Robbie Calvo 2008 #5

There is simply no mistaking the work of Robbie Calvo. If you’ve been to the grand villas and castles of Europe, you will recognize the sensibility and ambience of his style immediately. Chandeliers, rich, opulent draperies, stenciled patterns on walls and ceilings, and warm copper and bronze recreate a grander, richer time. With Robbie, you have an award-winning artisan, skilled in traditional methods practiced for centuries in Europe’s most distinctive homes. Gilding using real metals, frescos using plaster and time-tested pigments, copper that is hammered and riveted, floors that are hand stressed, and incredible marbling work that somehow not only reflects the real thing but takes it one step further into the realm of art.

If you are commissioning Robbie as a designer, then you are asking for a decorative experience that transports you to another time and place. His design concepts work wonderfully in traditionally sized homes, but his ideas are fully formed on a grander scale. That is when the scope of the work can truly transcend a room to other continents and centuries.

Let’s take a recent project: a completely gutted modern bathroom is transformed into an elegant sixteenth-century Italian bathroom with hand-painted vanities, copper sinks, beautiful painted frescos on the walls, tumbled-stone floors, a tub surrounded by draperies, and a walk-in Euro shower with a harlequin-patterned tile. In another project, a foyer with a vaulted and domed ceiling is painted with copper tones and a custom-designed, intricate fleur-de-lis, and a plaster treatment with intricate marbling decorates the walls.

I asked Robbie the process for transforming a room into an exceptional space. “Most of the time the architecture inspires me—a domed ceiling or a Georgian window or a mantelpiece—something in the room will dictate how you are going to approach a design. Sometimes the client will have, say, a beautiful antique rug with a medallion in the design, and you incorporate the medallion or scrollwork and the color scheme into the room. You also work to bring out the house to match the personality of the client.

“My art is an old-world art, and I think in an old-world way like the artisans of times past. Growing up in England I was fascinated by heraldry and the majesty of royalty. I was surrounded by incredible architecture, and it just became a part of who I am. I had a three-year apprenticeship and college for decorative painting, which included gilding, sign writing, wood graining, marbling, painting, mural work, all of the old-world arts of decorative painting. When I came to the states, I came to realize that the knowledge that I’d gained and the experience or background that I had set me aside from the other people here who were doing similar things. So instead of faux finishing, I prefer to be called a decorative painter. I’m replicating the real thing, and that’s the difference. It’s truly an art, an old-world art.”

Robbie explains that every element of the process takes dedication. He hand mixes plaster, adding in color in stages, and applies it by hand to add texture. Once the plaster is finished, multiple layers of molding are added, each with different colors or finishes. Perhaps wallpaper is added that is itself painted. Stencils are added in intricate patterns. Wood is stained and sanded to a fine finish. And above all, the composition of the room is enhanced through the right furnishings and decorative touches. A typical project could take six weeks, or three months of daily labor, depending on its scale.

It’s not always necessary to spend a fortune to make a room opulent, but it does take time and effort. Robbie believes the clients who are happiest with their redesigned houses are those who are able to express honestly what they want, are open to exploring what will really work for a room, and are willing to commit to the vision of a designer. With Robbie, there is no compromising the quality of the work. It is meant to give the clients what their hearts honestly desire.

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