David Linley on Winsor & Newton and designing for keeps

The furniture and homeware-maker discusses the importance of craftsmanship and his artistic new collaboration with Winsor & Newton


Designing and making were very much part of my childhood – visiting factories with my mother [Princess Margaret] and making things with my father [Lord Snowdon]. He taught me to draw, to throw pots… Beautiful engineering always held a fascination for me. When I decided to start my business, it was a form of rebellion. The idea of keeping things, rather than using them up and throwing them out, was out of fashion at the time. I loved the idea of evolving traditional methods and design to make products that last but are also relevant for the modern age. Solid-oak furniture splits in a central-heated home, for example, so I think it's perfectly OK to use a veneer.

It was my father who was very insistent we become more product-based and less about making one-offs. He was concerned that craft doesn't reach a wide enough audience. Of course, the ticket price of even production pieces isn't cheap. But when you analyse what's gone into them, you find they're good value, especially considering craftspeople are typically not well paid.

Thankfully, we're becoming more craft and quality-aware. There was a time when craft used to mean anything but the considered, stylish or academic. It was a term of derision. The "craft fair" on the village green was to be avoided. But craft now better understands what the market wants. And people want the opportunity to make things themselves now too, as I did when I was young – which, as a nation of designers, engineers and inventors is exactly what we're capable of. My daughter makes great jewellery and my son wants to pursue engineering. They've both been indoctrinated by the school of Linley. People want to get back to painting, building, exploring what their creative sides can do – it's something all human beings crave.

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That's one reason why the Winsor & Newton collaboration so appealed to me. When I started out in business, I worked with Matthew Rice, an artist who used its paints to make my ideas a reality in watercolour. That was what you did back then, and what a lot of people still do, despite the advent of the CAD [computer-aided design] system. I still like to sketch out concepts – it's a process that gives a certain freedom to any kind of designer, allowing them to really run with an idea.

But sometimes you need more than that. The design team and I used to retire to the kitchen for toast and Earl Grey – it was a way to encourage them to stay beyond the 6pm threshold. After a while, some alcoholic sustenance was required. There's a moment when that works really well for your designing. And then that passes and it all becomes rubbish…

DAVID LINLEY, the son of Princess Margaret and photographer and architect Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Lord Snowdon, has been a designer and maker of furniture and homewares for 30 years. This year, he established his first summer school to offer master-craftsman training to a select group of budding furniture designers. His latest collaboration is with the art-supplies company Winsor & Newton, on a range of watercolours and a drawing compendium. davidlinley.com

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