Three decades ago an American couple on vacation in London walked into the acclaimed restaurant La Tante Claire and fell in love—with the decor. Back home in New York, a renovation of their apartment was going badly, and they found themselves enthralled by the restaurant’s glamorous yet distinctly modern interior, the work of a young, little-known Irish designer named David Collins. “We were very dissatisfied with our architect and looking to change,” says the wife. “There was a warmth and sensuality to La Tante Claire that you don’t get in a lot of places, so I immediately asked the name of the designer.”
The pair arranged to have tea with Collins, who was then in his 20s and just beginning to make a name for himself. “After we left I said, ‘Absolutely not—why would we bring such a young designer across the ocean to do our apartment?” the husband recalls. “But a month or so later I was picking him up at JFK.”
It was Collins’s first trip to the U.S., and their apartment was among his very first residential projects. In the end, things turned out well for everyone. As Collins went on to international fame—palling around with Madonna and conceiving some of London’s most notable restaurants and bars—he would also design a country home for the couple and then a smaller apartment in the city when they became empty nesters. The latter, a duplex in a celebrated 1920s co-op building noted for its soaring double-height front rooms, has remained the clients’ home for the past 17 years, its interiors virtually unchanged from the day Collins finished them—a tribute to the timelessness of the decor, for sure, but also a reflection of their deep affection for the designer, who over the years had become a close friend. When Collins unexpectedly passed away in 2013, it only strengthened their resolve to keep his work intact. “His death was a terrible loss,” the wife says. “But our consolation is that he’s with us every day, through the beauty he gave us.”
Nearly two decades later, the design still feels remarkably current, but certain furnishings were showing their age. For help the homeowners turned to David Collins Studio, which has continued to thrive after the designer’s death, under the leadership of CEO Iain Watson (who cofounded the firm) and creative director Simon Rawlings. Both men were well acquainted with the original renovation of the apartment—with Watson having served as the project manager—and they were able to identify exact replacements or alternatives that were consistent with Collins’s vision.