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.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
newsJohn Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
News
i100
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games