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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity is available to ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leading specialist i...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Support Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This role's responsibility also include operat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer - Northern Home Counties

£27000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Their revenue and profit have g...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy