Mid-Century Chest of Drawers by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for Widdicomb
Photo © Castle Antiques & Design
Biomorphic Coffee Table by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for Widdicomb, 1950s
Photo © Mid Century Modern Finds
Vintage Side Table by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings for Widdicomb
Photo © FRANK LANDAU
Photo © FRANK LANDAU
British-born architect, author, interior decorator, and furniture designer Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings was born in London in 1905. He studied architecture at London University, before relocating, in 1936, to New York, where he instructed an American cabinetmaker to construct work based on his sketches of classical Greek furniture—sketches creatively sourced from the British Museum’s ancient vase paintings and bronzes. Grecian design would remain a salient throughline of his work’s style, which undoubtedly was a brand of modern historicism, blending classical elements (e.g., rich woods) with 1930s Art Deco forms to create sculptural, sparse, and elegant furnishings.
After launching a Madison Avenue storefront in the late 1930s, to sell antiques alongside modern furniture, Robsjohn-Gibbings proceeded to design interiors across the nation for a venerable cast of icons: tobacco heiress Doris Duke, and cosmetic and fashion legends Elizabeth Arden and Lily Daché, among others. In 1944, he established himself as a public tastemaker with his book Good-bye, Mr. Chippendale, which outlined, for one, his opposition to what he deemed the lifeless utilitarianism of modernists like Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. Robsjohn-Gibbings thus designed, in the 1940s and 1950s and for manufacturer Widdicomb, for whom he was the chief designer, working entirely in contrast to the Bauhaus’s stern aesthetic. A few such examples include: his Gibby Lounge Chair (1946), whose clean and comfortable design translated the neat plainless of traditional American forms into modernist idiom; and his tiered, biomorphic Mesa Coffee Table (1951), which, with its voluptuous abstract-organic shape, merged design with art, and is now considered a classic.
In the early 1960s, Robsjohn-Gibbings returned to his classical beginnings, joining forces with the Athens-based Saridis to bring ancient Greek furniture to the mainstream of contemporary design. Using local walnut, leather, and bronze fittings in accord with the methods used by early Greek artisans, he produced, over a fifteen-year collaboration, a number of such replications in Klismos, a range of curve-legged chairs, chaise lounges, and tables pared down to their essential forms.
He moved permanently to Greece in 1966, where he designed interiors for famous Athenians such as Aristotle Onassis. In the 1970s he began writing a series of guest columns for Architectural Digest, which he continued until his passing in 1976.