Design Series: Rob McKinley


Rob McKinley is not only a ridiculously innovative interior designer–always pushing creative boundaries–he is also one of my dearest and most inspiring friends. He recently completed the design of Tijuana Picnic, a project he worked on with another good friend of mine, Jean Marc Houmard. Rob’s designs always center on a strong point of reference, and this time he invites us back to 1970’s Mexico City, with cantina-style decor seen through a modern lens. The space seamlessly fuses the traditional with the modern, incorporating an eclectic mix of materials and textures. As you’ll see in these photos, Rob’s a true visionary and a designer who never fails to make me SWOON.


“We wanted it to be an impressive cup of coffee, so we took it one step further and actually made it one of the installations in the space. Rob kind of went crazy, in a good way. The beans are from Naples, so the coffee has a very classic Italian profile.” – Mike D of The Beastie Boys



The underlying inspiration for the hotel was a bohemian-meets-nautical explorers club,  so the ship-like hallway, with its homage to Jacques Cousteau, is the perfect way to start the trip.”

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with rob mckinley

the genius behind mckinley's top projects

  • COFFEE BAR INSTALLATION, MOCA LOS ANGELES: The coffee bar at Transmission LA-AV Club was an installation at MOCA in Los Angeles.  The show, featuring 16 contemporary artists including myself, was curated by Mike D of The Beastie Boys and consisted of art, food, music, and coffee.  I designed the coffee bar with industrial Rome and Italian cinema as inspiration.  The neon bar sign was like many I have seen on the outskirts of Rome in the blue collar neighborhoods at the many amazing coffee bars. We made sure to use industrial materials and colors also seen on the streets of Italy. A canal of water surrounded the bar, as well as a conveyor belt and slide that forme the arch at the entrance – we had remote controlled boats that were adorned with calligraphy and iconography, donning the names of Italian cities like Roma, Venezia and Torino. These boats would race around the water as if they were piloted by rival gangs.


  • TIJUANA PICNIC, NYC: Here we wanted to create an alternative to the typical cantina-style décor. We found inspiration in Mexico City during the ‘70s–when it was progressive, open-minded and modernist–and tried to maintain the spirit of Mexico’s overall warmth by incorporating traditional materials with an eclectic mix of art and objects.

  • BAR FELICE, NYC: Inspired by Italian soccer and old world sporting clubs, Bar Felice is filled with rich color and texture. The centerpiece of the room, a large hanging shelf display decorated with 200 pyrex glass rods, creates beautiful light diffusion and a warm glow throughout the space. The stripes on the walls create lines that work in concert with the glass shelves.  The vintage leather cushions were inspired by sporting equipment used by gentleman’s sporting clubs.

  • SANT AMBROEUS SOHO, NYC: This space was inspired by Milan in the 1960’s, with echoes of the 1930’s throughout, too. The space has two “big beats:” the first is the rich dark walnut paneling that sets the tone for the space and lends it warmth and an elegant texture. The second is a painting by DAVID GUINN that was commissioned specifically for this project; the futurist painting depicts the rooftop of the Duomo and those beyond it in Milan. Together, these elements draw the eye to the back of the room and anchor the space. The sconce lighting is also key as it ensures everyone has a warm bronze glow. In the dining room we added some humor and style with a candid image from photographer SCOTT RUDIN featuring the quintessential Milanese “signora,” alongside custom brass and slung leather banquettes and green velvet chairs.  The mix of materials and color is meant to evoke a bygone era.

  • RUSCHMEYER’S, MONTAUK, NEW YORK:  The underlying inspiration for the hotel was a bohemian-meets-nautical explorers club,  so the ship-like hallway, with its homage to Jacques Cousteau, is the perfect way to start the trip. From the entrance to the lobby at Ruschmeyer’s, we encouraged the guest to begin a journey and we wanted things to feel both playful and sophisticated. The guest rooms were a continuation of our tongue-in-cheek theme with a 1970’s wicker headboard, beachy whites, bold colors and patterns, and a compass on the bed in lieu of the usual mint on the pillow.

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