Simon Rawlings, Chief Creative Officer at David Collins Studio
David Collins Studio has a well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s most influential interior design agencies. And a lot of that reputation was won by Simon Rawlings, who has been at The Studio for 25 years.
Born in Wales, Simon studied Interior Design at Birmingham University, where he walked away with both a BA and MA. Joining David Collins Studio in 1997, after ten years he was appointed Creative Director. The Studio works across sectors, including fashion retail, hospitality, luxury food, maritime and residential, with a team of 60 designers.
In his time, Simon has overseen projects across the globe, for clients including Harrods, Mandarin Oriental and Nobu. Recently, the team have worked on the lavish interior look of Cunard’s latest addition to their fleet. He has brought his belief in ‘creating luxury through quality’ to every project, advocating craft, painstaking attention to detail and innovative design. It should be no surprise, then, that David Collins Studio has won over 30 prestigious awards in his time there, including the Prix Versailles in 2016 for Alexander McQueen, Paris, and The Best Bar in the World in 2013, 2014 and 2015 for The Artesian at The Langham, London.
We caught up with him to find out more about his life in design.
Where did your interest in interior design come from?
My father – he was a contractor, refurbishing pubs around Wales where I grew up, and I became fascinated by the process, seeing mood boards and sample boards at his home office. Design then became something I was really interested in.
Did you know you wanted to be an interior designer from a young age?
I would say from GCSE age, around 16, I really had my sights set on studying interior design at university – although my school art teacher told my parents that I shouldn’t bother applying as I couldn’t draw!
What were some of your earliest influences?
I didn’t follow the usual route to my BA – I skipped an art foundation year and managed to get a place at Birmingham University. Steve Edge, the course lead, really took a chance on my going straight into a degree course from A Levels, which I respect. He built a wonderful design community within that course and had great people coming through to coach and mentor us – I owe a lot to that. I was also lucky enough to be selected for a paid master’s degree in interior design and IT, which really readied me for the workplace. It was much more practical than the BA, and also included a 6-month professional placement. I’ll never forget being marked down for designing a retail concept 25 years ago with video screens in the windows instead of product and mannequins, and I was told it was a ridiculous idea (by an industry expert who was marking the course). I say follow your imagination, use your instinct, and believe in your own concepts!
Was David Collins Studio your first job in design?
It certainly was – a few days after graduating I returned home to Wales and selected three companies whose work I enjoyed. I faxed all three, lined up interviews and got offered all three. I choose David Collins Studio as David took time to meet me, to understand me, to listen to what I wanted to do – and the rest is history!
How do you describe what you do when introducing yourself to strangers?
I still feel a little like I get paid for my hobby, I enjoy it so much it doesn’t seem or feel like work. I curate and create dreams and experiences, places where people want to spend their leisure time and their hard-earned money. It’s a great privilege to create interiors.
What do you look for in good interior design?
For me it’s a feeling. The feeling of great lighting, carefully balanced – comfortable seating, a warm atmosphere – everything carefully considered. The worst is when lots of consultants each try to make their mark, while no one person is balancing the output.
Is there one project that stands out as your proudest achievement?
Every project is an achievement, but I would have to say that our first large-scale hotel, top to bottom – 54 storeys in Manhattan, in 18 months – was a great moment. It really redefined who we are as a studio and how we approach projects today.
Is there a place you think is closest to perfection in terms of its interiors?
For me it’s The Municipal House in Prague. Every square centimetre is layered with exquisite detail; a series of rooms, each with a unique concept of combined deco and nouveau splendour.
Did you design the interior of your own home?
Having two very young boys means that anything home related is paused, until we limit the amount of food being thrown, furniture being graffitied, and muddy clothes strewn!
Who has been your biggest design inspiration?
Over the last 25 years at David Collins Studio my biggest design inspiration is the people I work with – so many incredibly talented designers who collaborate each and every day to realise our vision.
What would your advice be for young designers just starting out?
Try to work for a studio whose work you can relate to, and don’t try to run before you can walk. Experience is invaluable, and the more experience you get the better the designer you become. Focus on ideas rather than artwork skills – ideas are like gold.
Do you still have unfulfilled ambitions?
Yes, to open an ice cream parlour – always a dream. My wife has a chocolate brand called Pump Street, where she makes the world’s finest and most delicious single estate bean to bar chocolate. This has only fuelled my desire to have a food business.
What’s next for you?
I hope an ice cream parlour!
David Collins Studio