By Peg Carmack Short - Photography by Doug VandeZande
"Surround yourself with what you love." That's the decorating advice of Bob Timberlake, painter and home furnishings designer, and it's apparent that Bob takes his own advice when you visit his Lexington, North Carolina studio. Every nook and cranny is filled with treasures that Bob has been collecting since boyhood. Antique drums, quilts, and enamelware are just a few of the collectibles with which he surrounds himself, along with cherished pieces of antique furniture. These old objects of beauty are often the inspirations for Bob's accessory and furniture designs.

"I'm more of a collector than a designer," Bob says. Though those who have seen and loved his work, know that Bob is an artist and designer of rare talent. Like the man himself, Bob's pieces are enduring, warm, and comfortable. They are reminiscent of a time when quality, function and built-to-last were important components of every piece.

Bob respects and cherishes the heritage of the past, and he recommends, "If you have Great Aunt Martha's highboy and you love it, use it, even if it's not perfect." Bob's furniture collection was designed to be used with what you love. "I never wanted to design suites," he says. The delightful blending of old and new is the Bob Timberlake look. An armoire or table and chairs can be added to go with what you have, and you can continue adding to your Timberlake collection over the years because of the timelessness of the pieces. Often described as the antiques of tomorrow, the Timberlake collection was based on the eclectic look Bob created in his studio.

The early Timberlake furniture was made from cherry and walnut. "And all the collections are built," Bob says, "with the consumer in mind." Always a conservationist, Bob's newest furniture collection is called "Keep America Beautiful," named after the organization he ha been part of since 1975. Many of these new pieces are built from white fir, a sound ecological choice that Bob and the Lexington Furniture executives hope will catch on as a new industry trend. Besides being an environmentally sound choice, the new fir pieces are beautiful and richly grained. "Using fir offers better control of knots and grain, and it also takes the stain better," Bob explains. And this is an important criteria since the pieces are created using water-based stains. To continue the concept of being ecologically correct, hardware made from recycled metals is used as well.

Recycling and seeing beauty in everything around him are strong elements throughout Bob's decorating themes. Bob's current studio is a rebuilt 1809 Barn. Designed with the help of his friend, builder Rene Swing, t was built to be a place of inspiration. "I wanted it to be the kind of place you couldn't wait to get to, and once you were there, you wouldn't want to leave," Bob said. To create this cozy atmosphere, Bob designed many places to display his collections. His prized enamelware, which inspired a line of pottery, can be found in several places throughout his studio. The largest part of his collection graces the tops of kitchen cabinets, and is highlighted by track-type fluorescent lighting. His old bottle and glass collection is displayed on window ledges and sills, or placed on beams high above the front door where the sunlight glows gloriously through it setting the colors aflame. Pieces of pottery, antique dishes, and other collectibles are also displayed prominently as accents throughout the kitchen.

A lover and collector of folk art, Bob proudly displays the work of other favorite artist in every room of his studio. One of his large collections includes more than 125 heirloom quilts. Numerous quilts are displayed folded in the antique armoire, which was the inspiration for an entertainment center of his favorite quilts, a patter called Whigs Defeat, was made by his grandmother's sisters more than 130 years ago. This quilt is folded to display its medallion pattern and hangs from a loft banister. A closer look at several of Bob's creations reveal the medallion pattern has been picked up and re-created as a design element for several pieces in "The World of Bob Timberlake" collection. It can be found in upholstered pieces such as a sofa and wingback chairs, and again in a complementary lamp in his collection.

Still more quilts decorate bedrooms, and the loft sitting room where Bob has made clever use of one of his antique drums as a coffee table. The drum design was then used to create a large ottoman, which is another piece from the Timberlake collection.

Bob's use of his collectibles as decorations is often whimsical and surprising. A group of tiny old children's shoes are lined up like marching feet on mantels, ledges, and windowsills. In a guest bedroom, they match well when paired with antique toddler's dresses that are hung in the bedroom as a wall treatment.

There is an honest strength that comes through in a Bob Timberlake room, but they also shine with his gift for creating warm, simple, comfortable environments. Bob arranges everything himself and clearly has an eye for creating the homespun feel. Perhaps the secret to Bob's world can be found in another "Timberlake saying, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." And Bob's imagination, he says, has always taken him anywhere he wants to go. To emulate his decorating style, one needs only to imagine. ."

Articles included here are copyrighted by Peg Carmack Short and may not be copied in full or part without written permission of the author.

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