The Robb Reader: David Linley

<< Back to Robb Report, April 2009

In 1985, when Viscount David Linley founded the London-based furniture-design firm that bears his name, he wanted to rattle some cages. "At that time, the industry was making things that could be thrown away; I wanted to make things that would be lasting," he recently told Robb Report. Today, in addition to overseeing his firm, he serves as chairman of Christie’s auction house in the United Kingdom and is busy writing his fourth book. A member of the British royal family—he is Queen Elizabeth II’s nephew—he says he could not be more optimistic about the future of British design. "The industry went through a confusing time over the last 20 years, but now people are beginning to experiment with different materials, like carbon fiber and fiber optics, and incorporating them into pieces of furniture."

Describe the ultimate home.
What you want the home to be nowadays is a sanctuary of calm, in which elegance and craftsmanship and design are the real drivers. Many houses have gotten so complicated with machinery and everything else, they can actually infuriate you. We get enough agitation on the street and in our cars. A good home functions as a system and works as a living unit, but a great home has atmosphere and works well on all levels.

 

What is your home like?
It houses design, family, wife, dogs, nanny, bicycles, furniture, a burgeoning collection of paintings by our children, as well as artwork that we collect. I would say it is getting quite full. But it’s a very happy home.

 

You collect photographs, paintings, watercolors, and drawings. What is your latest acquisition?
It is a photograph, but I would rather not reveal the specifics. I will say that I seek out up-and-coming artists—the point of it is the anonymity. I like the actual work of art and its innocence. I go to art shows, drawing schools, and try to help young artists get started by buying their work, which I find very rewarding. And then working at Christie’s, I have a river of art flowing past my door every day. Our staff is not allowed to bid on them, but we are allowed to leave bids, which means I can leave an offer, but I cannot actually bid against others in the auction. Sometimes I might get something.

 

Do you have passions besides art and design?
At the moment, I’m doing a lot of globe-trotting, so I’m passionate about luggage. Sadly, Linley is not designing any luggage; it would be my dream. In that area, I look for sturdiness, elegance, volume, and security. I like the German luggage company Rimowa. It is known for sleek aluminum designs.

 

How do you spend your spare time?
I like to bicycle. I like to spend time with our children; they both draw like mad, which is really nice. And I cook. I’m very bad at it, but I enjoy making just plain roasts and doing boyish things like barbecues and roasting things on fires and spits. I’m also intrigued by going around the Milan Furniture Fair and looking at beautiful new B&B Italia products. I think most people like either modern or traditional. I like to straddle both worlds. With motorbikes, for instance, most people like the forward-technology look. I’m quite happy driving a brand-new BMW myself, but I also like driving an old Triumph, usually from the 1960s or ’70s. I have three that all follow that great ’60s look, which hasn’t been bettered, really.

 

How do you define luxury?
Well, luxury is an overused word. The old meaning of luxury—a watch, a Versace suit, all these sort of material things—needs to be re-evaluated. Real luxury is about attention to detail and the thought process behind it. It also depends on how you live your life. Luxury to me is having a bit of time off. It can be sitting in a church in total silence, or looking at a peaceful painting, or time to ride my bicycle, or time to be with my children, or working in a workshop. All these sort of simple pleasures are now regarded as luxury.

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