Lee W. Robinson

Lee W. Robinson is more than an interior designer.

Lee W. Robinson Co., with offices in Louisville, New York, Palm Beach and Southampton, is aspirational lifestyle brand. The Louisville version, if you would, of Mario Buatta or Bunny Williams.

Lee W. Robinson the Brand conjures images of elegant Christmas parties in front of the fire; Derby balls; summery white linen cocktail events overlooking the sound; autumn hunt meets full of leather and suede, flannel and bourbon.

Clients could always buy into the designer’s lifestyle. Now, young designers will have a portal into the Lee Robinson, the actual person.

That portal is called, not accidentally, The Lee W. Robinson Interior Design and Lifestyle Academy.

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Beginning in September, the inaugural class of Robinson’s post-graduate tutorial will launch an eight-week adventure into a world of aspiration.

They’ll learn the basics of interior design, of course, a world of color, patterns, fabrics, materials and furniture.

But they’ll also learn some of the intangibles, about style, etiquette and gracious living. And, by the way, they’ll learn how to run a design business, too, how to sell their services, set fees, manage costs and market themselves.

Robinson himself will guide them through tours of the work he’s done, talking about how he first derives his clients’ tastes, lifestyles and aspirations through interviews and conversation. There will be tours of clients’ homes, local historic residential sites and specialized industry trade facilities.

There will also be surprise guest lecturers. And, perhaps most enticing for aspiring designers, there will be a three-day field trip to New York, a behind-the-scenes look at design and fashion in the country’s largest cultural playground. Robinson said this trip might include such things as tours of and visits to Christian Siriano’s fashion studio, the exclusive Prince Dimitri jewelry boutique, a Charlotte Moss designer showhouse, the Decoration & Design (D&D) Building on Third Avenue, plus tours of Fifth Avenue apartments and elegant dinners.

And all the while will be special insights into theories and histories of elegance, design and style from Robinson himself.

“We’ll discuss the development of the American style, from the days of Edith Wharton to those of Elsie de Wolfe, to the more contemporary but timeless style icons like Babe Paley and Slim Keith,” Robinson told me. “How has our culture evolved? How can you understand how these people lived? And, more functionally, how do you maintain silver, set a table, serve the right wine, pair it with the right food?”

Can you teach design ability, style and taste?

“I was taught years ago by my mentor, Sarah McNeal Few, that all things work as long as they’re things of quality,” he said. “You can buy a gorgeous sofa at Restoration Hardware. But I’ll show the students original sofas from Charles of London, how sofas evolved, how they’re made, what design, style and quality really represent.”

Taste may be subjective, he said, but it’s based on things that are tried, true and tested.

The first flight begins September 16 and is mostly (though not entirely) filled already. “We’re capping it at 12 students, to optimize one-on-one personal contact,” Robinson said. And not everyone need apply.

“We’ll be vetting these applicants, to make sure there’s the passion,” he said. “I don’t want somebody who’s just dodging the real-work world and daddy can write a check.”

As planned, the program schedule will begin again, in 2014, on January 6, March 3 and May 19.

Tuition is $8,000 for the eight weeks, including transportation to off-site learning locations and lunch during all weekday sessions. An additional $300 will be assessed to cover studio materials.

Robinson is expecting that participation will grow to include applicants from all over the country as the course’s reputation increases, and he’ll arrange lodging for out-of-town participants, though those students will be responsible for their room and meals.

The optional New York trip will also cost each student air fare, meals and overnight accommodations.

The very best of the graduates will be offered an internship at the Lee W. Robinson Co. Others, who Robinson feels are qualified, will be given an opportunity to purchase rights to a Lee W. Robinson Co. franchise, where they’ll be able to tap into his established business plan and brand recognition, and continue to be mentored by him.

Those interested in going forward on their own will have an opportunity to join the Lee W. Robinson Co. Designer’s Club, giving them access to the company’s flooring, lighting, fabrics and wallcovering resources and its proprietary lines of lifestyle offerings.

For more information, call The Lee W. Robinson Co. at 502-895-1401.

About Lee W. Robinson Co.: Lee W. Robinson Co. is a Louisville-based design, renovation and construction firm. The firm has done projects in Louisville and across the United States including the 2012 Hampton Designer Show House. Its offices are at 211 Clover Lane in St. Matthews.

Steve Kaufman
Steve Kaufman has been writing professionally since the Johnson administration (Lyndon, not Andrew) on all manner of subjects, from sports to city hall to sales and marketing to running a medical practice to designing stores. His journey has taken him from Chicago to Buffalo to New York to Atlanta to Cincinnati, before landing, finally, in Louisville.