How will the noughties fit into the history of furniture design? For David Linley, esteemed cabinet maker and chairman of Christie's UK, it will be remembered as the decade that furniture history repeated itself with revitalized craft and a new awareness of furniture as art. "The Noughties have been a melting pot of old ideas and new ideas all coming together," says Linley listing Ron Arad, Marc Newson and Studio Job as design decade leaders.
"In the past few years, people have propelled furniture into the sculpture and modern art idiom," Linley, the son of Princess Margaret, told me last week. "Not long ago it was a huge gamble to call furniture design art. Recently, there has been a huge change in people's perception of furniture." Linley, who made his first piece of wooden furniture (a desk) at the age of 13, has two eponymous shops in London, in Belgravia and Mayfair respectively. He has long been intrigued how history affects future designs.
Earlier this month in New York, Linley launched his new book Star Pieces – The Enduring Beauty of Spectacular Furniture (Thames and Hudson) written with London-based author Helen Chislett and Charles Cator, deputy chairman of Christie's International. The book, a heavy coffee table number full of glossy photos and tips on how to commission or buy furniture - explores the golden ages of furniture from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome through to the movements of the modern day. "Design Art has added huge excitement to the world of furniture – it means that furniture now takes part in the art world and is not being separated from it. It is the coming together of the art world and furniture world."
Linley is a firm believer that in order to move forward, furniture designers must look back at earlier designs. "This really is the new golden age," Linley says of the noughties. "What I find exciting is the new collective of designers using craft in the old fashioned way, not the 70s way of the bobble hat brigade."
"I think the decade of noughties can be described as art meeting craft meeting design," he says. "You've got people using old skills again – for example, Studio Job did that with the screens with skeletons [called Perished in 2006] and with their rosewood 'Bavaria' screen in 2008." Similarly, the 'mad chair with mad twigs' by the French designer Vincent Dubourg uses old techniques like wood-bending and metal-casting to create something both modern and fresh.
Linley remains a traditionalist at heart; he’d rather look to history books than research online. Yet he values how the web has affected the industry this decade; "The internet now influences everyone and helps collectors choose what they want, rather than them being dictated to by fashion. During the 1920s and 1930s, you had a distinct state of what was collectable. Now, the internet gives people the confidence to choose what they actually want."
Of course, the web allows designers to research historical trends and past creations. When a student (pre the dot.com days), Linley thought he had created a particularly ingenious architect’s table only to discover 'his' design had been around for two hundred years. "I began to learn one of the most crucial lessons for any furniture designer: if you want to move forward, you must first look backwards. If you don't understand history, you are wasting your time. The roots of great furniture design go down a long way. The trick is in understanding what has gone before and keeping that line going forward."
Like most fathers, all Linley wants for Christmas is something handmade by his children. "They're very inquisitive and creative." He says of Charles, 10 and Margarita, 7. "I'd love something that my children have designed and made themselves." And what do you know; the history of furniture design is repeating itself in the Linley household.