Interview: Robert Storey

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We speak with the London based set designer about trying to balance life, early beginnings and moving to New York.

Robert Storey is casually perched with one leg on his chair apologising for the noise. "Can you hear me? There’s like twenty people in here" He tells me over Skype as I rudely dart away from the laptop to stir my pasta. I must admit it is deafeningly loud, but that is to be expected. The London based set designer has seen a rapidly rising career trajectory over the past few years. Having worked with an ever expanding list of fashions most exciting clients such as Kenzo, Christopher Kane, Louis Vuitton and collaborating with photographers such as Alasdair McLellan, Tyrone Lebon and Daniel Sannwald we thought it was only fitting that we sat down and had a conversation with the man himself. Please say hello to the charming Mr. Robert Storey. 

Interview: Robert Storey - Photo 1 of 5 -

Hi Robert, how’s your day been?

Well it’s only just started.

Do you have much planned?

Yeah, we’re working on a few projects for Mary Katrantzou actually, they're keeping us busy. How was your day?

Yeah good, I finished early and now I’m just cooking some dinner.

Some pasta…

I’ve gotta keep an eye on it while I talk.

Feel free to jump up at any stage.

Thanks.

Hows Melbourne?

Yeah good, the weather keeps switching from super hot to raining.

It’s weird. Kind of European in a way.

How did the shoot with Scandebergs go?

It was good. Really straight forward, they just came and took some photos. It was really lo-fi, in a nice way.

Do you like having your photo taken?

I wouldn't say I like it but I’m fine with it.

Interview: Robert Storey - Photo 2 of 5 -

"I think you learn by soaking up a lot of information without realising it."

Is the show with Quentin Jones going well? What’s the reception been like?

It’s been so good actually. I thought it'd be good but it was better than I imagined. We've had loads of really good press and my Instagram is going crazy, people are tweeting and spamming it constantly.

How did the collaboration come about?

I’ve been working with Quentin for quite a while actually, about four years. She was in conversation with The Vinyl Factory ready to do some kind of show. The space they offered her was this really incredible, massive car park. As soon as she saw it she knew she’d need someone to help fill it for her. It was an obvious collaboration for us.

So, you stepped out on your own quite early on. Do you feel like you’ve achieved what you set out to do back then?

I don’t really know what I set out to do back then. I do think that starting really young was definitely a blessing and a curse because I had to learn the hard way with everything that I did, rather than learn from someone else's mistakes or learn on someone else's time and money. I think I’ve got to a place that I’m excited to be at but there’s a lot more I want to do. The studio is growing constantly, we’re doing a lot of interesting projects and moving into interior architectural design and product design. I actually think the ultimate goal of the studio is to make sculpture and art, going back around 360 degrees to what I started with. It’s slowly happening.

Did you have any guidance or mentors early on?

I developed my own way of working quite early but I think to some degree I was influenced by certain people. I assisted Shona Heath who's a set designer in the UK, Piers Hanmer in New York and Tony Hornecker. Tony was somebody that really embraced using his hands, he showed me that you can actually do a lot of stuff yourself, you just have to have a go. My dad’s really creative and hands-on too so I was always around him making furniture. I think art school was a good experience also, you go in the direction you want and figure out what works well and what doesn't.

Interview: Robert Storey - Photo 3 of 5 -

"My mind was open, I met so many people and explored everything."

So Central Saint Martins was a nurturing place for you?

I don’t think the education at Saint Martins was nurturing at all, it was actually very self motivated and self directed. My peers and the other people in my studio were nurturing, we all worked together every day and we’d sit and talk about everything. You’re being fed all these ideas and I think you learn by soaking up a lot of information without realising it.

You’ve mentioned previously that your design approach relates to balance, in your personal life how do you achieve balance?

(Laughs) That’s something I strive for every day. One of the hardest things about owning your own company, being creative and being quite young is learning to deal with things like time, money, resources, and balancing them all. Making sure you have enough money to pay people and pay yourself so you don’t have to spend all of your time at the studio working; killing yourself to do a project and having it feed into your personal life. I want to spend time with my boyfriend and see my friends on the weekend so as a studio rule we generally don’t work on the weekends. I feel it’s important for both the people who work for me and myself. Achieving balance is one of the hardest things to do and I think that’s what life is about, for everybody, no matter what you do. I’m lucky that I love my work and even if the balance sometimes tips onto the work side, I’m still enjoying it.

You grew up in West Berkshire, what was that like?

Quiet. There’s really not much going on and it’s not a particularly nurturing place for the arts. It’s very beautiful and there’s a lot of outdoor activities. My family are very sporty and I had a really great upbringing. I was outside all the time playing sports, but creatively I was a bit stunted. I think with any kind of provincial town there’s a relative amount of closed-mindedness but it was good in a way because it made me excited to really explore myself and the big city to see what else was out in the world.

After studying at Saint Martins you moved to Brooklyn, what prompted that decision and how was the experience?

Going to New York was incredible actually. It was a very whimsical decision. I met a few friends who were doing an exchange from Pratt to Saint Martins and had a really creative term with them in London. I’d been in London at that point for four years and I was going to go to NYC for one month, I ended up staying for nine. It was awesome! I met amazing people and I that’s when I got into set design. My mind was open, I met so many people and explored everything.

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You're dividing you're time between London and NYC now, how does that dynamic work for you?

Predominantly I’m based in London, my studios here and my boyfriend lives in London so when I’m in New York I work a little more remotely. The projects I do are generally much larger because I tend to only go if it’s really worth it financially or creatively. I find London is a bit more creative than NYC when it comes to editorial or personal projects. I got my visa last year so now I can be there as much as I want over the next three years. My manager in New York wants me to go over for three months next year and spend a proper period of time there, which I’m willing to do. I let things happen really organically, I don’t really plan anything. Things come to me and then I embrace them.. It’s hard for my boyfriend thought because he doesn't have a visa and he’s definitely keen to go to America. It’s all working out at the moment though, back and forth.

What does he do?

He’s a web designer from Cyprus and has been in London for five years. He’s actually itching to move, he wants to go and get some sunshine, I think he’s more interested in LA though.

What kind of people do you like to surround yourself with?

I like people who have a lot to say. Generally intelligent people, not necessarily book smart but people who are engaged in their surroundings and are really open minded. Open to experiencing any type of culture, people or food. A lot of my friends are foreign actually.

Why do you think that is?

I travel all the time and always want to meet new people, hear new ideas and discover new ways of doing things or seeing things. I’d never met anyone from Cyprus before I met my boyfriend and now I feel like it’s part of me. I’ve discovered a whole new way of eating, living, painting, everything… From what time you have your dinner to how you tell someone you love them.

Embrace and experience everything the world has to offer..

Of course... Otherwise what’s the point of being here.

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This story was originally published as part of our ongoing interview series exploring the work and lives of inspiring creatives.

Photography: Studio Scandebergs
Words: Nick Smith