Inside Donald Robertson’s Whimsical New York Home
From the outside, the Larchmont home Donald Robertson shares with his wife, decorator Kim Gieske, five kids and two energetic dogs is the picture of suburban life. But open the front door, and the Toronto native’s whimsical style is evident throughout the house: trad furniture silhouettes and luxe materials are livened up with bright color, vintage finds and eye-catching art, most of it his own.
Donald is creative director at Estée Lauder (he oversees special projects for brands like Smashbox and Bobbi Brown) as well as an artist-turned-social media sensation with over 188,000 followers on Instagram, including a devoted group of celebrities and style setters. See inside his 5,000-square-foot Dutch colonial home, which dates back to the early 1900s, and deftly straddles the line between grown-up and kid-friendly decorating.
Crisp white clapboard, black shutters and a symmetrical façade give Donald and Kim’s century-old Dutch colonial a classic feel, while concrete planters and unfussy landscaping are contemporary touches.
A big family demands big furniture. “This sofa is gigantic — it’s like a boat in the middle of the room — so it’s perfect for us because we can pile everybody on,” says Donald. He found it on a New York showroom floor, stripped of all the cushions and marked down to sell. “Nobody’s apartment in the city is big enough for a sofa this size, so we had it shipped to suburbia,” he says. The couple added a selection of pillows and a fur throw to dress it up — and protect it from the family pets. “Believe it or not, fur really can’t be stained. Our muddy dogs have jumped on here and still haven’t wrecked it,” he says.
One of Donald’s paintings creates a point of interest in the grasscloth-wrapped living room.
A piece by Ann Carrington, one of Donald and Kim’s favorite artists, has pride of place above his grandparents’ old dining table. Donald had the table shipped down from Toronto, removed the leaves and painted it white to fit in with the rest of the decor.
Donald and Kim’s son Teddy hangs out at the kitchen island with his friend, Aubrey. It was important to have a big, bright space where the kids could congregate, says Donald. To that end, their renovation included creating a nook for the stove to maximize usable floor space. It’s tough to get a family of seven sitting down to dinner simultaneously, but when they manage it, there’s plenty of room at the expandable Parsons table, purchased for $10 at a yard sale.
In the light and airy dining room, an oversized wooden table allows Donald, Kim and their five kids to dine comfortably, with room for guests. “It’s a very practical table, but honestly we bought it because it’s called Larchmont and we live in Larchmont,” Donald quips. He fashioned the hall “wallpaper” from gaffer’s tape — a favorite creative tool right now.
The sunroom lives up to its name: it’s bright and cheery with lots of cozy seating suitable for lounging. Layers of chintz give the room a formal and feminine feel, while pretty striped armchairs are a charming infusion of shabby chic style. Apple green wallpaper and an edgy leopard rug add a one-two punch of glamor.
Artist Donald Robertson with his son Henry — or Charlie. “I can’t remember which twin I’m holding, but they’re identical so what difference does it make?” he jokes.
The family’s younger members play video games and ping-pong in the spacious basement, which also functions as Donald’s art studio. He works at the turned-leg table virtually every morning, often beginning as early as 4 a.m., before shuttling in to his office in Midtown Manhattan. His morning creations usually end up on Instagram before he’s even left the house.
A towering stack of faux Louis Vuitton luggage displayed on a garden urn is part of an ongoing meditation on the value of garbage. Each piece is a box, bottle or bag picked from the family’s recycling bin and hand-painted with the signature LV print. “It’s been interesting because it really makes you focus on how much you’re actually throwing out every day,” says Donald. In the ultimate transformation of trash into treasure, this installation was included in a window display at department store Bergdorf Goodman in New York earlier this summer.
The artwork in the basement is in constant rotation, depending on what Donald is working on. Here, it’s stripes of red gaffer’s tape on a plastic painter’s dropcloth, a chair covered in hot pink gaffer’s tape and a framed paint palette — the frame is made of recycled boxes and gold glitter glue. “It’s accidental art, and I like these better than the paintings sometimes,” says Donald.