Designer Robin Standefer, Making Her Art-Fair Debut at Frieze Masters, Believes in Curiosity and the Wisdom of the Past
We asked the co-founder of the architecture and design studio Roman and Williams about the things she values most—in art and in life.
So much of the art world orbits around questions of value, not only in terms of appraisals and price tags, but also: What is worthy of your time in These Times, as well as your energy, your attention, and yes, your hard-earned cash?
What is the math that you do to determine something’s meaning and worth? What moves you? What enriches your life? In this new series, we’re asking individuals from the art world and beyond about the valuations that they make at a personal level.
Robin Standefer believes in the value of a curious mind, whether looking at art or simply walking through a garden. Standefer is best known as a co-founder of Roman and Williams, an architecture and design firm she formed with her husband Stephen Alesch. Over the years, the design duo has created some of New York’s most-talked-about spaces including the Boom Boom Room at the Standard Hotel and the Tin Building—a sprawling food hall from acclaimed chef Jean-Georges which opened at the South Street Seaport in 2022, along with sought-after restaurants Le Coucou and La Mercerie.
Standefer is also a passionate art lover, with a particular passion for ceramics. The couple’s design firm was behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new British Galleries, which were unveiled to widespread acclaim in 2020. (Roman and Williams are also designing David Zwirner’s Montauk home.) In 2021, Standefer and Alesch took a leap into the art world all their own, opening Guild Gallery—just a few doors down from their design store RW Guild—where they nurture a roster of artisans.
This week, Guild Gallery is making its art fair debut at Frieze Masters with a thoughtful presentation of studio pottery in the Stand Out section of the fair. Roman and Williams worked with the fair to create a unique design strategy for the booths included in Stand Out, as the section celebrates galleries embracing the untraditional—from furniture and ceramics to armor and tapestries. (Stand Out is curated by Luke Syson, the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, who has also curated an exhibition of studio pottery at Guild Gallery in New York, opening November 2).
When she isn’t jetting around the world, Standefer heads to the couple’s second home in Montauk, where she enjoys hosting outdoor dinner parties around her prized oak slab table and working in her garden where she finds inspirations for her designs.
Ahead of Frieze Masters, we caught up with the sought-after designer to find out what she values most in art and life—and why.
What is the last thing that you splurged on?
A pair of vintage black jade Calla earrings by Elsa Peretti. Growing up in New York in the 70s, Elsa Peretti was a style icon and someone I always loved—someone who lived the epitome of a creative life and whose sculptural creations defied standard definitions of art or fashion.
What is something that you’re saving up for?
A 13-foot, kiln-dried oak slab. These slabs, similar to the kind that George Nakashima used for his furniture, are the soul of the tree. We have a slab that we use as an outdoor dining table at our home in Montauk, and I want another to expand our dinner parties!
What would you buy if you found $100?
A pile of oysters and a pair of martinis with Stephen [Alesch, Robin’s husband and partner in Roman and Williams] at Le Coucou.
What makes you feel like a million bucks?
When someone tells me that they’ve made incredible memories in a space that we created, whether that’s the Boom Boom Room or the British Galleries at the Met. It’s especially meaningful when a guest comes up to me at La Mercerie in The Guild, since that’s a space that’s fully ours.
What do you think is your greatest asset?
What do you most value in a work of art?
Sincerity—when I look at a work of art and I can sense truth from the artist’s hand, whether that’s the spontaneity of a Turner or the carefully worked surface of a Vermeer or a modernist like Georgia O’Keeffe. It might also be why I love ceramics so much because you can feel the alignment of the artist’s hand and the spirit.
Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention?
Ludmilla Balkis, a French ceramist who was formerly a designer at Céline under Phoebe Philo, and who now creates these undulating, poetic vessels with thin walls of clay that seemingly capture moments frozen in time. We presented her first U.S. solo exhibition at Guild Gallery earlier this year.
Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet gotten their due?
Syotatsu, a Japanese artist who makes paintings and sculptures using a distinctive technique, mixing local soil from the Japanese countryside into his paint before application. They’re incredibly tactile and beautiful. His first U.S. exhibition is on view at Guild Gallery through October 21.
What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world?
Cynicism, or the idea that beauty is a four-letter word.
What is your most treasured possession?
My garden. It’s a source of inspiration with the original designs of lighting and furniture that Stephen and I create, it’s my laboratory, and it’s also my respite, where I can recharge after traveling constantly for projects around the globe.
What’s been your best investment?
Our Montauk property—not only is it worth more than we paid for it when we scraped together pennies to have a little haven outside of the city, but now many of our clients who are also friends are around us. For instance, it precipitated us building a compound for David Zwirner right down the road—he saw our house and wanted to capture the artistic spirit.
What is something small that means the world to you?
My creative family means the world to me—it’s an intimate group of people who are treasured friends and collaborators. Rising together, and knowing you’ve made a difference in lifting up one another, is incredibly gratifying.
What’s not worth the hype?
The flattened aesthetic of influencer culture.
What do you believe is a worthy cause?
I want to continue to champion the techniques and the expertise of previous generations, as practiced by people who are continuing to work at that level in a modern context.
What do you aspire to?
To always be curious. I hope to never think I know too much or to give up a devotion to intellectual questioning.
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