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Meet The Tastemaker

Podcast Episode 3: Art As Design with Francis Sultana

The renowned creative discusses his philosophy of furniture and interiors as more than design disciplines

Jon Sharpe By Jon SharpeChief Creative Officer

Francis Sultana is not just a world-famous interior designer and furniture designer and AD100, House & Garden 100 and LuxDeco 100 honouree; he's also the Artistic Director of London's prestigious David Gill Gallery, co-founder of the Design Fund for the V&A and council member for the Design Museum and the Serpentine Galleries. Additionally, he is co-president of PAD London, jury member of PAD Paris and Ambassador of Culture for Malta. To sum up, Francis Sultana is busy. Very busy. And he is also the very definition of a Tastemaker so catching up with Francis was a real joy.

With a reputation for designing furniture pieces which are known to double in value at auction and creating interiors which, in and of themselves, can be viewed as liveable galleries, I was particularly interested to tap into the designer's inherent understanding of interior and furniture design as art forms. Listen in as we talk art, furniture and interiors.

 

Subscribe, share and review on Apple PodcastsSpotify or Google Podcasts.

 

I have a very important role to play in the industry because what I do, fundamentally, [is] I create an interior where I create furniture for it and I employ important artists to create pieces alongside mine to create an entire scheme.

 

Don’t miss

  • Francis’ design beginnings at 05:33
  • The “recipe” for his iconic interiors at 13:12
  • A revelation about how he feels about his design work at 21:17
  • And his view on quality furniture design at 27:09
Art Podcast with Francis Sultana | Francis Sultana moodboard | Design As Art | The Tastemakers | LuxDeco.com

Image Credit: Francis Sultana

Links & Articles

The Essentials of Art Deco Design

LuxDeco 100

Francis' website

Francis' Instagram

Francis' book, Design & Interiors

Francis' Malta Home

Explore these images of Francis' Malta home which he discusses in this episode.

Art Podcast with Francis Sultana | Design As Art | The Tastemakers | LuxDeco.com

Image Credit: Francis Sultana

 

I’m a strong believer in buying good quality pieces. One because they will last a lifetime so, from a point, it’s ecologically better to buy something more expensive that will last the test of time.

 

Art Podcast with Francis Sultana | Blue Dining Room | Design As Art | The Tastemakers | LuxDeco.com

Image Credit: Francis Sultana

 

I would rather have an artisan make me something and have less than have a larger quantity of things that are mass-produced and machine-made most of the time. They have something more human about them.

 

Podcast with Francis Sultana | Design As Art podcast | The Tastemakers | LuxDeco.com

Image Credit: Francis Sultana

ART-FILLED PROJECTS BY FRANCIS

Discover how Francis blends his furniture designs and contemporary art with that of other internationally renowned furniture designers in his modern projects.

Art Podcast with Francis Sultana | Modern Living Room | Design As Art | The Tastemakers | LuxDeco.com

Image Credit: Francis Sultana

Art Podcast with Francis Sultana | London Apartment | Design As Art | The Tastemakers | LuxDeco.com

Image Credit: Francis Sultana

Art Podcast with Francis Sultana | Art Installations| Design As Art | The Tastemakers | LuxDeco.com

Image Credit: Francis Sultana

Art Podcast with Francis Sultana | Design As Art | The Tastemakers | LuxDeco.com.mp3 transcript powered by Sonix—easily convert your audio to text with Sonix.

Art Podcast with Francis Sultana | Design As Art | The Tastemakers | LuxDeco.com.mp3 was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best audio automated transcription service in 2020. Our automated transcription algorithms works with many of the popular audio file formats.

Jon:
Hello and welcome to The Tastemakers: A LuxDeco podcast. I'm Jon Sharpe, your host and Chief Creative Officer for LuxDeco—the world's leading luxury interiors platform, which is changing the way people design and shop for their homes. Part of our commitment at LuxDeco is to help people to live beautifully. In The Tastemakers, we do that by exploring design and lifestyle through the stories of our influential guests—guests who are celebrated for their fine taste in design and beyond. Subscribe and listen for inspiration straight from the world's most incredible style authorities.

