David Lin­ley

We meet David Lin­ley, as pas­sion­ate as ever about crafts­man­ship and cre­ativ­ity as the Lin­ley brand cel­e­brates its 30th birth­day

SuperYacht World - - Contents - Words | Francesca Fearon

We meet the man be­hind the iconic fur­ni­ture brand.

In the age of mass man­u­fac­ture and in­stant con­sump­tion, crafts­man­ship is un­der pres­sure. We can ap­pre­ci­ate the skilled work­man­ship that goes into mak­ing a Patek Philippe watch, a Purdey shot­gun, a Sav­ile Row suit and a pair of John Lobb shoes be­cause we view them as long-term in­vest­ments, but there is al­ways the pres­sure on the very top brands to lo­cate and train peo­ple who want to pro­duce to such high stan­dards. It can take ten years to train a gem-set­ter in the ate­liers of the Place Vendôme or a master tai­lor, and in the mod­ern world few are will­ing or pa­tient enough to de­vote that time and ded­i­ca­tion to learn a craft.

So David Lin­ley, who trained at Parn­ham House School in Dorset with the great fur­ni­ture-maker John Make­peace, has worked hard to find not only Bri­tish cab­i­net­mak­ers who can craft his beau­ti­fully stylish fur­ni­ture, but also mar­que­tar­i­ans, carvers, gilders and all the other spe­cial­ist skills that go into mak­ing his mod­ern heir­looms. Some of th­ese an­cient skills like mar­quetry might have died out by now if it weren’t for the sup­port and nur­ture of de­sign­ers like Lin­ley.

“Clients have al­ways come to Lin­ley be­cause they ap­pre­ci­ate the crafts­man­ship that goes into ev­ery piece,” ex­plains David Lin­ley. “That said, in re­cent years there has def­i­nitely been a resur­gence in de­mand for things that are hand­crafted, es­pe­cially in the UK.”

This year marks 30 years since David Lin­ley, the Queen’s nephew, flouted aris­to­cratic con­ven­tion and launched his first col­lec­tion at the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert in 1985. The an­niver­sary is, in part, to be cel­e­brated with a spe­cial sum­mer school to be held in Wilt­shire to give ten ex­cep­tional de­sign stu­dents hands-on prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence with master crafts­men, which he hopes will in­spire more to con­sider cab­i­net­mak­ing as a ca­reer, much as John Make­peace in­spired him.

Lin­ley’s de­sign team works with nine work­shops and well over 200 dif­fer­ent crafts­men, who are con­stantly chal­leng­ing tra­di­tional tech­niques, com­ing up with imag­i­na­tive, in­di­vid­ual and in­no­va­tive ideas to amaze and se­duce his clien­tele. At the heart of Lin­ley is a pas­sion for wood and he has built a rep­u­ta­tion on his imag­i­na­tive use of it that over the years has be­come a com­mon theme to each be­spoke com­mis­sion. “In the early days ev­ery­one was us­ing brown ve­neers, but I wanted to use swathes of colour,” he says.

A foray around the Lin­ley show­room in Bel­gravia il­lus­trates that with eye-catch­ing ef­fect. There is a dis­play of his Tri­an­gle col­lec­tion of home and gift items (mir­rors, boxes and lamps) con­structed with colour­ful geo­met­ric pat­terns in softly toned hand-dyed wood ve­neer mar­quetry. It is a very ver­sa­tile skill: geo­met­ric and graphic pat­terns are a sig­na­ture of the Lin­ley look, but also there is the artistry of the city sky­lines recre­ated in del­i­cate, blue and grey-tone mar­quetry for the lid of his

Land­mark boxes. Eu­ca­lyp­tus, sy­camore, birch and bo­li­var are just a few of the wood ve­neers used, all of them sus­tain­ably sourced. Oak and wal­nut are sourced for fur­ni­ture and he tries to use as much Bri­tish wood as pos­si­ble.

In­no­vat­ing tra­di­tional crafts skills is at the core of David Lin­ley’s phi­los­o­phy. “This has been my aim since I be­gan Sky­fall mak­ing fur­ni­ture as a teenager and started the business 30 years ago,” he points out, hav­ing learned to make his own toys in the Kens­ing­ton Palace work­shop as a child. “In fact, I still sit at the desk that I made for my­self aged 14, which says some­thing about its con­struc­tion!” Ob­ser­va­tion, an eye for de­tail and find­ing so­lu­tions for de­sign prob­lems are char­ac­ter­is­tics that he learnt from his fa­ther, the renowned pho­tog­ra­pher An­thony Arm­strong-jones, Lord Snow­don.

Desks are a suc­cess story for Lin­ley’s brand with the be­spoke Riviera desk, in­spired by the lines of a wooden yacht, prov­ing to be his best­seller over the years. Be­spoke is the core of the business – some 35-40 per cent of turnover this year is with pri­vate clients. Desks, din­ing ta­bles, in­tri­cate mar­quetry screens and fit­ted cab­i­netry dom­i­nate the order books, but the re­mark­able wood-lined wine room, cre­ated in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Pen­folds, in the Bel­gravia show­room may in­spire fu­ture com­mis­sions.

