David Collins studio keeps legacy of its founder alive with new projects

Famed London company finds a way to keep going after the death of its architect boss, with recent expansion in Asia to show for the effort

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2014, 4:23am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2014, 5:04am

When the British interior designer and architect David Collins died after a short illness last year, many feared his eponymous studio - behind award-winning interiors of boutiques and homes, restaurants and bars, including the Wolseley and Claridge's Bar - would disband.

Collins was so synonymous with his company's glamorous design aesthetic that the personal tragedy could have easily become a business disaster.

Instead, the London-based studio, with managing director Iain Watson and creative director Simon Rawlings at the helm, has continued and, one year on, has expanded its presence in Asia with several high-profile projects.

Key to the studio's successful succession, says Rawlings, was Collins' cultivation of a creative team who shared his design perspective: he was known for a sophisticated blend of modern luxury and chic heritage with the bold use of colour, especially his signature blue.

"I am in my 17th year with the studio so it really is in my blood, while Iain had been with David since day one so the business runs like a well-oiled machine," he says. "Some organisations force designers to try to be good at everything but David knew he had to bring together experts at different things.

"The studio has never been about a particular design style and more about a feeling for details and materials, about making a space work well."

Rawlings says many clients have remained loyal and continued to commission projects. Recently completed works include a sleek, marble-clad 390 sqmetre Alexander McQueen Aoyama flagship in Tokyo, conceived in collaboration with McQueen creative director Sarah Burton.

"We try to make every flagship store site specific," says Rawlings, who created a marble facade with subtle engraving visible only when illuminated at night. "Tokyo is a day and night-time city and we wanted to reflect the different visual experiences in the architecture."

The design team has just completed the interiors for Condé Nast's Vogue Lounge in Bangkok's new MahaNakhon Cube retail centre, part of an Ole Scheeren-designed mixed-use development that includes the David Collins Studio-designed Ritz-Carlton Residences.

"The actual building itself is challenging as the spiralling architecture changes floor by floor, but we've adapted our original concept of a grand old New York apartment with elegant spaces to accommodate that," says Rawlings.

The Vogue Lounge is a medley of black, white and gold with bold stripes and marble offset with natural timber finishes and original photographs from the magazine's archives.

"The outdoor terrace seats about 70 and is a very glamorous space," says Rawlings. "We like to support local young artists so have added a sculpture by a Thai artist that references the black stripes in an organic way."

In Hong Kong, the team has created interiors for the Continental at Pacific Place. The design for that restaurant saw British chef and restaurateur Rowley Leigh, David Collins Studio and Swire Hotels collaborate to create different spatial experiences from breakfast to dinner.

Rawlings says the interior, a distinct departure from "the goldfish bowl feel of the previous incarnation", introduces a cosy residential feel with soft lighting and walnut flooring as well as glazed, electric-green tiling "that transforms the space".

Other current projects include the interiors for a Kengo Kuma-designed country club serving a luxury villa resort in Hua Hin, Thailand, and a Madison Avenue boutique conceived as a Parisian salon, complete with a fireplace and a cobbler for bespoke men's shoe designer Louis Leeman.

"The interior display walls are highly flexible to create different experiences," says Rawlings. "It's like a puzzle."

The studio already has provenance in designing unique displays for shoewear, having recently completed a 42,000 sqft art deco-style Shoe Heaven Harrods and new-look interiors for Jimmy Choo's Beverly Hills store.

"We are usually lucky to work in historic spaces like our new project renovating Melbourne's Windsor Hotel, which is the only Victorian hotel in the city still being used for its original purpose," says Rawlings. "It is being extended with an office while the hotel part will be completely renovated.

"We enjoy projects with a history and a conservation angle."

Earlier this year, the studio published a 232-page monograph, ABCDCS, as a tribute to Collins' remarkable three decades of design.