‘the happiest and jolliest job I have ever done’. It is certainly among his most beautiful. But Clarence House, the official residence of King Charles III when Prince of Wales, was the most prestigious. It afforded Robert the bliss of rooting through the royal attics at Windsor on behalf of a client who shared many of his tastes, including a love of Near Eastern fabrics. As King Charles wrote of Robert, ‘You often hear of people who are said to have “a good eye”, but Robert Kime’s must surely be one of the best’.



At home in Wiltshire with Robert Kime's managing director Orlando Atty


The shock of Robert Kime’s death in August reverberated across the interiors industry, not least with his tight-knit team. Among them is managing director Orlando Atty, who has inherited the responsibility of guiding the multi-faceted business that Robert developed


By Liz Elliot

28 December 2022

At home in Wiltshire with Robert Kime's managing director Orlando Atty

Dean Hearne


When Orlando Atty began working as an assistant at Robert Kime 13 years ago, few, Orlando included, would have imagined that he would eventually be running what is one of the most influential businesses in the world of antiques, fabrics and interior decoration. He was appointed managing director in 2016 and, although so many of us were shocked at Robert’s sudden death in August 2022, there was, thankfully, a clear succession plan already in place. At the time of writing, the small team at Robert Kime is in the middle of implementing this plan far earlier than anticipated. Some of the photographs featured in these pages were taken nearly a year ago and include a portrait of Robert and Orlando at the company’s treasure-filled warehouse in Wiltshire.


In 2010, Orlando had just completed a degree in business studies at the University of the West of England in Bristol when he landed a job at Robert Kime’s antiques warehouse in Marlborough, Wiltshire. It was meant to be a temporary role, but he caught the bug and never left. ‘From the moment I entered the storeroom, I was fascinated,’ he recalls.


He started working in Robert’s shop in 2012. At that time located on Museum Street, WC1, it was an almost Dickensian treasure trove of pieces and Orlando realised how much he had to learn. Slowly, his footsteps fell in behind Robert’s. ‘I was like a dry sponge soaking up everything I could,’ he says. ‘Above all, Robert was a very gentle and generous teacher.’ The pair went on buying and site trips, with Orlando learning to recognise pieces of integrity and beauty, to absorb the genius loci of a room and to feel the balance of a space.


From 2013, Orlando worked alongside Robert on some of his projects, as well overseeing his own commissions – always under his mentor’s watchful eye. Following Robert’s stroke, more responsibility had fallen onto Orlando’s shoulders. It was he who suggested the company move to Pimlico from Museum Street. Though charming, the latter space was on several floors, so difficult to manage, and it was a little off the interiors beaten track. It was also Orlando’s task to find somewhere for Robert to live nearby. Featured in House & Garden in October 2018, this memorably beautiful flat was to be Robert’s last home.


Orlando and his wife Charlie, who married in 2019, had been living in London. But when Charlie was made redundant from her job in event management, the need for them to live in the capital became less obvious. Expecting their first child, they started to look for a house around Marlborough.


The house-hunting process began. The property they initially wanted fell through, but the estate agent mentioned that there was another option that might work, though it was not yet on the market. It was only when Charlie went to see that particular house – an 18th-century cottage down a quiet country lane leading to the village church and within easy reach of the Downs – and liked it immediately that the agent admitted it was his own home. The couple bought it.


Pressured by the impending arrival of a new baby, due in just three months’ time, Orlando managed to create new bathrooms as well as a new kitchen and dining space. ‘I really like the kitchen,’ he says. ‘It’s a good space to be in, although I don’t like the floor. But in the three weeks it took to build the kitchen, there was no time to replace the floor.’ His timing proved to be excellent – only days after its completion, baby Phoebe arrived. And two years after that, in July 2022, her brother Rafferty was born.


The cottage is the very essence of cosy and inviting, and is an ideal place in which to spend Christmas. The sitting room is dominated by an enormous sofa, big enough to allow the entire family to sit together by the fire. Even the presence of armchairs and consoles leaves room for the tree, which was transported on the roof of Orlando’s old Land Rover. Both he and Charlie are adept at creating Christmas decorations from things collected on their daily walks with their working cocker spaniel, Bailey, so they can drape garlands of holly, berries and ivy over the fireplaces and pictures, and hang ebullient wreaths on the doors.


Orlando splits his time between Marlborough and London, going wherever he is needed. The company’s Pimlico base is an enviable place to be. Robert Kime was a master story teller – the best of his kind. But the company has always been very much a team affair. Robert and Orlando worked very closely with Claire Jackson, who is director of Robert Kime Design and head of projects, and Christopher Payne, head of antiques. ‘Robert was good at bringing people together,’ Christopher says. ‘The business is essentially people-based. Our clients become friends as well as being customers.’ It is the kind of place where everyone mucks in to create the finished product, which is one of the reasons why they do not take on more than a few selected projects at a time.


Over the last year, projects that had originated with Robert have been transferring seamlessly to be overseen by Orlando. Ringing in his ears will no doubt be any number of words of wisdom – usually very simple – imparted by Robert over the years: ‘It is all about balance: a beautiful rug and a not-so-distinguished table can add character to an interior. Don’t complicate a room for the sake of it. It should never look clever, but always at ease with itself’.


Robert Kime:


No comments: