Designer Spotlight: An Interview with Jeffrey Bilhuber - John Robshaw Textiles
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11.18.2020 / Designer Spotlight

Designer Spotlight: An Interview with Jeffrey Bilhuber

I have had the pleasure of breaking bread with Jeffrey, and find him as engaging in person as his interiors are in print. Luckily when I landed at John Rosselli’s showrooms in NYC, Jeffrey was one of their big clients, and he immediately grabbed handfuls of swatches and used my fabrics in many projects around the country. I am so happy we could grab him for this interview as a small thank you from us for his support.

Jeffrey and his son Christoph in their Long Island home. Photo by Kenny Wassus for The Cut.

How did you get started in your field?

Starting was easy, keeping it going was the laborious part. I always knew I was creative. I entered into the interior design business sort of through the side door. 

It was about what things looked like and how you back them up. That’s the hospitality industry, I worked within that for about 4 years and then made a run for it, without any training or background or internship or internship and decided that interior decorating was actually a legitimate business for me and that there was a profit to be made if I applied myself. I could see that beautiful things could actually generate happy clients, and I guess with a certain amount of brazen confidence I simply hung out a shingle and called myself a decorator.

Back then I didn’t need to sell more than a couple pillows or a lampshade to make the rent. The first couple of years were very tough, and I eeked out a living. I’d like to believe that I brought out a unique language to our industry that has helped people see me as an original voice, and that I wasn’t diluting somebody else’s message.

Jenny and Trey Laird's NYC Townhouse. Photo by William Wadron.


Who have some of your inspirations been along the way?

Well I can tell you the first inspiration within our industry was Mark Hampton, who at that point was in the zenith of his career, considered America’s most esteemed and enlighten decorator. He was working on the redecoration of the rooms of the Carlyle Hotel on 75th and Madison and I was working there as a night housekeeper, and I got to watch how he’d work on a room sequentially, meaning you saw the painters go in, the wallpaper people the next day, the carpet gets spread after that, then the curtains go up, and the furniture arrived on the final day, and then a room went back into order, and it generated revenue. That’s really when I understood that there was a business to it, there was a process to it. Mark Hampton is really who I revere most because it’s where I technically learned through observation. Not necessarily influence in terms of style, but the business of what we do. It reassured me that there were good foundations and rewards for doing a job well and applying yourself.

A cottage in the Hamptons, featuring pillows made from the John Robshaw Fabric Collection. Photo by William Abranowicz.

Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on?

I do and I’m not going to tell you. I’m going to take the straight and narrow and say all of my projects are my favorite. I’m so happy I can find clients that let me do what I’m supposed to do. I pride myself on being able to listen to them and build something which answers to their needs, not necessarily mine. I’m a good guide and I’m open to new ideas and finding new resources; I don’t limit myself in terms of clients, what I want is to find people who tell me to spread my wings and do the best I can. Every project represents that. The projects of which I am proudest are the ones that give me new knowledge, and new resources, and that’s how I came upon John.

There was a period not that long ago in which John’s products were inescapable in their newness and freshness and their personality, and I believe that that still holds true. One still gets invigorated when they see his products.

I’m unbiased where I sample from and John’s products and fabrics have showed up in many of my projects. I was just at John Rosselli Thursday to see my own collection, and John is usually my second to look at, and I saw his tone on tone neutrals, and they’re great.

The living room of a lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The couch and a set of chairs are upholstered in John Robshaw Fabrics. Photo by Douglas Friedman for Elle Decor.

What's something very few people know about you?
I think they know everything about me at this point, I’m an open book right now. Despite my esteemed reputation there’s still another 50 years left in me, so fasten your seatbelts.

I’m deeply devoted to what I do, and while I dedicate my time with my family, I am a firm believer that beauty and business can live happily together. It is worth noting, and it’s very true now, that this is a hard industry. It’s a profession, it’s not a hobby.

Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?
Take it very very seriously. Take your business seriously, take your clients seriously, listen to your voice, and bring something new to every project that you enter. What clients really want from us is to be brought to another place that they couldn’t possibly go without you.

Jenny and Trey Laird's NYC Townhouse. Photo by William Wadron.

Do you have a favorite musician, book, and/or artist that’s been inspiring you?

We recently completed a project in Marfa, Texas, so I’ve been reinvigorated lately by the purity of the work of Donald Judd. His message is unique and individual, and it’s not what I align myself with in terms of aesthetic, but it’s very powerful. I’m reminded of what singular voices can bring to the world around us and it’s given me more confidence to stand strong in my perspective. 

I was thinking the same thing about Rothko recently - many people see my as a colorist, a confident one, and the color field paintings of Rothko’s continue to allow me to go deeper into what I do and explore new color combinations and patterns. Regardless of whether you’re a minimalist or maximalist, it will inform you.

A cottage in the Hamptons, featuring pillows made from the John Robshaw Fabric Collection. Photo by William Abranowicz.

What's your favorite place to travel when things reopen?

Honestly my favorite place to travel right now is from my place to Target, which is directly across the street. I’m not kidding!

When we open back up again I’m determined to go to Portugal. I know so many people who have in the last 5 years, and it seems like it’s on a lot of people’s radar. There’s a purity and simplicity to the Portuguese coast, and it sounds to me as though there’s a lot of people that want to live or vacation there because there’s an undiluted allure.

I’ve never been to Scotland but I know I will be happy there, so that’s high on my list.

I’m thinking of places that I want to go to, and not places I’ve been. I think we should look forward, not to revisit the comfort of the familiar.

Jenny and Trey Laird's NYC Townhouse. Photo by William Wadron.


Do you have a favorite John Robshaw Textiles product?

We love John’s fabrics. The newest collection is so beautiful & filled with neutral and indigo patterns that would work in almost any kind of room.

Shop the John Robshaw Fabric Collection