|Robert Passal ditched the idea of becoming a news anchor because he didn’t want to spend fifteen years in the boondocks at some tiny local TV station. After burning out working in the restaurant business, he wrote himself a bogus resumé, something he cheerfully admits to, and worked his way into becoming the successful interior designer he is today. This interview is really interesting when it gets to the bit about one section of Robert’s clientele, which is professional athletes, including A-Rod and his (surprising?) taste in interiors.
I was reading your website and there was something that struck me because you stress ‘…the importance of living with good design and a comforting atmosphere.’ And I was struck by this word ‘comforting’ as opposed to ‘comfortable’. Was that a deliberate choice?
We did choose ‘comforting’. When we do interiors, we try to invoke the feeling of evolution, so it’s just not like we dropped in a bunch of furniture from the D&D, and you know, let’s call it a weekend. We really shop for each piece individually and we do really in depth interviews with the clients.
What is your point of departure in an interview with clients. What would your approach be, if for example, we were prospective clients? What are your first questions?
Oh, children … animals … how do you entertain? We talk about their lifestyle.
What did you study at SUNY?
I studied communications. I wanted to be in broadcasting … I wanted to be in news.
|Why did you not do that then?
Um, I learned more about broadcasting and being a news anchor and I didn’t really want to spend the first fifteen years of my career living in Iowa and Idaho, you know being onsite at 3 a.m. and wake up one day and be like Bill Beutel – you know it didn’t happen.
So how did you go on to become an interior designer?
I was about 25 and this sort of like mid-life crisis …
That’s not exactly mid-life …
No, joking … I was in the restaurant business and I was doing just fine financially for a guy in my age bracket, and then I just had a meltdown. I thought, how long can I possibly do this … how long could I work until 11 p.m. and be back at 10 a.m.? You know fourteen-hour days some days and then back in the morning. I got burnt out. I left my job. I was introduced to this book called ‘The Artists Way’ by Julia Cameron. It [comprises] a twelve-week course, and you journal every day.
|I read you keep a journal. Can we read it?
Why? What do you put in it?
It’s personal. It’s not a blog … anyway, by the fourth week I had signed up for FIT. I made up a bogus resumé … and I went to the D&D building and I handed out resumés. By the time I got home, I had gotten a call from John Rosselli and I worked for him for about a year and a half in sales.
Did you tell him that your resumé was bogus?
No [laughs] …
Don’t you think when you’re young everyone has to cheat a bit to get going. There’s that phrase: ‘Fake it until you make it’.
[Laughs] That’s a good one! So I worked there and met a lot of designers and I was going to FIT. Then one day one of my clients came in one day and said, would you be interested in interviewing with us, a Connecticut-based design company and I worked there for five years, built up a clientele and then like everyone else went off by myself. It was very scary.
|What do you like about the job?
I like everything … I love installations. I love just watching it all come together. I love watching the drapes go up, the carpets roll out, placing each accessory and just to watch the expression of that people have when the come home. We send clients out. We don’t allow them to be in on the installs.
You mentioned that you’ve done quite a few projects for professional athletes – how did you get to do work for them?
We had done a project for someone and one of the New York Yankees, his manager saw the project out in New Jersey, and [the New York Yankee player] was just getting settled on the Upper East Side, 77th and 3rd at the Seville, so we started working with them and it was published in House & Garden. Then we started working with Jason Giambi, and we’ve done two projects for A-Rod.
|Have you? Did you meet Madonna?
No. [laughs] We did a really beautiful Park Avenue apartment that sort of invokes almost like old-school Park Avenue.
Does their taste surprise you?
He is an extreme traditionalist. He’s an old soul. If it was up to him, he’d have chintz … sort of Ralph Lauren 1987 … but we did it in a very spirited way. For the Miami place, we did a 48-hour presentation, flew all the samples down, did an artist’s rendering of every room.
That’s must have cost a lot. How do you cover that? What do you charge?
We work on a design fee [payable] up front – generally $2500 per room.
|So do they generally have conservative taste, these athletes?
No. I mean we worked for a basketball player and we installed stripper poles … like it was a complete ‘crib’ kind of space … zebra drapes, a big macassar ebony bed. He was 6’7” and we had to raise all the shower heads … it was out of control.
Do they take you seriously? Are they macho about it all?
No, they trust you. Plus it’s a fraternity, you know, those guys they talk. The thing with working with athletes is that they don’t have the time and they don’t have the patience and they don’t want to go out shopping for silverware. Generally we go out and buy the toaster, the silverware … everything.
Now when you’re not working what do you like to do?
I like to travel … I like to eat. I’m always on a diet. I was really heavy.
What kind of diet?
I’m not on a diet anymore – I’ve just changed the way that I eat.
What do you like to eat that’s unhealthy?
I like cake … I like cookies.
by Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge • photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch
Friday, February 27, 2009