Su­pery­acht own­ers have been drawn to his de­signs with reg­u­lar com­mis­sions for be­spoke fur­ni­ture for yachts, such as the desks and the din­ing suites. “They are usu­ally the stand-out pieces on a su­pery­acht, from the owner’s desk rid­dled with se­cret draw­ers or a mag­nif­i­cent fit­ted bar, to in­te­grated mar­quetry art­work pan­els,” re­calls Lin­ley, who will not con­firm where they were des­tined. How­ever, he has col­lab­o­rated a num­ber of times with Ban­nen­berg & Row­ell and is known to have con­trib­uted a few pieces to the 75-me­tre sail­ing yacht Mirabella V (now M5), built at VT Ship­build­ing in 2003, and the 72.8-me­tre Fead­ship Preda­tor. Com­mis­sions can come from the yacht de­sign­ers as well as the owner. Lin­ley is also the des­ti­na­tion for smaller, fin­ish­ing touches such as pho­to­graph frames or hand-blown lead crys­tal.

The de­signer in­tro­duced the smaller home ac­ces­sories to his fur­ni­ture range in 1993 when he moved from his first show­room in the New King’s Road to his present premises on the Pim­lico Road, and he has cherry-picked eight of his iconic clas­sic de­signs as re-edi­tions to cel­e­brate his mile­stone an­niver­sary. There is, for in­stance, the Cres­cent fruit bowl based on the wal­nut fruit bowl he de­signed in 1985 but now

“Clients come to us be­cause they AP­PRE­CI­ATE the CRAFTS­MAN­SHIP in ev­ery piece”

more stream­lined. There is also the cheese doorstop, now be­ing at­tacked by a lit­tle pewter mouse. Lin­ley is a fan of things that make peo­ple smile.

“Just be­cause an ob­ject is func­tional, doesn’t mean it has to be dull. There is some­thing very Bri­tish about the Lin­ley sense of hu­mour – it’s fun, clever and charm­ing.” The Great Fire match­box sleeve is an amus­ing ex­am­ple, with mo­tifs of flames, St Paul’s Cathe­dral, and a chef’s hat (a ref­er­ence to Pud­ding Lane where the Great Fire started in 1666) de­picted in mar­quetry, and the gentle­man’s cuff­link box with in­laid bowler hat and bow tie mo­tifs.

“Wit and charm are qual­i­ties I’m al­ways en­cour­ag­ing our de­sign­ers to use in their work,” he says. It is true that a few small de­tails can give an inan­i­mate ob­ject char­ac­ter and soul, es­pe­cially if it is some­thing that is un­ex­pected. He re­calls how as a child his grand­mother chal­lenged him to lo­cate a let­ter that was hid­den in a bureau and ever since then he has en­joyed con­ceal­ing draw­ers and com­part­ments in his cab­i­netry. “There’s noth­ing I love more than see­ing the look of amaze­ment when some­one finds a se­cret drawer within a desk or cab­i­net – their per­cep­tion of de­sign, crafts­man­ship and en­gi­neer­ing changes in an in­stant,” he says.

“Get­ting things bril­liantly made in Bri­tain by hand,” he adds, “Along with in­quis­i­tive­ness, and hav­ing a sense of hu­mour about what you are mak­ing, were all things that were very much en­cour­aged by my par­ents”.

As one of Bri­tain’s most in­flu­en­tial fur­ni­ture de­sign­ers, he re­grets that he has lit­tle time to be in­volved in the de­sign process him­self th­ese days as he cou­ples his role at Lin­ley with hon­orary chair­man­ship of Christie’s, which ne­ces­si­tates a great deal of travel. “I miss it,” he tells us. Mean­while, how­ever, he is con­stantly snap­ping ideas on his cam­era from his trav­els to send back to his team. He came across “a mag­i­cal piece of mo­saic” that he saw in Doha last year that has in­spired the Girih Trea­sure Chest, a mas­ter­piece that will be launched shortly.

He ad­mits that what he en­joyed most at school (Bedales) was car­pen­try – de­sign­ing, mak­ing, restor­ing and re­pair­ing – and he re­grets not hav­ing the time nowa­days to spend with the ar­ti­sans in the work­shops. How­ever, he says: “We have such in­cred­i­ble tal­ent in the de­sign stu­dio and work­shops that I am con­tent with only pick­ing up a chisel or planer when I’m tin­ker­ing in my work­shop at home.” SYW

“Wit and charm are QUAL­I­TIES i’m al­ways En­cour­ag­ing our de­sign­ers to use in their work”

Main photo: An eye for de­tail – David Lin­ley looks over the lat­est de­signs for Lin­ley’s Sky­line box. Fac­ing page: A sketch of the Girih Cab­i­net, launch­ing at London Craft Week in May.

Left: David’s pas­sion for fur­ni­ture started early. Here he is in the work­shop in the 1980s. Bot­tom left: David in the work­shop last year with a trade­mark Lin­ley box. Other images: The Lin­ley work­shops pride them­selves on tra­di­tional meth­ods to en­sure the

Right: A 2016 Hen­ley watch­tower. Far right: A be­spoke desk that is very much Lin­ley’s sig­na­ture. Be­low right: Lin­ley’s Bel­gravia store, with a new in­te­rior de­sign com­ing for the sum­mer. Be­low: Two images of an adapt­able be­spoke ta­ble for a Fead­ship in­teri

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