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Q&A December, 1 2010

Selectism Q&A | Designer David Collins

Born just outside of Dublin, David Collins studied at the Bolton Street School of Architecture.  His career has found him all over the world – recent projects completed in both South Africa and Italy. Collins and his studio take a holistic approach to design. There is emphasis on local environment and, of course, on function. With the Delaire Graff Lodge & Spa (seen above), located in the heart of South Africa’s Winelands, Collins melds contemporary luxury with locally sourced materials, finding aesthetic cues in Cape architecture. Similarly, in Milan, Collins’ design for the Larusmiani store draws directly from brand heritage (finely tailored clothing). In both Lodge and retail space, Collins manages a deft balance of global desire and local need. This innate skill has been his hallmark, and has been reason for a slew of international design awards.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with David Collins about his work. Our short Q&A, illustrated by interior views of the Laursmiani store and the breathtaking vista of the Delaire Graff Lodge, comes after the leap.

SL: You’ve recently received the House & Garden Pineapple Award from House and Garden for your work on the Lime Wood Hotel in Hampshire. Let’s begin with talking about design in a lifetime. When did you first become cognizant of design as a field or even just as an idea?

DC: When I won the award from House and Garden it really was just about the Lime Wood Hotel. In a way this was kind of recognition of some of the work I have done over the years that I am recognized for here in the UK. I am an architect by training and I work with interiors so guess I cannot be categorized as either a decorator or an architect.

I first began to think about design when I was young and I was very influenced by movies and books. I remember reading the fairy stories illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley and finding them quite fascinating and when I went to the library even when I was 7 years of age I was looking at books of cinema design and silent movies, so I think that really was my first interest.

SL: How did you learn? I’m interested in moments both formal and informal. Those you’ve looked up to, places, spaces, and perhaps even writings.

DC: I have read a bit and have lived a bit and have traveled around a bit of my life, and so I think that everything that I have done has influenced me. It could be listening to music or observing how people dress or live in a particular place.

I usually write things down when I am inspired and take little sketches though I am by no means a good artist and I cannot draw for toffee but my sketches help me if nobody else.

I have always been influenced by the written word. I like to write things down myself to really understand them. If I have trouble getting a concept together I put it into words and then the words lead to the pictures and this process again relates to my childhood again. When I read books such as Great Expectations or David Copperfield, or Gone With The Wind and then see how they were transformed into films I started developing a mini obsession with old black and white films and I became aware people such as Cedric Gibbons, who is a very well known set designer in Hollywood, but equally I was obsessed with all of those old fantasy films and the creatures designed by Ray Harryhausen.

I think I was just a daydreamer or at least that is what I was told at school whenever I got the inspiration to make something or drawing something.

SL: Given you current breadth of project, when you entered the field did you have a more discrete interest? Or, have full interiors always been the focus?

DC: I first thought of becoming a musician and then I thought of entering fashion, however, I came from such a middle class serious background that these careers would have caused my parents a lot of stress, so I decided to become an architect, taking the easy way out whilst doing something that I thought I could handle.

As it turns out, a lot of what I do is based on architecture but I have wandered in different directions in terms of my designs. I find that when I am designing there are certain things that influence me, for example, I love symmetry: symmetry in numbers, symmetry in plans, symmetry in people. I am inspired by color, I am inspired by sound and I think this has had an influence on how I approach design.

SL: You got several new projects that all essentially work in the same way – hotels, residences, and shops – all requiring a distinct feel. What are the similarities in approaching each of the individual projects, what is your process (beyond the client brief), and is there anything that changes the tact given the end goal?

DC: I start off trying to imagine a story behind any project that I am doing. The creative process is hard work, procrastination, panic, fear and sometimes a huge rush of endorphins when you feel that you are onto something. When it happens in a project usually it will mark a turning point.

SL: You are creating environments, but you are also doing so in very different physical environments. How does working a shop in Italy differ from a Lodge in South Africa? How do you balance local flavor with the feel of your studio?

DC: I am inspired by culture more than anything else when I am designing abroad. Obviously if I am working in Milan on the Larusmiani store and club, there is a certain kind of Milanese sensibility that inspires me, but in South Africa it is quite different though – I was very inspired by European visions of African architecture as well as African art and artifacts themselves when working on the Delaire Graff Wine Estate.

I think that design is always a learning process. You are always learning something new and I am always curious. I never think anything I have done is good enough, but I am always on the road to self-improvement..

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