The Royal "Chippy"

david linley dining collection David Linley

Viscount David Linley, 38, son of Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret, nephew of Queen Elizabeth, and grandson of the Queen Mother, is also known as “the working royal.” A craftsman and tinkerer since childhood (in the family workshop in the basement of Kensington Palace), he went professional about fifteen years ago and founded David Linley Furniture. Now his furniture, both the design and craftsmanship, is considered some of the best in the world. Martha Teichner reports.

“It all started when I helped my father in his workshop, when I was growing up,” he says.

His father is the Earl of Snowdon, one of the world's most famous photographers. The workshop was in Kensington Palace.

The Queen Mother bought her grandson a saw when he went into business in 1985. Later, she wrote the foreword to the first of his three books about furniture and design.

Says Linley: “I started off by doing everything myself, driving the truck, going to the woodshop, buying the wood, designing the furniture, cutting it out, making it myself, finishing it, polishing it, and delivering it, and writing the invoice and writing the letters, doing the books, doing the telephone bill and everything else like that.”

It was immediately obvious he was serious, not some little lordling playing at woodworking - especially when he and a partner were commissioned to make a huge boardroom table for the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He had only two months to do it.

“We had to work day and night..in fact the workshop was running so late into the night that there were complaints from the neighbors,” he recalls. “So in the end what we did is we got a hire truck and we put the lathe into the truck, drove it into the middle of a field so no one could be disturbed and carried on working all night.”

Those days are long gone. David Linley's business has grown so much that the most visible do-it-yourself part of his job now is the marketing. At stores like Bergdorf Goodman in New York, where Linley accessories are sold, the staff listens to his pitch, politely starstruck. He plays the role of celebrity salesman perfectly.

Like the royal patron he might have been in another era, he's used the cachet associated with his name to create a fashion, that's turned the high-quality hand craftsmanship into a growth industry. He has helped bring back the old craft of inlaid wood called marquetry; workshops all over Britain are flourishing because of him. “Linleyesque” is becoming known as a style. The heyday of the craft was 300 years ago. Today it has been updated by precision technology

Linley says that he likes to design objects that have “wit.” One example: a room-size marquetry headboard his company did for Elton John's bed.

One of his most impressive projects is the intricate Blenheim Cabinet, made for the millennium.

“It was the most fantastic project because it really did invole everybody,” Linley says. “Everybody had this great sort of buzz about its sort of inceptions and its creation. When it arrived here everybody from the building just came round and was all over it. The newest Linley furniture collection includes pieces inspired by Czarist Russia.

He considers his business a kind of second family.

“I'm extremely proud of my relations and my heritage and my family,” he says. “That's one side of my life, and my work is the other side of my life, and… I've always tried to keep them, you know apart.”

He isn’t fancy. He rides his motorcycle to work every day in London, where he is known simply as David. He even describes himself as “chippy,” the British working class term for carpenter.



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