David Collins: Designer of some of London's finest bars and restaurants

 

Visiting a great restaurant isn't just about the food. It's about the place, the space, the lighting and so many other factors that go beyond the sense of taste. David Collins, who has died of skin cancer, was one of those people who worked behind the scenes to create that multi-sensory dining experience, putting his stamp on so many of London's finest eateries and bars.

Collins was born in 1955 in Dublin, one of four children. His grandfather was involved in housing and his father was an architect, so he saw design as "in his genes". Collins recalled of his childhood how he "loved books about silent movie stars and photography and set design", which would be so much an influence for his later life. "I was quite a precocious child." His parents' quality of life was mirrored in his own aspirations "When I was growing up my parents always wanted the very best of what was affordable or feasible. If they did something they always wanted to do it well. And I'm the same."

He studied at the Bolton School of Architecture in Dublin and got his first major design commission by chance.He had just completed an interior for a friend of the chef Pierre Koffmann, who, impressed by the finished work, then offered Collins the opportunity to refurbish his restaurant La Tante Claire, in Chelsea. Shortly afterwards, in 1988, he was invited by Marco Pierre White to help with a refresh of Harvey's, which went on to be named that year's Times Restaurant of the Year.

In 1985 he founded the David Collins Studio as a platform for his work. Since then he and his team of 30 staff have worked on a large number of projects nationally and internationally. But it is for his work on bars and restaurants in London that he has become best known. A friend and colleague at the studio, who had worked with him for 13 years, said, "He changed the way in which people go out and go to bars." She spoke of him as "a mentor and inspiration to people all over the world. An absolute perfectionist, he always knew what it was that people wanted."

Collins himself acknowledged this sense of perfection. "Maybe I've got some sort of Asperger's Syndrome but I can always tell the size of a table or the length of a room or the height of a ceiling just by looking at them," he said. "I think the mathematical whirrings of my brain make me aspire to create spaces that look well-proportioned, well-structured and comfortable to move through."

In person, Collins reflected his design work, impeccably dressed, and as stylish as the interiors he created. He understood about a kind of luxury which went beyond mere brand names, creating these interiors which looked as if they had always been there. In all his work Collins recognised the need to balance traditional architecture with modern technical requirements and regulations. For example, working on The Gilbert Scott, a Marcus Wareing restaurant in the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, he said: "Our design is a subtle intervention. Heritage buildings need to be considered carefully: the furniture, the palette, the artwork – the restaurant needs to be contemporary and acknowledge the significance of its surroundings."

His signature work, in his favourite colour, was the Blue Bar in Belgravia. In this space the carpet, walls and furniture are all in what Collins called Lutyens Blue (after the room's designer). The effect is to create a cool, open space in what is only a 50-seat room. Marcus Wareing said of the Blue Bar that it was a place that "wasn't about its size. It was about its style."

Fiona Golfar, editor-at-large at Vogue, said, "The things that mattered to David, as much as style and the right shade of blue, were his loyal and long-lasting circle of friends, who were like his family. You could always count on him to tell you what's what, to pay you a compliment, to tell you off, to break a diet with a scone or a cake, or to play cards with you. He involved you in all of his life. He adored glamour and beautiful things, and was always rushing off to Loro Piana to buy his mother something fabulous. He had a great sense of humour – he could make you cry with laughter."

Last year, the Delaunay Hotel, on which Collins had worked, won "Best New Restaurant" at the Time Out Eating and Drinking Awards. Jeremy King and Chris Corbin of Rex Restaurant Associates told The Independent: "David Collins worked with us from 1998 on five very distinctive restaurants – J Sheekey, The Wolseley, The Delaunay, Brasserie Zédel and Colbert. David understood restaurants so much more intuitively than almost any other interior designer and we like to think he produced much of his best work for us, primarily because, as he said himself, he enjoyed a rigorous collaboration. We often disagreed but we always knew that whenever we insisted on our solution he would gracefully comply and then enhance our ideas!"

Marcus Williamson

David Collins, interior designer: born Dublin 1 March 1955; died London 17 July 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks