LONDON — After 20 years of crafting luxury furniture, David Linley still can't keep his hands still.
The 44-year-old son of the late Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden is a born designer. When he's not building the perfect object or machine, you can bet he's riding it — or wearing it.
"Controlling the design of an everyday object is very satisfying," Linley said over a cup of tea at his new store on Albemarle Street, which he opened last month to mark his 20th anniversary in the business.
"I must have made 20 different bicycles in my life; bicycle parts are like works of art in miniature. My latest creation was ‘a motorbike for the city.' I made an urban-looking bicycle that could stand up to potholes. Of course, it was stolen instantly — proof of the genius of its design," he adds dryly.
He now rides to work on a fold-up bicycle, which is so compact he can drop it at a coat check.
Linley collects vintage cars and watches (today he's wearing a Seventies Montine), and is designing a Triumph motorbike, with the help of a mechanic friend, right down to the fuel tank and the number plate. In his spare time, he makes model airplanes with his six-year-old son, Charles.
When Linley's not working with his hands, he's pushing his business, known simply as Linley, in new directions. Indeed, after two decades, he feels his company has only just begun to hit its stride.
"We have no plans to fritter this moment away. We want to widen our appeal, make the designs more accessible and give customers value for money," said Linley, whose signature is wooden furniture with marquetry, the 17th-century decorative technique featuring thin layers of different-colored woods.
His furniture and objects have a classical feel. One of his latest designs is a detailed reproduction of the last chair Lord Admiral Nelson ever sat in. He made the chair in cooperation with England's National Maritime Museum, and on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Nelson's victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in October.
He's also famous for his quirky touches. Linley's writing desks all boast secret compartments and his jewelry boxes feature inlaid leopard and zebra prints. Thanks to a cheeky sense of humor, he crafted wooden dice for rearview mirrors, made of Makassar ebony, with white leather spots. His wooden doorstops are shaped like wedges of Swiss cheese and his key chains boast built-in compasses.His previous corporate clients have included the Metropolitan Museum of Art, London's Savoy hotel and Credit Suisse First Boston and Burberry. For Burberry's Barcelona store, he created an oak table, the top of which is inlaid with a Gaudi-inspired marquetry design. He's also made furniture for Elton John, Mick Jagger, Peter Marino and Carolina Herrera.
About 80 percent of his clients have homes in London, while the remaining 20 percent are from places including the U.S., Russia, Japan and Turkey. Today, he supplies clients not only with furniture and home accessories, but also with interior design services for homes, yachts and cars (he's currently fitting a humidor into one of his client's cars), and even an upholstery collection.
"When I started, people were scared of design and generally not confident about their own taste. That's all gone now. In the past, I was envious of my antique dealer friends, because it was easy for them to make a sale. Now they tell me I'm the lucky one."
He isn't ashamed to say his own house has bits and pieces from Ikea, a company that he credits with helping make people aware of design. He offers up the following tip: "The key to flat-pack furniture is the person who actually puts it together."
Linley, who grew up in Kensington Palace, fell in love with woodworking as a child. His father is best known for his photography, but he also had a passion for invention, and one of Linley's earliest memories is making a wooden toy boat with Lord Snowden.
Unexpectedly, Linley's childhood home was not a jumble of priceless antiques and oil paintings. "My father restored the apartment, and put in modern interiors, Sixties Danish furniture and big hi-fi speakers. Yes, it was a palace, but it didn't feel like one."
He studied at Bedales School, a prestigious, alternative high school in Hampshire where he learned the basics of woodworking and developed a love of handmade objects — and the slow process of design. In the early Eighties, Linley studied at Parnham House School for Craftsmen in Wood, and later opened his own workshop.
Linley's maternal grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, supported him throughout his career, and until her death in 2002. She bought him one of his first band saws, and it is thanks to her that he's now able to take part in London's prestigious Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair. "She commissioned me to do a pedestal for her bust, and that piece got me through the door," he said.Linley says the main sea change over the past two decades is that customers — and potential ones — increasingly see his designs as relevant to the way they live. But there's so much more to be done. "We want to widen the appeal, without losing the reason why people come to Linley in the first place — the quality and the service," he says.
Future projects include building on the interior design services, creating more objects for the home, wholesaling part of the range and even setting up shop in America. "I'd love to open in the U.S., but I need to find the right partner to work with. And I want to do it properly — you know, open 10 stores at the same time."
Linley has even farther-reaching ambitions. "We're at a very exciting stage now, and we also realize that we're only as good as our last piece of furniture. I would love to get into the dictionary as synonymous with great quality and service."
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