Known for his intricate, bold, and vivacious patterns, John Robshaw has a true passion for printmaking. After graduating from Pratt and studying traditional block printing in China, he traveled to India, where he became enamored with the traditional methods for creating textiles used by local artisans. He launched his business over 20 years ago, becoming the design industry’s go-to source for colorful prints that pack a visual punch.

We spoke with John about how he fell in love with printmaking and how grew his business from its humble beginnings in an East Village apartment to the powerhouse it is today. Read on to see what he had to say, and be sure to shop his curation of Chairish favorites as well as all his colorful products with Cloth & Company.

John Robshaw
Photo: Rachel Robshaw

You first launched your company out of your East Village apartment in 2001. What were those early years like, and how has it been seeing it flourish in the 20+ years since?

I lived in a classic East Village tenement apartment. There were people fighting, yelling down the air shafts, but it was also charming. There was an old dancer with bunnies she would take outside to feed every day. There was a rock and roll dude who ended up with an antique shop upstate and a sax player on the top floor. The apartment was long and narrow with piles of fabrics everywhere. The early years were slow to build, but looking back, I’m glad it moved as slow as it did as my mistakes were smaller. 

You are of course known for your one-of-a-kind prints and vibrant fabrics. How did that passion begin? And how did you fall in love with Asia and India in particular?

In college, I had an amazing Asian art professor who opened my eyes. In my junior year, I studied printmaking in Italy, then applied for a grant to study Chinese block printing in China. My fascination with India came after art school. A friend of a friend had a sequin dress company in Mumbai and would give people free tickets to the city if you brought (smuggled) back runway dresses. The first time I went to Mumbai, I brought my old Nikon and I was zooming around in a rickshaw shooting the city. I couldn’t get enough of the creative energy.

Have you always been so passionate about color, pattern, and blending traditional techniques? Does this reflect your personal aesthetic and the way you like to live as well?

Going to art school made everything fair game. It got me to experiment with traditional techniques through the eyes of an art school student. I could move colors and prints around and I think this moved my work in a new direction. 

As far as the way I live, I did not know how to decorate, but I had a lot of friends who were designers. Like printmaking, I like to have fun and mix and match. I also find my interiors are like a painting. I’ll do a bit then let it sit and see how it holds up, come back the next day and move it around, hang something else, and slowly make a home out of it.

John Robshaw
Photo: Rachel Robshaw

We’re big fans of your pieces with Cloth & Co. Can you tell us about that collaboration, and how you came to develop the collection?

I met the founders of Cloth & Co while traveling and helped them plan a trip to India. After that, we became lifelong friends and once they had their digital printing machine up and running, we couldn’t wait to collaborate. I am also especially excited about the flexibility and quick turnaround time that doesn’t usually happen with furniture. Meganne (the founder) and her team are amazing to work with. They gave insight into what would work and what was possible within the limitations of how they make and ship furniture. I always find that limitations help me focus and decide. I went to Chicago a few times to see the prints on the pieces, which is always exciting to see how prints work in three dimensions.

Do you have a favorite thing to design? 

I loved designing the screens. They almost seem like sculptures the way they are cut out and with the nail heads outlining the forms. I also really loved designing the daybeds. They are right up my alley with the turned legs and attached pillows.

What’s something you would love to design next but perhaps haven’t gotten the chance to yet?  

I would like to design more seating. We took one of the chairs and put them together to create a fun seating area. I like the multiplication of shapes to create spaces.

Having traveled extensively throughout India and Asia, you’re also a big believer in the importance of karma. You began working with Aid to Artisans when you founded your company. Tell us about that, along with some of your other charity work.

Aid to Artisans is an incredible organization. When I started working with them, I would be asked to fly to Bolivia or Zimbabwe to do assessments on new design organizations that were just getting started and needed help figuring out how to work with American buyers. I could never say no. I kept at it until I could not balance my day job with being gone for weeks. I also donate bedding each season to shelters around New York City and now up in Connecticut where I have a shop. I also plan on carrying more artisan products in the shop in Connecticut.

John Robshaw
John on one of his travels

On Chairish & Vintage Shopping…

What do you find most compelling about Chairish?

I love the feeling that I’m at a wonderful auction house or estate sale when I’m on the website. You never know what you might find. I am always hunting and love the mix of styles and price points.

How does sustainability factor into your design choices and love of vintage?

I always try to keep sustainability in mind. Several years back, we got rid of a lot of plastics in our product packaging. We now use leftover fabric for our packaging, even products like pillows and quilts. It is sometimes a lot of work to do it, but I feel it should be done. Our vintage collection fits right into this concept and I always love finding great vintage furniture in India. It’s nice to find a piece that has history. Lastly, I’ve tried to go organic everywhere I can.

Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have? What’s a dream piece for you?

I have been finding some Nakashima chairs in India and it got me on a whole kick for these modern projects. George Nakashima visited the National Institute of Design campus in India in 1964, and worked with local craftsmen to produce 32 designs as well as detailed drawings. The rights to produce these designs were given to the Institute, and they were made in the Institute’s wood workshop until 1975. I recently found the chairs in Ahmedabad.

What are three of your favorite pieces on Chairish now?

I love this 19th-century German Biedermeier chest of drawers;this antique super Queen sized English brass bed; and this vintage Turkish Anatolian prayer design hand knotted organic wool rug.

Photo: Rachel Robshaw

Some Design Favorites…

Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:

Hang a massive wall hanging and take over the whole room

Favorite decorating “cheap thrill:”

Big cotton dhurries—not expensive and classic

Favorite paint color:


Favorite piece of decor in your home:

Temple demons from Sri Lanka (they keep away the local ghosts).

Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:


Favorite style icon:

Napoleon—I am not sure why.

Design destination every creative should visit at least once:

Borobudur in Java—I circled for days. Right now, I am into MASS MoCA as I can drive there! 

Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:

Your health is your wealth.

One of the tools for creating block prints

Some Lifestyle Favorites…

Favorite vacation destination:

Tbilisi, Georgia

Favorite hotel that’s inspired your work while traveling:

The Imperial in New Delhi

Favorite restaurant:

Balthazar’s in New York

Favorite small museum:

Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Springs, New York

Favorite podcast:

Business of Home

Favorite Instagram accounts to follow:


Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift:

I made a bunch of turbans to hang on the wall.

Favorite flower:


Favorite adult beverage:


Favorite way to unwind at home:

Mescal and an outdoor shower

Favorite entertaining essential:

Lots of lanterns and mescal

Lead image: Photo by Rachel Robshaw

July 28, 2023

Dennis Sarlo is the executive editor of Chairish and a lover of all things design-related. Prior to joining the team, he served as the executive editor of Dering Hall and was the first site director of Architectural Digest. He was also part of the founding team of travel startup Jetsetter. He lives in New York.