It is incredibly difficult to get five members of a busy design studio into a single room to sit around a table for a designated period of time. The work comes first.
Ros and Louise are Associate Directors with specialisms in FF&E design and procurement respectively. Marco and Jason are interior architects. The very serene and charming Tori is tasked with keeping a calm dynamic to the operation as EA to the CEO and Creative Director.
There is no inhibition. They finish each other’s questions, and they occasionally give the exact same response at precisely the same time. Thankfully, they also, occasionally have differing ideas.
Graham Erickson: As an outside observer David Collins Studio appears to operate as a single unified ideal where every person is committed to the same objective of delivering truly great work within a commercial strategy. How close is this to the reality?
Ros Keet: It is, in sincerity, the reality. David always had a gift for identifying and hiring extremely competent, gifted people. This has continued and, maybe, even become more discerning. As a result, The Studio is made up of people who are very confident in their own skills and qualities. This confidence generates a respect and appreciation. Of course, like anywhere, there are occasionally blips to this but, generally, it breeds a culture of very good nature.
Louise Lythe: I agree. I came here as a temp and never left! I had the privilege of working closely with David and he demonstrated absolute faith in me. This, of course, instilled a confidence in me which I never take for granted. It’s a case of belief, loyalty and trust.
GE: How important is the fresh thinking of young designers considered in the studio? And, to keep it level, how do the younger designers view the experience of senior designers?
Marco Ginex: I think the views and ideas of younger people are hugely valuable. I think The Studio appreciates the input of everybody. Perhaps more, it is the cultural span which is more important than the age. The Studio has people from all parts of the world. This brings an exciting and vibrant energy to it and, of course, the work.
Jason Stewart: I agree, I think we all consider, and respect, each other as designers without really thinking about age, status or nationality of origin.
GE: I think it is possible to learn the rules and firm theory of design but the instinctive eye or emotion is a gift.
The finishes, colours and materials used in a David Collins Studio project are available to, well, anybody. Yet the familiar object and form becomes something entirely beyond the normal when passed through this “David Collins Studio filter”.
JS: Well, there are a finite number of materials, finishes, pieces and crafts. It is almost impossible to design without specifying things which are, of course, available to any designer from any studio. The composition of these familiar elements is where a designer gets to demonstrate their gift.
LL: David was a master of taking things which should not have worked together. Under his vision, the familiar objects became otherworldly! He saw the gift in people to do this and I guess a number of us have been fortunate enough to work with David and inherit some of his gift.
RK: Again, though, we enjoy very special privilege in David Collins Studio. There is a reverence for The Studio that makes manufacturers, artists and suppliers want to give us a very preferential service. It is not something we ask for but, well, it is not something we refuse! It enables us to explore materials and pieces before any other practice.
GE: How do you define or explain luxury?
MG: Luxury can be very simple.
Tori Walker: I read recently a piece where somebody described their idea of luxury as being a place with no sound. Just pure silence. I can totally understand that.
JS: Luxury is very personal and is relative to circumstance. So, a very wealthy person will think of luxury differently to a person on very limited means. The ideal of luxury may be the same, but the object or indulgence which defines it, will be very different.
LL: Luxury should be an occasional ritual or ceremony. It should never be taken for granted no matter how small or inexpensive. Luxury should always be special.
GE: Is there an excitement about working on restrained budgets on projects which are less obviously luxurious?
MG: I absolutely think that a very restricted budget can be an inspiration in itself! Creativity comes from necessity. We would, perhaps, become complacent if we always had the privilege of vast budgets. A combination of budgets is the perfect situation which, fortunately, is what makes up our project lists.
JS: I agree that a budget might cut out a lot of possibilities but it does not exclude design quality. Having to improvise is a great way of learning and we should never, I feel, stop learning.
GE: Do you, as designers, ever reference your own heritage?
MG: Well, I think that our creative vision is always forward thinking. But that does not stop you from taking inspiration from work you did in a previous project. If something worked beautifully it has a value. Of course, it is not as simple as just repeating the work, or the detail. Everything is in constant state of evolution.
RK: Well, I agree but would maybe go further. Sometimes, it is absolutely appropriate and right to reference an exact detail. As a designer you are appointed to make precise judgement. It is a responsibility. To reference directly is not an easy, or quick, way out. It is the designer confidently stating that the best solution is this technique.
GE: The future sparkles with fragments of its past?
MG: Exactly, that is very true.
GE: What is the secret to a happy design studio?
RK: No real mystery. For us, it’s a building which is physically as connected and integrated as possible. No closed in offices. It is fluid, intuitive and as open as possible. Any person can walk anywhere in the building and chat to anybody. It is absolutely informal.
JS: Interesting projects and intelligently organized teams. Beyond respect, there is a genuine care for each other. Fairness. All common sense really. Problems and challenges arise but they are dealt with as a unit.
GE: Tell me about the Friday breakfast sessions at David Collins Studio.
TW: We invite different people into The Studio to tell us about their specialism. It could be an artist, a photographer, a manufacturer or a writer. There is no real ruling. It has to be interesting of course!
The Friday breakfasts were established when I came here but I have brought in different approaches to it. I have introduced some esoteric guests. Meditation, poetry, mindfulness and wellbeing. I think the response in The Studio has been great so that makes it very satisfying. I think ceremony and occasion are important elements in the work of The Studio so it is important, precious even, that we have our own rituals.
GE: What would you miss if you moved on from David Collins Studio?
TW: The obvious answer is the people. It is true though, the people are great. It is a pleasure, and fascinating, to work with creative people. Then, if I am really honest, I would miss the actual building. I previously worked at an investment bank. This building is so charming. The light and the energy of the place are both really special. The main studio never fails to make me quietly excited. It is just really beautiful. So, definitely, the building.
GE: From listening to you all, trust sounds like a really fundamental notion here: a client trusts The Studio; The Studio, in turn, trusts the client. Moreover, every member of the team in each discipline must trust each other. Would you agree?
RK: Trust is a massive element in the whole journey. Our team is highly skilled and confident. We have a single goal, and that is to give a client the best possible result. Nobody in The Studio can do that single-handed. You cannot really collaborate without trust.
The Studio offers a competitive benefits package, including:
• £250 annual personal development fund for individual non vocational creative pursuits
• Birthday leave in addition to 24 days holiday
• Friday workshops with breakfast and presentations from inspiring designers and influencers
• Summer office hours, finishing at 3pm on Fridays, during July and August
• Regular outings and workshops organised through the OFF-GRID programme funded by The Studio. Past activities have included life-drawing, pottery and flower arranging, trapeze class and exhibition visits.