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INTERVIEW: David Linley on Battersea, Claridge’s and taking British style to Moscow

Leader of the eponymous LINLEY empire and Chairman of top auction house Christie's

Think of British interior design and David Linley – Viscount Linley – is sure to be one of the first names that comes to mind. As leader of the eponymous LINLEY empire and Chairman of top auction house Christie’s, he’s had a far-reaching influence on the entire craft and design industry since starting out in a Dorking workshop. In conversation with PrimeResi, Linley discusses his designs for Battersea Power Station, Claridge’s, and why quality is more important than taste…

  • David-Linley-photographer-Aliona-AdrionovaYou’ve been a champion of British craftsmanship since the 80s: how has the ‘British’ label changed over the last 30-odd years?

Ever since my early days of designing and making furniture in a workshop in Dorking, I have wanted to create things that last and that are built to endure, rather than be disposed of when a newer model comes along. Craftsmanship is at the very heart of this idea and thankfully nowadays people are increasingly searching for handcrafted pieces that have something that their mass market counterparts do not: character, inventive design, creative spirit, wit and charm. In Britain we are fortunate to have an incredible array of highly skilled artisans who are committed to using traditional techniques but aren’t afraid to combine them with new designs and innovative technologies. This means that Britain today has both the heritage and expertise to create its own label, one which places exceptional craftsmanship at the very heart.

  • And what about the definition of ‘luxury’? Has the term/concept become over-used?

Unfortunately the word “luxury” has become slightly debased through overuse, but then people often struggle to find adequate synonyms. As for its definition, there has been a genuine rise in standards in so many fields which is gratifying. Naturally people’s expectations have risen accordingly and it is up to designers and manufacturers to try to satisfy these new requirements.

  • Do you still make pieces yourself?

I am incredibly fortunate to have two wonderful careers; I am Founder and Chairman of LINLEY and since 2006, Chairman of Christie’s UK. The two jobs actually work rather well together, although they no longer leave me any time to make pieces commercially. That said, when I get the time to escape to my house in Provence I like nothing better than mucking around in the workshop with my son.

  • Are we in a recognisable design movement now? If so, what is it?

I think we are in some evolution of modernism that is comfortable with using premium materials and techniques.

  • Is there a ‘typical’ LINLEY shopper? Do they tend to live locally? What proportion are British, and is there a particular stronghold with any other nationality?

We are very fortunate to have a wonderful mix of clients; we have many that are regular accessories buyers – purchasing gifts or home accessories throughout the year.  We have been on Pimlico Road since 1993 and therefore we have a wonderful group (15% of our clients live within half a mile of our store) who pass by us daily.  Our gifting locations of Burlington Arcade and Harrods have a great international following; we find that they pop into the stores every time they are in London to see what new products we have launched or to buy gifts for those they are staying with.

Interior designers buying furniture and upholstery for their clients are very much based here in London.  You can almost see their trail from Chelsea Harbour Design Centre over to the design district of Pimlico Road.  They are a very discerning and knowledgeable group for which we need to ensure that our furniture and upholstery collections exceed expectations on design and quality whilst offering a price which makes everyone happy!

Probably some of our longest standing clients and those that we now see as great friends of the company are our bespoke clients.  They are generally a very well-travelled group, international and owning houses across the globe.  They recognise the unbelievable attention to detail and superlative craftsmanship that goes into the design and making of each piece, whether they have commissioned a bespoke desk that contains a multitude of secret drawers and compartments for storing precious pieces, an architectural humidor which resembles their beautiful country home in miniature, or a stunning kitchen by LINLEY fitted cabinetry.

  • What proportion of interior design projects are residential, rather than hotel or commercial?

The majority of work undertaken by LINLEY Interior Design is for private clients and we are currently working on residential projects in five continents, from a Grade II listed London townhouse to an extensive new-build project in Moscow. The team takes on less hotel and commercial work in comparison, although some of this, such as the design work at Claridge’s Hotel, is ongoing. We have been working with Claridge’s since 1997 and has played a large part in the redesign and refurbishment of the famous London hotel, most recently completing four suites and 13 bedrooms in a hybrid design scheme which bridges the two distinctive design styles of the hotel, traditional 19th century and Art Deco, to create an entirely new look.

  • How much does your hotel and commercial design work inform residential projects?

