DAVID COLLINS BUILT A DESIGN TEAM RENOWNED FOR ITS LUXE INTERIORS AND PASSION FOR PERFECTION. AFTER HIS SUDDEN DEATH LAST YEAR, HIS EPONYMOUS STUDIO LIVES ON, WRITES Annabel Nourse
The David Collins Studio is renowned for its passion for perfection
Quite possibly, you’ve experienced a David Collins interior without even realising it. If you’ve enjoyed a meal at The Wolseley in London followed by a drink at the Berkeley hotel’s Blue Bar, or you’ve browsed the racks at Alexander Mcqueen, Bergdorf Goodman or Jimmy Choo, then you’ve probably experienced some of the design magic for which the brand is renowned.
Unfortunately, Collins, the man behind the brand, died in July last year only three weeks after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer. He was 58. A magnetic and charming character, he counted many
celebrities among his friends, from Madonna to Tom Ford to Gordon Ramsay, all of whom paid enthusiastic tribute to his humour and design skills.
Collins fell into design almost by accident 29 years ago, after studying architecture in Dublin. He helped design a friend’s home, which was seen by chef Pierre Koffmann, who then enlisted Collins to design his London restaurant La Tante Claire. From there, things quickly took off.
Collins co-founded the David Collins Studio with Iain Watson, now its managing director. Watson recalls, “The practice started with UK projects and quickly gained a following, initially with a number of projects in New York and then expanding throughout the USA.” David Collins Studio went on to become one of the most successful and sought-after restaurant designers of the past decade, though the team also worked on retail, hotel and residential projects.
“David’s passing was all the more shocking because it was unexpected and very sudden,” says Watson. “It was his express wish for the studio to continue and, as such, it is of paramount importance for us to strive to create great, innovative and unique designs under his moniker.”
The interiors that Collins and his team designed have always been defined by a hefty dose of glamour and luxury, bespoke touches and something about the space that makes you feel at ease. Collins was famed for his love of blue—but also his passion for perfection.
Creative director Simon Rawlings recalls, “He felt colour should never be straight out of the tin. I remember when we were creating the concept for the Blue Bar at the Berkeley hotel—we used 14 or 15 layers of blue to create the Wedgewood effect on the walls.”
The studio has become renowned for its attention to detail and bold use of colour, but it’s often what you can’t see that makes its interiors truly unique. “Our interiors function perfectly,” Rawlings says. “From the outset, way before we think about what it looks like, we make sure the space works properly. Whether that’s shifting a door to the left or completely replanning a space, we really pride ourselves on our knowledge and understanding of operations and how spaces work. If we don’t know, we find out.”
The approach is simple but effective, and has been continued by the team after the designer’s death. Rawlings explains, “When you walk into a David Collins Studio space, the service should be seamless. There should be a sense of discreet luxury, which can come through a wonderful smell, the way it makes you feel, the right lighting or temperature. It’s a whole balance of all these elements.”
Recently the company has expanded and broadened into new locales. “The biggest shift in recent years has been the Asian market championing our design aesthetic,” says
Watson. “Our approach to the design process has been stimulated by new references, techniques, suppliers and partners throughout Asia.” In turn, the team has been immersing itself in Asian cultures.
“This is to ensure that the design is in harmony with local values, customs and beliefs,” says Watson. “This can be seen in colours that are avoided, or in having more private dining in restaurants. Recent feedback has been that Asian clients appreciated our use of a selection of local techniques and materials while bringing our modern design interpretation to the project.”
Rawlings has been overseeing multiple projects the studio is working on in the region, now numbering 39 ventures with local artisans, including one with a company in Thailand that makes traditional roof tiles. The team has collaborated on new techniques— and Thai roof tiles are now being imported to London for use there.
David Collins Studio designed the interiors of 200 sumptuous The Ritz- Carlton Residences in the impressive Mahanakhon tower in Bangkok, which was designed by architect Ole Sheeren. The firm will also debut the first ever Vogue Lounge in the building. It is also in the early planning stages for the Mahasamutr country club and villas in Hua Hin, 200 kilometre south of Bangkok; the architect on that project is Kengo Kuma.
“It has a very modern Japanese style. We were inspired by the bright blue of the sea and sky, and the vivid orange of the earth for our colour scheme,” says Rawlings. “The architecture makes it look like all the buildings have been folded. We took that idea of the folds and put that into the vocabulary of our design. They’re launching the first house at the end of this year, and it will be ready at the end of next year.”
In Hong Kong, David Collins Studio has also recently worked on The Continental, a new restaurant for the space previously occupied by Domani in One Pacific Place, which is scheduled to open this month. “We’re working within Thomas Heatherwick’s architecture, with its wonderful ribbon ceiling, and we’re putting in a restaurant which is going to be European-style all-day dining,” says Rawlings. “What we’re trying to do with the space is create a style that works in harmony with the architecture. No matter what time of day you go, you will have a wonderful but also different experience.”
Wherever you are in the world, you won’t be far from a David Collins Studio design. The firm has also been busy unveiling the flagship Alexander Mcqueen store in Tokyo this summer, as well as store openings for the brand in Hong Kong and Chengdu.
“When I set out to create a new concept, I’m thinking about how it’s going to make the client feel—and that’s the same whether it’s a restaurant space or residential home,” says Rawlings. “You have to make the customer feel special, then everything grows from there.”
“THE BIGGEST SHIFT IN RECENT YEARS HAS BEEN THE ASIAN MARKET CHAMPIONING OUR DESIGN AESTHETIC”
grand designs A 2003 renovation by David Collins Studio transformed the former Wolseley Motors showroom into an elegant London dining establishment
ministry of the interior Clockwise from top: the Jimmy Choo boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills; David Collins; the studio’s current team is ( from left) Lewis Taylor, Simon Rawlings, Iain Watson and David Kendall
God is in the details From top: a decorative hanging in the Alexander Mcqueen boutique in Tokyo; the Blue Bar at the Berkeley
Fit for A Mcqueen The recently unveiled Alexander Mcqueen flagship store in Tokyo