The alchemy of possibilities

To describe it as the design process ignores the emotional commitment that exists at David Collins Studio.

It starts with a confident client, and it requires an idea.

The idea may be lateral and oblique to start with, but it soon evolves as a palette of materials, colours and moods emerges and the familiar becomes exotic.

An internal lexicon

Nobody can own a language. We do not have exclusive rights to the words that we use. Some are words that others use to describe David Collins Studio, some are words that we deploy ourselves.

Intriguing. Beguiling. Provocative. Otherworldly. Elegant. Subversive. Unpredictable. Quality. Permanent. Graceful. Rigorous. Luxurious. Privilege. Subtle. Opulent. Singular. Timeless. Intelligent. Discreet.

Inspiration is not imitation

Our influence is never literal or obvious. It has been refracted and reconfigured. A single object or detail can be informed by a myriad of references. These come from art, cinema, music, fashion, architecture, literature, philosophy, geography, and history.

The skill is in distilling all of this into an environment which belongs to no specific era or discipline. It is the instinct to look to the past without nostalgia. To reference history without the slide towards pastiche.

The tourist and the purist

Who is a typical David Collins Studio client? There is no quick answer to this question that is of any value.

There is no restriction on the spectrum of what we design and who we design for.

Born out of time

Design was undergoing a surge in 1985. Clumsy Post industrialism, frigid minimalism and crude maximalism swept through a decade of excess. Carpets, upholstery and curtains were eradicated.

Into this David Collins revealed something entirely disconnected, the notion of swooning romance and sensual tension. If it slightly dumbfounded critics his visual eloquence and poetic sensitivity seduced a discerning clientele.

His name became a globally understood byword for beauty and luxury. This, to the curious and wayward vision of David meant a point of deviation and evolution.

His desire to explore the outreaches and uncharted regions of aesthetics is critical to the purpose of David Collins Studio.

The beauty of being born out of time means it is impossible to be defined by an era.

There is design that is defined by a decade, and there is design as defined by David Collins Studio.

A peculiar necessity

David Collins composed a Studio with the same precise judgment that he used to compose everything. He then used the Studio as a strange laboratory wherein conventional and familiar form could be broken down, particalised and meticulously re-assembled to satisfy his desire for intriguing and subtly wayward beauty.

As the Studio evolved and grew so, too, did the capability to refine all of its output into a unique statement. Less a design office and more of a belief system based on overwhelming and lethal elegance.

The Studio instinct is to distill and not to dilute. The perfect colour and nothing less. An obsessive commitment to material and detail.

Decisions are never made in favour of convenience. Every element of a project is passed through a stringent quality filter. A beauty which requires no thorough explanation.

A question of value(s)

Some people require quick solutions at a low cost that will deliver for the short-term. Solutions with superficial effect and little consideration for the future. Some people still believe that value is found in the lowest cost.

The pursuit of beauty for David Collins Studio comes with a powerful sense of permanence. It is simple, David Collins Studio wants its work to exist for as long as is possible. That explains the selection of materials which, owing to quality, become more beautiful with age.

We are awarded projects because of the quality and beauty that defines our work. Sometimes we are not awarded projects because of our perceived cost. We could spend a lot of time explaining and justifying this, or, we could simply, and confidently, do what we do for our international, and very appreciative, clientele.

Interior Design

I love the emotions created through good design, the way it attracts different people. To this day, this element of design still fascinates me.

One of my biggest inspirations is being part of a Studio with so many creative masterminds; they are my inspiration everyday. We're very inclusive as a company; we thrive on sharing ideas and use the office like a giant scrapbook of information.

Our work is of course ordered and precise but our process is rough work until that solid idea comes forward from the creative 'mess'. We work in a business of reinvention. Everything we do is different according to the needs of the client; I say to our designers, with any project, no matter what it is, demonstrate the strength of the vision, don't simply recite the concept, tell us where the idea comes from. Is it good enough,powerful enough to exist in the real world?

Interior design is going through a hugely important time right now. I wish that the industry, the leaders and the creative heads, would become more connected. We're in need of an organisation where you can get together and share stories. The more time we share together, the stronger we become against the trap of becoming a commodity.

As a designer, you do not want to be selected because you're the cheapest option. One of the difficulties is that often clients think that due to tech, the job is as easy as just pressing a button, but there is still a process. Tech cannot replace creativity.

Having said this, there are still people looking to invest in good design. I would love to see us, as an industry, take time and spend it together working through how we can best innovate and create. Looking outward on the design industry, I don't think that people are pushing the envelope enough. There has been much emphasis on restaurant and bar designs and a huge surge in popularity of these spaces, whether they are individualistic or not, but I believe that we should be looking towards new sectors, that perhaps we don't even know exist yet. Face Gym is a brilliant example. A hybrid of retail and experience, Face Gym demonstrates how a relative unknown can explode on the international circuit.

