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Sitting Pretty: David Linley’s Furniture Obsession

There’s nothing like a chair to get the wheels in David Linley’s brain spinning at top speed.

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David Linley

David Linley

Photo By Tim Jenkins

LONDON — There’s nothing like a chair to get the wheels in David Linley’s brain spinning at top speed. To most people, a chair is a temporary place to park, but for Linley, the British cabinetmaker and chairman of Christie’s U.K., it’s one big conundrum. “It’s a mathematical nightmare!” says the 48-year-old Linley, son of Lord Snowdon and the late Princess Margaret.

Over tea and cookies at his office in St. James’s, Linley points to a photo of a green velvet George I chair with elegantly splayed back legs. “If you’re a cabinetmaker, that sort of chair presses on your mind: How are the back legs angled? What size frock would the woman sitting on it be wearing? How could we improve upon it today?” he asks.

Linley has channeled his personal fascination with chairs — and tables and cabinets — into “Star Pieces: The Enduring Beauty of Spectacular Furniture” (Thames & Hudson), which launches at Christie’s New York on Monday.

The book, which Linley wrote with Charles Cator, deputy chairman of Christie’s International, and the London-based author Helen Chislett, is a lush work that looks at the golden ages of furniture from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome to the modern day.

“We wanted to renew people’s enthusiasms for furniture — which is massively undervalued today — and call on young people to investigate history and improve upon it,” says the impassioned Linley, who made his first wooden object when he was 15, a humidor with invisible dovetail joints. He gave it to his grandmother and aesthetic mentor, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

“She showed me how to observe and investigate art and furniture,” he says of his grandmother, who was a passionate collector of art and objects, many of which are now part of the Royal Collection.

The 256-page book, which also features essays such as “Why Furniture Matters,” and advice on how to buy antiques and commission pieces, is packed with history’s greatest hits, from Ming period cabinets and Chippendale breakfronts to Indian ivory armchairs, Biedermeier bateau beds, Florentine stone-inlay cabinets, Frank Lloyd Wright dining room sets, and examples of art furniture such as Marc Newson’s aluminum and fiberglass Lockheed Lounge and Marcel Wanders’ Knotted chair.

Linley, who’ll be a guest on “Martha Stewart Living Radio” on Monday and will speak at the Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday, also demystifies some of the industry’s big names. He notes that one of the many reasons Thomas Chippendale’s legend endured is because the Yorkshire-born cabinetmaker famously published a series of catalogues documenting his designs in detail. Chippendale fans from as far away as America, Jamaica and India would purchase the books, known as “The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director,” and have their local artisan copy the designs.

Linley, who has two eponymous stores in London, in Mayfair and Chelsea, believes living among handmade objects remains important for the psyche.

“Life, work, money — everything is such a battle,” he says. “It’s just nice to sit down at home, look at one thing, and think, ‘Hmmm. A man made that.’”

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