Interior Designer David Collins' Life In Technicolour
From inky indigo and fresh periwinkle to rich sapphire shades, the interior designer David Collins was known for his deft use of blue and myriad jewel tones. His canny affinity with colour, paired with a sumptuous material mix, created decadent interiors that are at once elegant, glamorous, and seemingly timeless. As Collins himself explained, the key to this cohesiveness stemmed from the appreciation of nature in all of its beautiful splendour. “I would never use or wear a colour that could not be found in nature, having seen the extraordinary richness of nature’s spectrum,” wrote the Irish-born designer in the book ABCDCS: David Collins Studio. True to its title, the design tome covered the signature stylistic features and ethos of his eponymous London-based practice, and was one of his last projects—it was published posthumously in 2014, a year after his sudden, unexpected death.
Having been diagnosed with melanoma only three weeks before, the 58-year-old’s death was a shock for many, including Simon Rawlings, who had worked closely with the designer. At that time, he was leading the commercial projects by the studio, while Collins had focused his energy on private residential projects. They worked together closely for nearly two decades; Rawlings fondly recalls the designer as being “eccentric and well-mannered, with a great sense of humour.”
“Everything David designed had an unexpected charm to it,” recalls Rawlings, who is the incumbent creative director of the firm, overseeing the realisation of all projects across the board. “He’d always see things in a slightly different way and dare us as designers to challenge decisions—and not just do things that were the norm.” In May last year, The Ritz-Carlton Residences in Bangkok finally reached its completion—bearing Collins’ design imprint and his legacy.
Born in Dublin and educated at the city’s Bolton Street School of Architecture, the designer’s vocation began serendipitously in London. Collins had initially followed his architect father’s footsteps, but upon completing his degree, he decided to move to London to venture into interior design. His first commission involved the redecoration of a friend’s abode—by a stroke of luck, it was a home that French chef Pierre Koffmann visited. The chef was so impressed that he went on to work with Collins on La Tante Claire in Chelsea, which became the first restaurant he designed.
In 1985, Collins and his business partner, Iain Watson, co-founded the namesake studio, which began to grow at a modest pace by specialising in small residential projects. A few years later, Collins would go on to design Harveys, a French restaurant helmed by then-unknown chef Marco Pierre White in Wandsworth. These restaurants, along with brunch institution The Wolseley on Piccadilly, marked the start of Collins’ lasting influence on the London dining scene, revolutionising the ways in which urbanites wined and dined in the city. Restaurants and bars became celebrated destinations and landmarks—stylish and distinctive venues to see and be seen at.
“When we created The Wolseley in 2003, that was the turning point,” recalls Rawlings.“It completely transformed the way that people ate in Central London—people actually wanted to go out to a restaurant for breakfast. It was the most memorable moment, seeing people walking in and not realising if the restaurant was 50 or two years old.” More key projects would follow, such as the Blue Bar, Claridge’s Bar, The Delaunay, Bob Bob Ricard, and Nobu on Berkeley Street. The studio’s attention to detail also elevated the quotidian sandwich bar to a refined experience—it designed the interiors, furniture, branding, and graphics for London-based chain Pret A Manger.
House of Style
Under Collins’ charge, the studio’s sphere of influence extended to public and private spaces alike, ranging from hotel and resort interiors such as The London NYC in New York, The Apartment at The Connaught in London, and Delaire Graff Estate Lodges & Spa in South Africa, as well as sumptuous abodes for the jet set—including the homes of fashion designer Tom Ford and pop icon Madonna, who were close friends of Collins. “When I look around my houses in New York or London, I am struck by what an influence he has had on me,” Madonna wrote in the foreword to his monograph. “He has left his souvenirs everywhere: his touch, his flair, and his blue.”
Beyond restaurants, bars, and residences, the studio’s portfolio also encompasses a dazzling array of retail concepts, ranging from opulent boutiques designed for Alexander McQueen, Jimmy Choo and Bergdorf Goodman, as well as sprawling sections of the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. At the same time, there were always unique elements created for each of these spaces, be it the gothic-inspired plaster panels for Alexander McQueen or the inspired mix of woven-mesh metal, mink velvet, and pink onyx for Jimmy Choo. “Hewas very inspired by fashion—David was very good at referencing art and fashion design, and that’s something we still do a lot of,” shares Rawlings.
These public and private spaces typify the very essence of the design studio, including the lavish finishes, the glamorous modern and Art Deco influences, and the meticulous attention to detail. Collins sought out and worked with artisans across the globe to customise and create the ornate furniture and furnishings to the high standards that he desired. “Twenty years ago, it was much more difficult to find such amazing artisans and makers,” recalls Rawlings. “Through David’s contacts and contacts of the business, we’ve managed to find incredible things. David would never settle for anything less than perfection. His ability to edit and change something for the better, even at the last minute, would always be for the success of the project.”
This pursuit for perfection continues to hold true to the design ethos of his namesake practice, which has now ventured into more overseas projects in Asia, such as the recently completed The Ritz-Carlton Residences in Bangkok and the Le Méridien Seoul. Rawlings sums up Collins’ influence accordingly: “The legacy that he’s left is so strong, it’s part of the DNA of everything we do—from the colour scheme, the lighting and the careful curation of the space, down to the picture frames and the art.”