David Linley and Suzy Menkes
David Linley blew into the interior design store that bears his name, flopped into an elegant chair, and declared: “I was designing it for Nelson, not Mandela, but the other one — the Admiral. It was the anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar so we were looking round the museum and spied this. It's so nice. A bit under-scale. It's very, very comfy. The original colour was burgundy in a lovely, buggy old leather.”
So there is Linley in a nutshell, with the artistic modernism of his father, Lord Snowdon, and a sense of history from his late mother, Princess Margaret, sister to Queen Elizabeth II.
A Linley table setting for a dinner party
Accessories from the Christmas 2015 collection
Linley told me a story that defines him as a branch of the Royal family tree. “My grandmother started my interest in secret doors, trying to find things she lost, and we found an old letter in a great bookcase with a round façade,” Linley said, recounting how he had used that childhood memory to make secret drawers in a pen cabinet for a client who had made him “jump through hoops”.
Celebrating 30 years of Linley
Our conversation started in the Linley shop on London's Pimlico Road, the day of the Christmas party that marked a double celebration: the 30th anniversary of the young Viscount’s launch of an upscale furniture and luxury home accessories business, and the fact that after facing managerial and financial hurdles, the David Linley organisation is back on track. With Paddy Byng as Chief Executive Officer and a new Creative Director in Carmel Allen, the idea is to give the brand’s business the same smooth finish you might see on Linley’s silver photograph frames, blonde marquetry boxes or the modular legs of a table.
Gift suggestions from the Christmas 2015 collection
Home accessories from the Christmas 2015 collection
These classic modern designs have a regal grandeur, but Linley can come out with a witty twist, like the silver mouse scrambling over the edge of a wooden cheese board.
Close to his artistic father, who is a celebrated photographer, Linley seems to aim for an edgy elegance. “My father had a Victorian saying — that you can decorate construction but you can never construct decoration,” says Linley, 54. “What he was saying is that you can start with a beautiful form and then decorate it, in different materials and forms. Our bestsellers we've been making for years because they are beautifully proportioned objects. But you can change their appearance, for instance by changing marquetry panels.”
Gift suggestions for men from the Christmas 2015 collection
The Highclere Castle Jewellery Box (Highclere is where Downton Abbey is set)
Linley has another day job as Chairman of Christie's auction house, for which he is an indefatigable traveller: “Last week was Germany, Geneva and Abu Dhabi.” He says that one job feeds the other and that with his new Linley team he feels a fresh attachment and energy to the creative side of his life.
Interior design by Linley for The Lancasters apartments, Hyde Park, London
“Paddy and Carmel’s arrival here has enabled me to be re-engage in a really positive and inclusive way,” Linley says, adding that his new energy comes partly from the concept that the life cycle of family furniture is approximately 30 years, making this a good time to renew and re-invent.
The Grace Cabinet evokes the glamour of a bygone age
Guests arriving at the Linley store in Belgravia, dressed for Christmas
The most recent recruit, Carmel Allen was formerly an interiors editor and more recently a designer at London’s furniture store Heal's and the design emporium The Conran Shop.
The Henley Triangle table lamp for Spring/Summer 2016
Linley says that the concept of his company is to be “a centre of excellence”; while Carmel says that she is focused not only on marketing but planning summer schools for apprentice workers.
The Henley Triangle mirror collection for Spring/Summer 2016
Expansion seems to be in the air, with Paddy Byng talking about further focus on e-commerce and the possible opening of stores in major hubs such as New York or Hong Kong. Dressed up for the Christmas gift season, many of the pieces — such as picture frames, trays, candlesticks and vases — seem conventionally contemporary, while the woodwork — especially for bespoke items — is exceptional.
More desirable items from the Christmas 2015 lifestyle collection
In the store, as in life, Linley seems finely balanced between historic grandeur and streamlined modernity. I asked him if his work was intended to have a British essence. “Thirty years ago I would have said there was Britishness, but now that word and 'luxury' are the hardest to define because they are different for everybody,” he said. And what about succession — a word familiar in Royal circles?
Fitted cabinetry by Linley, Private Residence, Oslo
Interior design by Linley, Private Residence, Oslo
I asked if Linley was encouraging his teenage children to understand the importance of making things, as his father had with him. “Not as much, to be honest, although I had all the right intentions,” he replied. “My daughter does sewing, needlepoint and very good drawings. My son plays the piano.” But for his company, handwork is the heart of the matter. “We don't actually put 'British craftsmanship' on the label,” says Linley, “but even though we haven't counted how many crafts people we employ recently, it must be over a hundred.”
Hand-engraving gifts at the Linley Christmas party