Sails executive: Carmel Allen, creative director of Linley

20 October 2016• Written by Ticky Hedley-Dent

She may have arrived only last October but Carmel Allen, the new creative director of  Linley, has already set big plans in motion. Its flagship, in Pimlico, London, is about to undergo stage one of a revamp, which will see it transform into an eclectic blend of shop and gallery, just as it was when Linley first moved to the area. “It’s going to have a workshop and gallery and, hopefully, a café. It’ll be much more dynamic, much more lively and much more of a mix,” says Allen proudly. And the designers will have an open studio in full view on the mezzanine, “so design will be right back at the heart of the store”.

The company celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and, while bespoke furniture is still a key part of its business, retail, interiors and, of course, yacht design are now equally important. Linley himself is still very much involved and stays in regular contact with Allen, sending photos from his iPhone of ideas for new pieces from far-flung corners of the globe where he’s visiting clients.

“A couple of months ago,” she says, “he was in Doha and sent some pictures of Islamic tiles, and out of the patterns, we’ve just developed a beautiful cabinet for London Craft Week. We’ve had a special blue tint created for the veneers.”

Carmel Allen with a mirror framed in Linley's signature marquetry

David Linley’s vision of modern classicism is still at the heart of the brand. He trained at Parnham College under the highly respected British furniture maker and designer John Makepeace. “David always says we’re creating the antiques of tomorrow,” says Allen. “He grew up with antiques and, now, in his role as honorary chairman at Christie’s, he’s working with the most fabulous examples. His skill is in being able to mix the old and the new.”

In fact, it was this fusion that attracted Allen to Linley. And, for Linley, she is a savvy hire: with her background in magazines as an editor at InStyle and LivingEtc, her work on How to Spend It, Vogue and Tatler, and her experience in retail at The Conran Shop and Heal’s, she knows what customers want and how to deliver that creatively. “The next few months will be devoted to getting the product right, which is all about creating the right environment – a more elegantly eclectic set-up – for David’s modern classicism.”

The shelves of the Pimlico store are lined with beautiful frames, fabulous crystal, and wooden boxes exquisitely designed with maps, cityscapes, geometric lines and the Union flag, all made by hand using wood and resins and showing off the craftsmen’s mastery of marquetry. Linley has a box for everything, be it the very large burr and ripple-maple jewellery box that’s a scaled interpretation of Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame, or a walnut and sycamore box bar, complete with decanters, tumblers, cigar cutters and ashtray. The designs may be classic, but there’s plenty of room for vice.

Equilateral side tables, $580 each

“Modern marquetry is our calling card,” says Allen. “Anything illustrative or narrative. Be it a seascape or a piece of abstract art or something that tells a story in wood, we can achieve it. I don’t think there’s another company that has as much expertise in dyeing and bleaching special veneers and mixing them with different resins.”

There is no central Linley workshop; instead, it relies on a network of highly skilled craftsmen and women around Britain to handmake its intricate furniture and other elegant items. Allen is keen to dispel the myth that makers slave away in workshops knee-deep in wood shavings. “They’re really meticulous and their ateliers are almost like laboratories. It’s all about precision and attention to detail.” When Linley started out, all the wood was cut by hand; now, lasers are used for precision and also to create exciting textures, such as marquetry that looks like snakeskin or alligator print.

The company is at the forefront of innovation, not only when it comes to laser etching but also many other techniques. The Dusk Cocktail Console in the Lightscape collection, for example, uses electromagnetic technology to levitate its drinks tray in mid-air. It’s worthy of Harry Potter.

Sapphire jewellery box and watch house, €12,285 each; Trafalgar Champagne coupe, €150

“The superyacht world is constantly pushing boundaries – wanting to be faster, lighter, more elegant – and that in itself is a great innovation driver,” says Allen. “Many  yacht owners and clients have ideas about what they’d like and it’s a great opportunity for them to establish their signature style and elaborate on it.” Linley has made many bespoke pieces featuring maps where the client’s country appears at the centre of the world. Seascapes are obviously popular, too, especially if the owner’s yacht is at the heart of the action. At the time of writing, Linley has four big yacht projects on the go, one of which “has had the most bespoke number of pieces in any yacht ever,” says Allen. “We set aside a huge amount of client design time – that’s our big point of difference.”

One of the key initiatives for the firm’s 30th-anniversary year is the launch of the Linley School of Furniture – a summer school led by William Warren, senior lecturer at the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design. It will redress an important balance. “Most of the UK’s degree courses in design, 3D design and furniture-making are giving very little time to workshop time. A lot of it is done behind computer screens,” says Allen. Indeed, many of the traditional colleges, such as Linley’s beloved Parnham, have closed and “the Cass” itself is under threat.

It’s clear legacy is held dear at Linley. In her quest to fuse the old and new, Allen has tracked down some of David’s original pieces, which include a cigar-and-cigarette box he made for his aunt, the Queen. One of his first screens, of Venice, will also return to the store.

The redesigned shop was a hive of activity during London Craft Week (3–7 May). David Degreef-Mounier sculpted in the windows and Michael Eden exhibited too. On Linley’s impact, its founder is clear: “We brought anarchy to the antiques world. The shop was a melting pot – we held exhibitions, invited other brands to display and had watches, clocks, guitars and guns.” With Allen on board, that renegade spirit looks set for a timely revival.