Jon:
Today's guest, Francis Sultana, is not only a world-famous interior designer and furniture designer and AD 100, House and Garden 100 and LuxDeco 100 honouree, he's also the artistic director of London's prestigious David Gill Gallery, co-founder of the Design Fund for the V&A and council member for the Design Museum and the Serpentine Galleries. Additionally, he is co-president of PAD London, jury member of PAD Paris and Ambassador of Culture for Malta. To sum up, Francis Sultana is busy—very busy—and he is also the very definition of a tastemaker so catching up with Francis was a real joy. With a reputation for designing furniture pieces which are known to double in value at auction and creating interiors which, in and of themselves, can be viewed as liveable galleries, I was particularly interested to tap into the designer's inherent understanding of interior and furniture design as art forms. Listen in as we talk art, furniture and interiors.

Jon:
Francis, welcome to The Tastemakers. How are you?

Francis:
Good morning, Jon. I am well—thank you. Good morning from London.

Jon:
Firstly, congratulations on celebrating your studio's 10th anniversary recently. I'm sure it must feel like another lifetime at the moment, but how did it feel to reach that milestone back in November?

Francis:
It was a really nice feeling because I thought, y'know, 10 years would be a milestone, which was about building a business over the years from when we first started the design studio. So it's been very interesting, in November of last year, that this came to fruition and, you know, we did all our things to celebrate our 10th year in business. And it has been a very interesting period thereafter because I've had a lot more time to think things through than I had expected. So it's it's been a very interesting last, actually, six months, to be honest.

Jon:
And one of the things that you did to celebrate was you released a book—Francis Sultana Design & Interiors with Vendome and launched a new collection, the Marie Francois named after, I believe, your late mother. What can you tell us about those two experiences? I'm sure they both inspired quite a lot of reflection.

Francis:
Yeah, I feel— You know, one way to actually put down in the sort of a history is having a book. And Vendome has always been one of my favorite publishers and we discussed it a few years before that because I was thinking ahead about this, obviously, and they invited me to do it. So we started putting together a book which started to evolve differently to how I thought who is going to be, because Malta was taking such a prominence back in my life that, as they were putting the book together, my early period in Malta and my influence in Malta came to shine more in the book than I expected. And my homes did too which I thought it was going to be much more a book about just the homes of projects I've done.

Jon:
And, you know, going back to the collection, I always create collections—generally about one a year because I design so much furniture. And also a lot of those collections derive from influences that— and inspirations that my clients have inspired me to design. So the collaboration of these collections is very interesting because they're different to fashion. They're more about, obviously, interiors, but they evoke a kind of new direction for me every time. And last year, Marie Francois collection was about doing something quite classical and fundamental to always to what I've done also because the fact is, you know, the name of the collection is always something of interest. But last year, I decided, as it was my 10th anniversary, not to name it as my previous ones after an inspiration, a muse, because I may— I may upset certain ladies in society.

Francis:
So I decided that a safe bet named it after my late mother because no one would have an issue about it. So that's how we came to that name.

Jon:
So speaking of your mother and beginnings and indeed Malta. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your design story? So where did your design story start? And did you always know that you wanted to be a designer?

Francis:
I think, you know— Well, firstly, I grew up in most of my childhood in Gozo, which is a sister island of Malta, so it's much more rural. It's an island eight by four miles and you get to it by ferry normally. And so it was quite— it's quite a Mediterraneanney growing up. But there was something— I mean, Malta was very anglophied. And there was something about it. That's why London was such like a home that always worked for me. But I had a very sheltered upbringing and not into a family that were very into design or art, but, you know, Gozo is a very Catholic island—full of churches, full of Baroque. And so you— there is a lot of influences there without realising. So I actually grew up in this tiny environment where, in a funny way, as a child, I could really dream a lot about things. I had— I had one of those childhoods where, you know— I was a single child so it was about me—it was very inverted—ad my mother, the two of us, really, because she brought me up.

Francis:
And, you know, the one thing that I know was fundamental to me, by the age of four, I was fascinated by my aunt's magazine. She would buy interiors magazine. They were still in black and white with an insert in colour. I remember British House and Garden when they used to get their— there was about eight pages in colour, the rest of it was black and white. But they even had floor plans of certain houses so I used to start to copy these drawings. So I didn't really want comic books. I wanted interior magazines.

Francis:
That's what they wanted to look at. And I played with Lego. Houses became my fascination. When I used to go to the town's library with the rest of my classmates, I didn't want to go to the children's sections. I would go to the adult section and there was one shelf on architecture.

So once I went through those 12 books on architecture that there were in that village library, they had to get some from the mainland because I would say, I would like Frank Lloyd Wright, for instance. So "Oh, we don't have that here". So in the mainland, in the main library, they had it. So I'd have to wait another two weeks for the visit to the library. Now, and I would get my, you know, Frank Lloyd Wright book. And then I'd stop copying the plans and drawings.

