Collins’s sudden death last summer at 58, which shocked the design world, has now prompted an auction sale of the contents of his London home. The 190 lots shows off this taste, which combined subtly nuanced colours (particularly his favourite blues) with layers of varied texture, from oak and mahogany to silk, suede and bronze, all encased in sophisticated, varied lines. His interiors were unfussy, comfortable and seductive, never vulgar or flashy.
Born in Ireland in 1955, where he studied architecture, he moved to London and fell into interior design — about which, at first, he admitted he knew next to nothing. But he learnt fast. From his first job designing La Tante Claire restaurant for Pierre Koffmann, he then did Harvey’s for Marco Pierre White. His path was set.
In the early Eighties, Collins enjoyed shopping in Paris’s famous flea-markets, whose ever-changing, wide-ranging choice fuelled his eclectic yet focused style. He developed a passion for 20th century designers (especially, but not always French); for clean lines, and well defined shapes.
His studio produced bespoke furniture too. Every chair or sofa has buckets of glamour. Chairs range from lot 27, a striking ‘Egyptien’ 1935 curvaceous pair upholstered in deepest purple silk (£3,000-£5,000) by Marc du Plantier, to a David Collins studio pair of gorgeous peacock velvet and figured-silk lounge chairs on oak frames (lot 64; £4,000-£6,000).
A long, suave five-seater sofa designed by DC studio, with 10 loose cushions, perfectly shows off, with its gorgeous mid-blue silk-velvet upholstery and clean Italianate lines, elegant and comfortable. (lot 71, £4,000-£6,000).
Another pair, of modern-winged armchairs in daring lilac suede, demonstrate Collins’s appreciation of dramatic colour and texture. These, by Alexander Lamont, are on at £3,000-£5,000.
At home, he collected French set-designer and painter Christian Bérard’s oil paintings, and the trademark gilt-bronze boxes of little-known French metal designer, Line Vautrin. Bérard was part of the Ballets Russes milieu; and among his set designs and paintings on offer, lot 26 is a Picasso-esque study of four heads, ‘Quattro Saltimbanchi’, for £7,000-£10,000.
Collins liked to arrange Line Vautrin’s striking gilded bronze boxes on low coffee tables to create an opulent focal point in a room. Lot 97 is a particularly attractive box enamelled with azure lozenges, for £1,500-£2,200.
While Collins’s style owes much to Art Deco in its lack of fuss and twiddles, and use of high quality materials, it is definitely unique. A fluffy silk rug near tight silk upholstery; mixed polished oak or ebony with burnished gilt, transparent glass with lace.
Everything was positioned to perfection — a lesson in getting the right visual balance; and it is the same in his restaurants and bars.
Items of great impact include a geometric David Collins rug, 10 foot long, in wool and silk (lot 120, £2,000-£3,000); a pared-down pair of gilt and marble consoles made by DC studio from a Marc du Plantier design (lot 73, £4,000-£6,000); and a Paco Rabanne-attributed brass 1970s artichoke ceiling lamp, £800-£1,200.
Attractive, lighting was important to Collins, so there’s a charming pair of slim French standard lamps, (lot 146 for £1,500-£2,500), and a super-stylish 1930 aluminium Czech desk lamp, for £800-£1,200 (lot 175).
On his walls, while the Bérard paintings from the 1930s are the earliest things he had, and likely to increase in value, Collins also favoured living artists, such as collectable art-photographer Wolfgang Tilmans, the first non-English artist to win the Turner Prize (in 2000). A couple of Tilman’s challenging works include ‘Freisch’ (lot 46); a chromogenic print, from an edition of 11, for £4,000-£6,000.
His taste for incidental items such as glassware and ceramics was shrewd. Lot 19 is a gorgeous Jean Besnard 1925 ceramic charger with stylized leafy patterns estimated at £1,000-£1,500, and a star buy might well be the tall (29”) and monumental vase by collectable ceramicist Felicity Aylieff, currently professor of ceramics at the Royal College of Art. This loosely drawn, lovely vase is valued quite low, at £700-£1,000.
- Luxury-Colour-Texture: the collection of David Collins, is on November 4, see www.Christies.com for details