Aristotle once said, “where your talents and the needs of the world meet, there lies your vocation”. Sam Robins is the perfect example of this postulate from the Greek philosopher. Her life and career are committed to high design, always keeping in mind that beauty and style have no meaning when we do not balance our souls as we do the spaces where we live, work and play.
We visited Sam at her Miami Beach Studio to talk about her life, career, and the contributions she’s made to the city of Miami. Her spirited energy is contagious. Her apartment reflects her harmonious signature style. Every accessory is strategically placed as one would expect from an interior designer, but you can also find a little intellectual clutter, which makes the room warm and welcoming as if you had entered not only her home, but her history. Her most cherished pieces are family photographs that create a timeline of her life.
Sam was born Sam Miller, in Chicago. Her father was in the construction business, but it was her grandfather, a Hollywood set designer, who brought out the little girl’s sense of fantasy and informed her creativity. “My grandfather was a Sicilian worker who built amazing sets for Cecil B. de Mill productions, movies like The 10 Commandments. When I visited him, it was like being thrown into fantasyland”. Without really knowing it, she was formulating a design vocabulary that will reveal itself later in life as an interior architect.
She studied Interior Architecture at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago. It was the early 1970s, and the world was in turmoil. As many members of her generation, she opted for a pacifist, bohemian lifestyle. The “flower girl” surrounded herself with kindred spirits who further developed her interests in the creative arts.
Sam started working as a photographer, and was quite good at it, but she also felt that if you decide to be the chronicler of your times, you run the risk of missing the experience of life’s events. “I wanted to record what was happening and then one day I realized the camera was getting in the way of the experience. I was spending more time finding the right angle and developing the material, and I missed some of the details of everyday events. “
In 1975, she married Chicago attorney Richard Robin. They met after she had completed a 7,000 square-foot kitchen/bathroom boutique for the groom’s father who insisted she designed his son’s apartment. Love followed. They traveled through Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon, and by 1976, she gave birth to her only son, Gregory Alexander. But her life was about to reach a significant turning point in Miami, of all places.
In 1979, Robin came to the Magic City to decorate a private Boeing 707. She was supposed to be in town for a few months until the project was completed. Today, Sam still lives in Miami Beach. The city charmed her and changed her life. She designed the interiors of the planes of some impressive clients like hotel heiress Leona Helmsley, Saudi businessman Adnan Khashoggi and Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed. “After we finished the planes in the late 80’s I was ready to go back to Chicago, New York, LA or London (other cities were calling), but I thought Miami needed me. I could contribute to the cultural fabric of this excellent place”.
1. Zaha Hadid, Iran Issa Khan, Sam Robin.
2. Sam Robin, Don Johnson & Melanie Griffith.
3. Álvaro Cuadrado, Sam Robin, Gingi Beltrán.
4. Sam Robin, Alison Spear, Michael Breene.
But everything was not just sun and ocean in Miami in the early eighties. The city was in total decay; it felt as if Miami had reached the bottom. Time magazine published a historic article, Miami: Paradise Lost, which brought the plight of South Florida to the international level. Luckily for Miami, there were also new arrivals, like Sam Robin, ready to make the biggest turnaround the area had seen since the Henry Flagler brought the railroad to Miami.
“I liked the Art Deco District because it was a blank canvas. It had all the necessary elements: multiculturalism, good architecture, people looking for freedom, and good people to work with”, says the Chicago native. Sam was one in a group of concerned citizens who turned South Beach into one of the most desirable tourist destination in the world. She took significant commissions, which proved to be revolutionary. The renovation of the Colony Hotel was among her first projects in the Art Deco district. Its huge neon sign introduced the iconic look that made Ocean Drive a haven of luxury, preservation and good times. “What I really wanted to do was bring back to Miami the old glamour it had lost. I used to come to Miami Beach with my parents in the 1950s, and every headliner had an act in town; some even had their homes here.”
But her big break came in 1984 with the debut of the emblematic TV series Miami Vice. “Michael Mann (the series’ producer) was a friend from Chicago, and I immediately understood his vision for the city”, says Sam. She designed several apartments for Don Johnson and wife Melanie Griffin in Miami, Colorado and California. Then came fashion! The arrival on South Beach of Gianni Versace, one of the world’s most acclaimed designers, was the push the city needed to go global.
The encounter with Versace was another milestone in Sam’s life and career. After designing his first stores in Miami, Robin was asked to create the brand’s stores in Latin America. “Versace really took a chance on me. I would bring my drawings to his mansion, and we would sit in the courtyard”, remembers Sam with a hint of nostalgia for her late friend, before adding, “they flew me to Paris to see their store in St. Honore and later to Milan to be indoctrinated into the wonderful philosophy of the brand: more is more is more.” Sam created a total of 15 stores for the Versace label.
The turn of the millennia brought new challenges to the talented designer. After the achievements of the 1990’s, when Robin helped bring equilibrium to a socially challenged city, she enlisted the help of Italian designer and businessman Francesco Caracciolo to open a new design label, Robicara. The young company caters to the needs of exclusive clients who embrace what sociologists call “post material values”. These are customers who have all the blessings life has to offer but want something different and unique, a luxury client who does not skimp in prices for the utter luxury and balance of interiors Sam is known for. “What we are trying to do with furniture is difficult because we really want to brand luxury. Our products are garnering success locally as well as in New York or London, even Dallas or L.A.”, says Sam and Francesco agrees.
1. Francesco Caracciolo & Sam Robin.
Today, Sam Robin continues to help to shape the new aesthetic fiber for the Magic City. She has worked on some of the most luxurious buildings that are changing the Miami skyline, once again. Among them: 900 Biscayne, the Astor Hotel and the renovations of the iconic Delano hotel, to name just a few. When asked about her legacy to the new generations of designers, she said, “I hope I can leave behind spaces that encourage great times, where people can relax and enjoy: simple but very rich. ■