I also hope to see workspaces designed in new and creative ways. Being thoughtful is crucial to this process. Hotels as well; we need more cleverly designed hotels, like PUBLIC in NYC. They have taken relatively small, techy rooms and maximised on space for a very comfortable stay. It is clever and thoughtful, with the guest experience at the heart. I think, as real estate becomes more challenging, pocket-living will boom too. I personally love to do show apartments, it's such a brilliant opportunity to wow people and to excite clients. In terms of our industry as a business, it is all about diversification; stay aware, don't lose touch of client needs and keep individuality at the heart of it all.

This essay originally appeared as the foreword to the Interior Design Yearbook 2021.

Iain Watson
Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Iain is a founding member of David Collins Studio. Over the course of three decades, he has helped to steer The Studio from its original incarnation – a staff of two, David and Iain, working from David’s living room – to a 60-strong globally-recognised brand and a leader in the design and delivery of architectural and interior design projects.

From the outset, Iain played a key role in establishing the foundations of The Studio. He brought commercial rigour to the mix, complementing David’s creative ideas and vision, while acting as the guardian of the David Collins Studio brand and helping to develop the three core strands of the business: hotels & restaurants, retail, and residential.

Under Iain’s stewardship, David Collins Studio has steadily expanded its scope and scale: from designing a single retail space, to overseeing the delivery of the Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo worldwide store roll-outs; from creating a destination restaurant like Pierre Koffmann’s La Tante Claire, to realising a 253-bedroom hotel in Seoul. Throughout, Iain has never lost sight of The Studio’s guiding principles: creativity, craft, collaboration, and a near-obsessive attention to detail.

“I have always been passionate about protecting our Studio, playing a part in both its commercial and creative aspects,” he says. “Maintaining the Studio’s financial independence has enabled us to be strategic in our choices. We have always striven to take on creatively rewarding projects with clients who share our vision.”

Outside work, Iain’s great love is fashion and the fashion industry, and his profound understanding of beautifully made objects has given him an innate understanding of the world of luxury. “We’re in the business of delivering a feeling,” he says. “We have always understood the importance of providing a series of touchpoints for people who move in the world of luxury. You might buy a handbag in Alexander McQueen, drink a cocktail at The Wolseley and then spend the night at The Apartment at The Connaught. As the David Collins Studio brand has evolved, we have created our own unique ecosystem within the world of luxury.” Iain is also passionate about craft from a sustainability standpoint.

For Iain, one of the most rewarding and compelling aspects of his work is being able to support exceptional artisans. “We love working with talented people who are as passionate about creating beautiful things as we are. Now, as we look towards developing product ranges, this is even more relevant. It’s a very exciting time for David Collins Studio.”

Simon Rawlings
Creative Director

As Creative Director of David Collins Studio, Simon Rawlings has overseen the realisation of some of the world’s most iconic hospitality, residential and retail spaces. In the course of two decades at The Studio, he has collaborated with clients such as Harrods, Alexander McQueen and Mandarin Oriental, both in reinventing prominent buildings and establishing important new landmarks.

Working on projects across the globe, in a myriad of sectors that spans residential projects (private homes and commercial residences), hotels, restaurants and bars, furniture design, and luxury food and fashion retail design, Simon has been instrumental in setting the blueprint for The Studio’s work, which combines a near-obsessive attention to detail with virtuoso use of colour as a means of crafting mood through environment.

A passionate believer in "creating luxury through quality", he has always been a committed advocate of craft, supporting artisanship while encouraging design innovation. Functionality remains a cornerstone of his design philosophy. This, combined with a profound understanding of brands and an acute sense of the way people live, enables him to design spaces they can use and inhabit in total harmony.

Born in Wales, Simon studied Interior Design at Birmingham University where he gained both his Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees. He joined David Collins Studio in 1997 and was appointed Creative Director in 2007, overseeing the creative output of The Studio. Mindful of the importance of nurturing new talent, he now devotes considerable energy to mentoring and teaching.

Simon draws inspiration from everyday observation and from his travels. Under his tenure, David Collins Studio has received more than thirty high-profile awards, including the Prix Versailles 2016 for Alexander McQueen, Paris and The Best Bar In The World 2013, 2014 & 2015 for the Artesian at The Langham, London. He remains committed to the belief that ‘the clarity of an idea ensures the longevity of a design’.