Nowadays people like to stay somewhere that feels like “home” so in terms of scenario, finishes, furniture layout and lighting, we find that it is our residential design work that informs the commercial and hotel projects.  However, we have had a few clients who have enjoyed staying in their Claridge’s suite so much that they have asked us to create something similar in their house.

  • How different is the approach to working on a renovation project , like The Lancasters, to a new-build, to something big and industrial, like Battersea Power Station?

Renovation projects are always restricted by existing elements, for example architectural details in a listed property. We like to celebrate these details rather than be restricted by them; from taking in the incredible high ceilings in The Lancasters and using them to our advantage to install a bespoke fitted, double-height, floor to ceiling bookcase complete with rolling library ladder, to incorporating original features such as ornate cornicing, marble fireplaces and ionic columns into the interior design of each apartment.

Although Circus West is a new-build development, the incredible historical character of Battersea Power Station has dictated the theme of the project. The concept designs for the main lobby, residents’ lounges and penthouses reference the building’s rich heritage, with contemporary designs echoing the original Art Deco elements to create opulent, timeless spaces. For example, the towers of the original building have inspired the tubular staircase in the triple height lobby, whilst replicas of the giant 1930’s Art Deco doors will become the main focal point in the central hall. The industrial nature of the power station is also referenced in the interiors, with the dials, joinery and materials in the old control room influencing the design.

  • Could you talk us through the interior design process for the residential units you managed at Battersea Power Station?

As an historic and iconic London landmark which is recognised across the world, Battersea Power Station is every designer’s dream and from the very first conversations with Rob Tincknell [Chief Executive of the Battersea Power Station Development Company], the architects and the developers it was clear that this project was going to be unique. At the heart of central London’s most visionary and eagerly anticipated new development, we were keen to echo the details and elements of design of the power station without being too literal, so that old and new will sit side by side for generations to come. As I previously mentioned, inspiration came from the heritage of the power station as well as its original, lavish Art Deco interior fittings and décor, which sits well with the LINLEY design. By looking back to these times we are able to illustrate the architectural journey of Battersea Power Station from 1930’s coal-fired power station to the 21st century high tech residential building. There is also a lot of inspiring architectural design to work with within Circus West itself. The penthouses feature an incredible amount of glass and are framed by large roof terraces with unrivalled views over the Thames and beyond. We were keen to capitalise on this, designing the rooms to purposefully look to the outside and maximising the terraces to create large spaces for both relaxing and entertaining.

  • Inside a LINLEY penthouse for Battersea Power Station:

LINLEY Battersea Power Station (1)LINLEY Battersea Power Station (2) LINLEY Battersea Power Station (4)

  • Are there any particularly memorable projects that you could tell us about?

LINLEY’s ongoing work with Claridge’s Hotel is something that we are incredible proud of. Over the years LINLEY has achieved three principal formats of execution: Art Deco, Traditional and a hybrid of the two, with, most importantly, the individuality of each suite being protected and preserved throughout, often incorporating original features such as restored furniture and fireplaces. Perhaps the most memorable design work by LINLEY at Claridge’s is the Map Room (pictured below), so-called because of the magnificent marquetry world map that adorns one wall of the room. The room is Claridge’s business centre, a peaceful escape for those wishing to hold a meeting, check emails or simply enjoy a book from the Assouline stocked shelves. The design references the glitz and glamour of global travel in the 1920’s through handcrafted furnishings and carefully selected materials and finishes, creating a space that feels fast-paced and connected yet still retains the atmosphere of the barber shop that previously inhabited the space. It is well worth a visit!

Map Room, Claridges (2) Map Room, Claridge's (4)

  • Do you ever refuse a commission on the basis of taste?

No. Working with the individual taste of each client is what makes every project different and interesting. What is important is how we interpret their style, creating an intelligent design which will ultimately better their lifestyle.

  • Are there any property developers or architects that you particularly admire (current or historical)?

I risk repeating myself but I really do admire what SP Setia Berhad is doing on the Battersea Power Station regeneration scheme. Its ambition is enormous but it will create a whole new community in the heart of London, one that will reside in the work of some of the outstanding architects of our day.

David Linley in the original control room at Battersea Power Station

David Linley in the original control room at Battersea Power Station. Image by

David Linley is Founder & Chairman of LINLEY and Chairman of Christie’s UK

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