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He's a Craftsman With a Royal Reverence for the Woods

November 12, 1998|CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The son of England's Princess Margaret and Lord Snowden, Viscount David Linley has won international acclaim as a master wood craftsman and entrepreneur. Clients for his elegant handmade desks, chests and beds include Mick Jagger, Giorgio Armani and Elton John. Having established his furniture company in 1985, Linley has expanded into classical sofas with crafted wood leg designs, and complementary fabrics. This year he introduced a more affordable accessories line, which is being marketed at in-store shops in six Neiman Marcus stores. These include the Beverly Hills store, where he was recently interviewed in the Galleries department.

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Question: You're sitting at an exquisite Linley desk, surrounded by Linley lamps, picture frames, candlesticks and fruit bowls, and autographing Linley books ("Classical Furniture," 1993, and "Extraordinary Furniture," 1996, Harry N. Abrams). When did this passion for craftsmanship begin?

Answer: Woodwork and I met at the side of my father [photographer, craftsman and inventor] when I was only 5 or 6. He had a workshop to make models for his designs and was always taking us to museums. I had a fascinating, design-oriented childhood. I was always thinking about it, and he encouraged me.

Q: And you were taught craftsmanship at Bedales School and then the Parnham House School for Craftsmen in Wood under the direction of John Makepeace. Wasn't that an unusual education for the late 20th century?

A: I was fortunate to be shown that I could make a living this way, that to make something is very gratifying. In 1982, at age 20, I began working with colleagues in a small business. I was doing everything--I got the orders and made the products. I was getting a lot of work, so I started a retail store called David Linley Furniture Ltd. That's a whistle-stop sketch of my development.

Q: Do you have a specialty?

A: Our commissions have ranged from modest domestic furniture for private houses to unique items such as the 60-foot table for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Every single piece of commission is made by one person, start to finish. Now we are showing off the skills of nearly 115 people who make everything by hand--well, OK, a little bit by machine, but mostly by hand. Women make excellent craftsmen--does that make sense?--craftspersons.

Q: Your company has continued to expand?

A: Yes, this year the company changed its name to David Linley & Co. and our focus now is developing the Linley brand. Our core product will always be furniture, but we will design and sell a wide variety of interior and lifestyle products.

Q: What is your design philosophy?

A: We want to produce high-quality, functional, aesthetically appealing furniture. We don't believe design should be outrageous--we like to think we are producing contemporary classics. We concentrate on subtle details, contrasting textures and fine marquetry.

Q: You are known for the beauty of the sycamore, walnut, cherry and other woods you use. And these are all from sustainable timbers?

A: Yes, they are all taken from sustainable woods where replanting ensures that every tree cut down is replaced. I think it's important to remember that wood is one of our replenishable resources. I'm an environmentalist--I think the last 10 years have seen much more environmental awareness in England.

Q: What else do you see happening?

A: A revival of interest in what we do. More people are coming into the shop, wanting to buy wood products. And people who are burned out and looking for a simpler lifestyle are finding a second career in woodworking.

Q: How do you account for this?

A: I think it's the reaction to a hectic, highly technological world. It's a longing for things whose construction you can understand, and to know that they will last and can be handed down to your children.

Q: And you've aimed for the same qualities in your accessory line?

A: Yes, I think today many things can date quickly. We've been making some of the photo frames for 10 years and we added some things to that. Our London shop is on Pimlico Road, which is lined with antique stores, and it's a busy place. An antique which can be admired by people 200 years after it was made is a fantastic example of how design can be used to be lasting.

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