Lewis Taylor
Design Director
Lewis Taylor, Design Director at David Collins Studio,

As Design Director of David Collins Studio, Lewis has led the design and delivery of the Studio’s hospitality and retail projects including the Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo worldwide store roll-outs, projects for Harrods, David Morris, McQ, Louis Leeman, Pret A Manger and de Grisogono and most recently the 376 key hotel Le Meridien in Seoul. He works closely with Creative Director Simon Rawlings, ensuring that Simon’s creative vision is realised and overseeing each element of the design and delivery process at a senior level.

In the 12 years since he joined David Collins Studio, Lewis has tackled an increasingly global scope of projects. “The Alexander McQueen store roll-out was one of the most memorable,” he says. “Each of the 50 stores channels the same design concept – the signature element being a large-scale carved wax panel – yet each is unique. The New York store has double-height ceilings, Tokyo is edgier, while some of the stores were created on much smaller budgets while maintaining the core aesthetic elements. It was both creatively challenging and extremely rewarding.”

Lewis has a particular passion for the FF&E aspect of his work, having started out as a furniture designer – a passion for beautifully made furnishings instilled from an early age with visits to his grandfather’s antique shop. He studied for his BA in Product & Furniture Design at De Montford University and while showing his graduation work at New Designers, was invited to bring in his portfolio by a member of the David Collins Studio team. He was immediately offered a job and started on a part-time basis while studying for his Masters in Design Products at the Royal College of Art (under Ron Arad, in his valedictory year as professor). Lewis eventually joined The Studio full-time in 2006, working closely with David Collins on a variety of projects.

“What David taught me was always to put myself in the customer’s shoes,” he says. “To painstakingly consider every aspect of the user journey. When you’re entering a restaurant, what is the first thing you see, the first thing you touch? When you’re entering a hotel room, is there somewhere to leave your keys and hang your coat? It’s easy to lose sight of the practical requirements of a space when you’re in the midst of the design process, but that is one of the major strengths of David Collins Studio – we’re always acutely aware that a space has to work operationally as well as aesthetically.”

David Goodman
Chief Operating Officer

David manages The Studio’s business operations – a role that includes negotiating contracts, finance, IT, HR and much more. He brings a wealth of domestic and international management experience, having held a range of senior management roles in the media and advertising industries. Before joining David Collins Studio in 2015, he was COO at Andrew Winch Design.

David took his first steps into the world of management while still a student at Leeds University, where he was Social Secretary and responsible for booking bands – ‘much to the detriment of my degree’. As part of his BA in French and Management he spent a year working in Paris, where he ended up working for Burberry for five years, rising to the position of Retail Operations Manager.

Outside work, David’s main interests are family, music, modern art and Manchester City Football Club. He is also the non-exec chairman of an advertising agency.

David Kendall
Marketing and Communications Director

David’s multi-faceted role at David Collins Studio includes overseeing the brand’s marketing and public relations, leading special projects such as the book, ABCDCS (Assouline, 2014), and Past Present Future – the 30th anniversary exhibition presented at Phillips in London in 2015 – as well as being part of the senior team.

Prior to joining the company in 2007, David worked as surveyor, specialising in commercial property, an experience that provided him with a solid commercial grounding. Before that, he gained a BA in English from Brunel University and a Masters in European Real Estate from Kingston University.

He is involved with seeking out product opportunities and new business, while continuing to safeguard the clear understanding, communication and implementation of the David Collins Studio brand.

"At David Collins Studio we’re very much focussed on craft and tradition," he says. "This gives everything we do a narrative, which I believe is what makes us unique: the idea of "storytelling". We’re blessed that our clients afford us the time to create them beautiful hand-crafted bespoke items. That combination of passion, time, research and craft is the real magic of what we do."

Ros Keet
Associate Director

Ros leads The Studio’s commercial team, overseeing restaurant and bar projects, primarily, from the initial concept stage right through to delivery. Originally from South Africa, she joined David Collins Studio 12 years ago after gaining experience with a small interior design company for five years, three of which were spent in Los Angeles working on very high-end private residential projects.

Her work at David Collins Studio has taken her all over the globe, and she particularly relishes incorporating local points of reference into her schemes. "It’s like bringing together two design cultures," she says. "For a recent project in Bangkok, for example, we used Thai artists and had furniture made locally. That involved doing a lot of research into traditional crafts and then translating that into a David Collins Studio design – essentially working with rustic local materials and creating a more refined, contemporary result. Seeing the end product was extremely satisfying."

Louise Lythe
Associate Director

Louise’s role involves sourcing and creating bespoke pieces and schemes for David Collins Studio projects. She manages the process from the concept stage through to installation, and is responsible for the creation and management of the project budgets. In her role, she works closely with suppliers and craftspeople across the globe.

