The word ‘luxury’ is among the most overused adjectives in the English language. It is also rendered fairly obsolete inside the marquee at Masterpiece. After all, this is art fair where curators, collectors and creatives of refined taste flock to bask in the world’s most extraordinary — and extraordinarily expensive — art and design.
So, just what does it take to produce truly luxurious pieces that stand out in the world’s most tasteful tent? This is exactly what Michael Keech, one half of the design duo behind LINLEY’S 2019 Masterpiece exhibition is pondering, as we sit amongst the hubbub of the fair’s immaculately-dressed crowds. “What is real luxury?” he asks, motioning to a rather phallic and eye-wateringly expensive silver objet d’art in one of LINLEY’s neighbouring stalls. “Is it that?”
Again, I sense he knows the answer as his eyes wander across the gathering crowds. “When these people, who can buy whatever they like, are looking for luxury, what they are really looking for is the most valuable way they can spend their time. Time is the greatest luxury in the world.”
It might sound like the sort of idiom you find embroidered on a throw pillow, but precisely nothing about this latest collection from LINLEY could justly be called sentimental. In a marked departure from the designer’s previous exhibitions, the Alba furniture collection is presented at Masterpiece, not as a gallery of standalone pieces, but in the lifestyle setting of the living space for which they have been designed.
This artistic decision has been so effective that I almost mistook LINLEY’s stand for an intimate bar area where I might order a glass of champagne from the opulent drinks cabinet. The Alba Collection seeks to explore a modern interpretation of Luxury Deco. For Michael, this meant calling on 30 years’ experience in the industry, and his enduring admiration for the Art Deco tradition. “I have spent a lot of time travelling along the Piccadilly Line,” he explains, “where you will pass extraordinary buildings designed using Art Deco principles — and they really are incredible.”
Although, as a passionate Modernist, he was determined that, when it came to the design for Alba, form must follow function. The ornate veneers of each piece might be embellished with elegant jasmine flowers crafted from mother-of-pearl — but Michael is satisfied that they are first and foremost practically designed.
It is an aesthetic preference on which he differs from his long-term business partner, Graham Green. “I prefer things stripped back and simple, whereas Graham is all florals and bowls of Quality Street,” he laughs. Green affects offence before returning, “Strip everything away from this room, drain it of any colour and you have Michael’s house. And anyway, I’ve moved on from Quality Street now.”
Design preferences aside, theirs is a remarkable partnership — and one which clearly made an impression on David Linley when it came to expanding the interior design division of his brand. Having begun his career as a designer back in 1982, Linley’s pursuit of excellence continues to be the driving force of the business and today LINLEY has grown from private commissions to include retail furniture, gifts and accessories, interior design, fitted kitchens and cabinetry.
Despite this success, Linley is keen to redirect my praise for the Alba Collection. “What are you congratulating me for? It was all their work,” he says, nodding towards Michael and Graham. “It’s your name above the door,” I venture. “Perhaps I ought to congratulate you for hiring the right people.”
Ask we take a tour around the collection, Linley’s commentary is peppered by frequent pauses to greet a fellow designer, a prospective buyer or an old friend. In the Masterpiece universe he is undeniably a heavyweight figure. Although he is keen to point out – perhaps to rebuke any assumptions that his royal lineage gave him a serious leg-up – that he has been around the block for a long time.
“My first exhibition took place in Worcester cathedral when I was 13,” he tells me. “My piece was written up in the paper simply as Table — Linley.” He describes the early days climbing the design world’s ranks as wonderfully chaotic, “You’d be attending all the champagne parties and meeting the right people the night before, then heading to the wood-cutting floor the next morning.” Now, he points out, the Linley Belgravia store sits a mere 10 minute walk round the corner from where we stand.
The Alba Collection, having begun with the simple inspirational seed of “luxury”, is in fact a remarkably liveable ensemble. The collection’s drinks cabinet, coffee table, sofa and chairs have all been crafted with mango veneers — a natural toned fruit wood which lends itself perfectly to soft furnishings. Typically for a Linley collection, there are also plenty of pleasing surprises to be found in the designs.
The distinguished drinks cabinet has a bookcase front which rotates inwards to reveal a luxurious bar alongside drawers for barware and accessories. The coffee table also contains a literal twist, with the top containing built-in storage for a corkscrew, bespoke stacking coasters and ice bucket. Speaking with the designers who brought the project to fruition, it is clear their hope is for a buyer to invest in the whole collection as a set.
In a marquee chock-full of exhibitors jostling for your attention with their diamond collections and do not touch signs, LINLEY’s living room makes for a welcome change of scene. As I leave, I am encouraged to return any time and make good on my promise to have a quick lie down on the Alba sofa. They might regret making visitors quite so comfortable.
Looking for more news from Masterpiece? Take a look at our guide to the fair this year…