All in good taste

The estate of David Collins – the ‘charming Prada-suited Irishman who became the set-designer for ‘Cool Britannia’ – is to be sold next month in London


David Collins wasn’t the first – and won’t be the last – star of the Irish Diaspora celebrated overseas and virtually ignored at home. The Dublin-born architect, who died prematurely of skin cancer last year aged 58, was an acclaimed interior designer in London but only achieved fame in Ireland when Madonna arrived in Monkstown to attend his funeral in July, 2013.

Following his death, a headline in Vogue described him as “London’s Great interior designer” and noted that he had created “some of the world’s most glamorous restaurants, bars and boutiques”.

David Collins was born in 1955, grew up in Glenageary and studied architecture in Bolton Street before emigrating, like many of his peers, during the gloom of the 1980s recession.

The David Collins Studio in Mayfair’s Berkeley Square, which he established with business partner Iain Watson, was commissioned to re-design some of the city’s most renowned establishments.

English society journalist Nick Foulkes recalls the “charming Prada-suited Irishman” who “created the Blue Bar at the Berkeley Hotel – previously an area where luggage had been kept and where those older patrons who had dropped dead were stored.

“Thereafter, a David Collins-designed bar became something of a sine qua non of a successful hotel, and his clean, cool brand of glamour became almost mandatory, and soon he was designing hotels all over the place” including Claridges and The Connaught.

His restaurant commissions included some of the city’s best-known “destination venues”: La Tante Claire, J Sheekey and The Wolseley.

Foulkes [writing in the Christie’s catalogue], who was also a friend of Collins, is in no doubt that the Dubliner with the “soft, soothing, Irish burr” had transformed the very “look” of the metropolis and said: “Back in the 1990s when London was moving up through the gears, sloughing of its quaint, slightly parochial image and metamorphosing into the capital of Cool Britannia and then the world, David Collins was the set designer for the city’s fin-de-siècle drama.”


But Collins also cultivated a private clientele and created luxurious interiors for the homes of wealthy patrons – worldwide – including Madonna and the fashion designers Tom Ford and Miucca Prada.

He received very few commissions in Ireland but two notable exceptions were his assignment to re-design Kilkenny’s Langton’s Hotel – the hurlers’ watering hole – and former Grafton Street menswear shop FX Kelly.

Next month in London, Christie’s will auction the estate of David Collins in a sale expected to realise £1 million.

Some 200 lots, with estimates ranging from £300 to £60,000, will go under the hammer including furniture, lighting, works of art, photographs and pictures.

Jeremy Morrison of Christie’s said: “David Collins interiors effortlessly combine refinement, luxury and simplicity – a rare skilful balance that created some of the most sought after and talked about interiors in the world” and the collection in the auction “gives all those who enjoyed and were inspired by his work the opportunity to see how he furnished and lived in his own London home.”

Collins’ signature colour was blue and the auction includes pieces of bespoke furniture he created for his own use including “A Gentleman’s Compact Wardrobe” catalogued as “white lacquer, stitched [blue] suede, the doors opening to reveal a palmwood interior with an arrangement of four open shelves, five long drawers, belt and tie rack, with gilt bronze ‘butterfly’ handles” which has a pre-auction estimate of £3,000-£5,000 and a matching chest-of-drawers (£4,000-£6,000).

A “Hibernia Mirror”, depicting the map of Ireland and similar to the mirrors found in The Connaught hotel’s bar, is £4,000-£6,000.

Other highlights include a pair of floor lights by Paul Dupré-Lafon (£30,000-£50,000), a glass coffee table by Fontana Arte (£8,000-£12,000) and a portrait of an acrobat by the French painter Christian Bérard (£40,000-£60,000).

A framed, mounted chromogenic print of a 1963 photograph “Disciples X” by Mario Testino – the Peruvian-born photographer who became a global name after his portrait shots of the late Princess Diana – is £4,000-£6,000.

Collins’ friendship with Madonna, who famously said, “When I look around my houses in New York or London, I am struck by what an influence he has had on me”, is recalled in two photographic prints, dated 2006, by Steven Klein titled Madonna Rides Again, estimated at£10,000- £15,000.

Luxury-Colour-Texture: The Collection of David Collins, auction takes place at Christie’s, King St, London, on Tuesday, November 4th, at 1pm. Viewing begins on Friday, October 31st. See

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