Following completion of a Foundation course at Chelsea School of Art and a degree in History of Art and Architecture at Manchester University she went on to work in the fashion and lifestyle sector for various brands, and moved to Delhi for a year and a half where she worked directly with artisans developing products.

"I’m passionate about quality and craftsmanship, my international experience has definitely informed what I do for David Collins Studio. I bring a slightly different viewpoint to the mix with my background in fashion and diverse first-hand production experience. It is important to me to support, and continue, the skill of bespoke artisan craft, and I still get a genuine thrill to see a beautifully made object and know how it will enhance a project."

Siobhan Kelly
Associate Director

Siobhan joined David Collins Studio from Louise Bradley in August 2018, where she held the position of Associate Design Manager for two years, creating private homes and commercial developments. Prior to that role, she worked client side and also for Candy & Candy.

She has also run her own interior design practice for four years completing multiple private residential projects internationally.

Siobhan holds an MA Cantab in Architecture from the University of Cambridge, and an MA in Architecture from the Royal College of Art, both of which were achieved with honours. She has also completed a Professional Practice & Management in Architecture course at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

Her pastimes include birding, photography and visiting galleries.

Jason Stewart
Associate Designer

Jason joined David Collins Studio in 2005 following completion of an Art and Design Foundation course and graduation from the BA Hons in Interior Design degree at Edinburgh College. An Interior Architect, he works within the hospitality and commercial sectors of David Collins Studio and feels his strengths lie in people management, be that in communicating with clients and the project teams or nurturing his team here at The Studio.

He has a strong commitment to the David Collins Studio aesthetic, which he sees as, “a timeless aesthetic” one that “makes reference to mid-century design and links this to current narratives – in other words, referring to the past and making it relevant again.” This can be achieved through "stringent project research into the heritage of a building or into your client, and by focussing on individual elements to bring about a new design, to which you add embellishments." Jason has seen many projects through to completion, including Gleneagles, The Delaunay and One Canada Square, and sees his involvement in the development of The Ritz-Carlton Residences at MahaNakhon as a career milestone.

Jason balances his life with an appreciation for the outdoors and travel, to achieve “a sense of escape”. He is very fond of Central and South America and is an avid sportsman.

Marco Ginex
Associate Designer

Joining David Collins Studio in 2013 from David Chipperfield Architects, Marco's had segued working as an architect to an interior architect whilst working on the Café Royal project in London. Previously, Marco studied at The Architectural Association on Bedford Square in London, London for five years, with a year in Rome working at Fuksas Architects. Marco works across hospitality and retail sectors at David Collins Studio.

Marco had always referenced David Collins Studio projects throughout his career as an architect, and feels that as an architect, "I am looking at interiors from a slightly different perspective, and possibly in a more holistic way."

Marco has enjoyed working on the MahaSamutr resort project in Hua Hin, Thailand, opening in 2019, "because of the scale of the project and the range of private hospitality offers contained within the project", and has led on the redevelopment of the Harrods Foodhalls, which has been "very complex given its status as a listed building, and the operational demands made upon the space."

Marco has played Tennis since he was a child, and is a passionate devotee of the European arts scene in Europe, and a frequent visitor of the Art Basel fayres.

Sadiq Leon
Finance Manager

Sadiq joined David Collins as Finance Manager in 2018 from the sports and entertainment marketing agency, Cake, a subsidiary of Havas. Sadiq was attracted to David Collins Studio as he saw synergies between his 360-degree agency experience working with Global Omnicom, WPP agencies and SME marketing agencies, and The Studio, as both are “selling time for a creative process”.

Sadiq brings a wealth of experience to The Studio with a focus on operational efficiency and the streamlining of processes, and balancing this with the nurturing of the Studio’s creative framework. Prior to working in-house for agencies, Sadiq started out in aviation as an Aircraft Weight Balance specialist.

Sadiq is Canadian and moved to London from Toronto in 2006. He has a BA in Digital Media from York University, Toronto and is ACCA accredited. He enjoys cooking and photography.

Jennifer Mainwaring
Business Development Manager

Jennifer joined David Collins Studio in September 2017 from Conran and Partners, where she held the role of Marketing Manager for five years. She believes that “the level of detail David Collins Studio delivers is near-obsessive, and makes each project so magical, and so different from one another.”

She was originally drawn to The Studio for its use of colour, which she describes as “confident, daring and bold”, and "unlike anything she had ever seen before.”

Jennifer lives in Barnes, which she loves for its proximity to the river, Richmond Park and The White Hart Pub where she spends much of her time. She lives in a minimalist property that she and her Architect husband designed and renovated, as featured in the Evening Standard Homes & Property pages.