When it comes to classic, timeless interior design, no one does it better than Lee W. Robinson, founder of the Lee W. Robinson Company. While his portfolio also includes contemporary interiors, Lee’s signature style exemplifies Southern tradition and English pedigree. Based in Louisville, Kentucky with an office in Palm Beach, Florida, Lee is now also available via e-design (details here). This service is perfect for interior design enthusiasts without professional experience who need a little guidance to get started along with access to products only available to the trade. Additional information about an exciting e-design give away is at the bottom of today’s feature!
Known for his ability to sketch a full rendering of a room within minutes, Lee works closely with his clients to create homes that reflect their individual style. Lee specializes in creating three different lifestyle options, which he named after his sons: the Owsley, the McDowell, and the Thruston. The Owsley Lifestyle is inspired by the grandeur of Park Avenue. It is sophisticated, opulent, and eclectic. The McDowell Lifestyle is reminiscent of the sophistication of the English countryside. It is a traditional lifestyle that exudes warmth and elegance. And the Thruston Lifestyle is modern and hip “Soho Chic,” characteristic of Downtown New York City. Lee’s most requested style is an Owsley/McDowell mix, and it is also the style in which he designed his sixth-generation family home. Today we are taking a tour complete with exclusive before & after pictures!
The Robinson’s family home, Malvern House, was designed by famed architect Ogden Codman Jr. In 1897 Codman and Edith Wharton co-wrote The Decoration of Houses which is known to this day as one of the most important decorating books ever written, commonly referred to as the Bible of interior decoration. All of these principles were incorporated into the design of Malvern.
The roots of Malvern House date back to the 1890s when George Gaulbert, the great-great-grandfather of Lee’s wife Babs Rodes Robinson, purchased the land. It totaled three square miles at the time. Gaulbert was the founder of the Peaslee-Gaulbert Corporation, inventor of ready-mix paint and one of the largest paint, chemical, and wholesale hardware manufacturers in the country (which has now morphed into Celanese). However it was Mr. and Mrs. Gaulbert’s only child, Carrie Gaulbert Cox, and her husband Attilla Cox, Jr. who were responsible for building Malvern House. Cox’s father, Attilla Sr., was the founder of Columbia Fidelity Bank (now PNC). He was business partners in banking and railroads with J.P. Morgan and August Belmont of New York. It was these ties to New York and Newport that encouraged them to hire Codman to design the house and Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture and co-designer of Central Park, to design the landscaping.
There is a fateful story involving the Cox family. In 1911, Carrie and Attilla Cox travelled to Europe by ship with their daughter Harriet Cox. There she contracted scarlet fever and was so severely ill the family had to cancel their return trip back to the United States. That return trip was scheduled for April 1912 on the Titanic. The entire family lineage could have ended had Harriet not been too sick to travel.
Codman completed his design of the house in 1914, but it was not finished until 1922. Harriett and her husband, John Collis, raised their daughters at Malvern including Babs’s mother, Barbara Collis. In the 1960s Harriett reduced the size of the home significantly, removing 8,000 square feet, including the entire third floor which had a party room that mimicked the family’s Canadian hunting lodge. She lived at Malvern House until her death in 1992. The home was then sold outside the family to the former Kentucky governor’s wife.
In 2007 Babs and Lee purchased the home, which had become vacant and neglected. Lee spent two years bringing the estate back to life, incorporating furniture and treasures that had been in the family for generations. Using original Olmsted blueprints, in 2011 they began to restore Malvern’s 15 acres of grounds and gardens. Once the overgrowth was cut back, long-buried brick walkways were unearthed and the skeleton of the Olmsted plan emerged and was brought back to life, including a 1614 well-head.
A dramatic marble staircase spanning 45 feet in length greets guests to Malvern House. The original limestone block walls were inspired by the grand country homes of England.
Lee transformed a screened-in porch into the music room which was inspired by the party pavilions of the 1920s. Hand painted Chinoiserie wallpaper from Stark, a sparkling crystal chandelier, and classic black and white marble floors create an ambiance of elegance and glamour.
The drawing room displays priceless art by Pablo Picasso, Mary Cassatt, Anthony van Dyck, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Rubens and more. Original built-in bookcases and paneling are used to showcase heirloom family porcelain.
Codman designed two separate powder rooms on the first floor – one for for ladies and one for gentlemen. The ladies’ powder room includes a sit-down vanity, mirrored panels, chandelier, Chinoiserie silver leaf wallpaper, and onyx floors.
The gentlemen’s bathroom features malachite wallpaper and black marble floors.
Much of the furniture used in the dining room has been in the family for generations. Lee upholstered the paneled walls with silk Shantung fabric and added damask curtains and a chandelier. Instead of traditional sideboards, he brilliantly incorporated two antique dining tables that can be used to accommodate extra guests. The room features an original Robert Adam mantel and seats 36.
The original kitchen was a small, utilitarian room only used by servants. Lee turned it into a butler’s pantry and utility room. He then added a modern kitchen, complete with two center islands and a breakfast nook, where the former butler’s pantry, silver vault, and porcelain room were located.
The morning room comes from an old English estate that was dissembled and moved piece by piece into Malvern House. Today it not only showcases art and collectibles that have been in the family for generations, but it also serves as the television room (which is hidden in an antique armoire).
Malvern’s windows incorporate stained glass from the 1500s.
Before and After Pictures Below!
Malvern House is a historically important American treasure, and Lee and Babs are dedicated to the continued preservation of their family’s legacy and ancestral home. To learn more about Lee Robinson click here, and you won’t want to miss this fabulous video tour of Malvern with Lee. You can see some of my favorite highlights from Lee’s portfolio here, and for ongoing inspiration and information, please follow @leerobinsoncompany on Instagram.
And last but not least… To kick off his new e-design services, Lee is giving away one free consultation! Please click here for further details and to enter the giveaway. Lee will announce the winner on September 17.