Francis:
And slowly I educated myself as this five, six year old, seven year old boy to look at architecture, start to familiarise myself with interiors. I mean, already at that age, I was learning a lot. I could copy a drawing, and, by the age of eight, my aunt was building a new house. And, you have to remember, this is a time when we were watching Dallas and Dynasty—which I think Dynasty was also another big influence in my life. This was you know, this was a time when, you know, there was a new world developing and there was all this glamour. And I— my aunt said, well help me with the house, the architect's not doing it right. And I said, you should have as a curved circular staircase. I said, it's the fashion. I said, y'know, Ooh, that's a nice idea. But her architect couldn't get it right because it was just a village architect. So I drew it up and I worked out all the dimensions of this staircase. And the builder was so impressed—he said, oh you've got a very good architect her. She said, no, it's my eight year old nephew who's worked it all out. He said, well the calculations are perfect.

Francis:
So, from then on, I had a confidence at eight, that I could actually design and make things and think about proportions. And, basically, as I became a teenager, at school in my town school, the magazines were my windows to the outside world. Because you have to remember, in a way, it probably was a nicer way rather than what what young people have today with the interior, because one thing led to led you to another, a book led you to another. And I had a few bibles which were like World of Interiors, House and Garden, and Vogue Decoracion later in Paris that were in a way, what taught me about what great interiors were all about and who the artists and the designers were.

Francis:
So that was in the way I educated myself, even from about 11 onwards. My own education about building up in my mind a history of interiors of only the 20th century, really. I never was interested beyond that. And, even today, I'm knowledgeable about it, but it's not where my heart lies. The 20th century for me encompassed every style that came from the past and created a new future. It still— it still is fundamentally where I am at today, many years later.

Jon:
So let's talk about how all of those influences, inspirations and, of course, experiences of being an eight year old architect, designer and draftsman, by the sound of it. Let's talk about how all of those have contributed to the evolution of your design style so that, if any listeners aren't familiar, there is a reference point for them. Can you describe one of your most recent projects, perhaps your home in Malta, because I know we're gonna move on to talk about your London home a little bit later. How would you describe the style of the Malta home?

Francis:
Well, you know, the thing is, it's— it's fundamental to my work that firstly, that every home I design has to be belonging to that place and be working with the architecture that's existing. So if we look at the house in Malta, for instance, it's a typical Maltese grand townhouse. They call them palazzi, but they were built in the 17th, 18th century to house one knight of the Order of St John with his staff. So they're very grand townhouses, if you put them in a context, and, you know, my one happens to be Baroque. It was built in the early 17th century, remodeled again in the 18th century and hadn't been lived in since after the Second World War.

Francis:
Thankfully, this house was spared because, you know, Valetta—the capital city where the house is—was more bombed than London was during the Blitz and Malta at the time was one of the only countries in Europe, them being very small, that didn't surrender to the Italians or to the Germans. So, you know, Malta is known as the Fortress Island and has a very strong constitution—a bit like the British, they keep calm— well, not so calm, but they do carry on. So the house itself is a bastion to what it's been past, you know— Invasions, you know, in its history, wars... And it survived. And it— it has a wonderful feeling of not— It has a— When I walked in there, you know, about fifteen years ago and seeing it, you know, being closed up, you know— you know, there was all sorts of debris everywhere, old crates, you know, weeds growing in the courtyard. It was in a very bad state, but it remained true to what it was because it hadn't been cut up into apartments. It hadn't been touched since the kitchen was put in in the 1920s or the bathrooms. And so you had something you could start and you could bring back to its former glory.

Jon:
And can you tell us a little bit about some of the key furniture, pieces and artworks that you chose to include in the space?

Francis:
Well, I think the house is typically my usual recipe—because it is a recipe, as such, now that I take the house, I take the inspiration of the architecture, and I take where it is, to be inspired by the place and the history of the country, the history of the city.

Francis:
So that when you come to this house, you know where you are. This is fundamental always to my work. If I'm in London, I want to feel in London, if I'm New York, I want to feel in New York. If I'm in Paris, I want to feel in Paris. This is the whole point. It's quite interesting because we— I mean, everybody knows I love, love, love one artist in particular called Mattia Bonetti, who designed a lot of pieces for that house and all my homes and for many of my projects. And, Mattia, for me, when I was a teenager was one of my idol designers. You know, he was the thing. When he was Garouste & Bonetti, they did the Christian Lacroix couture showrooms in Paris, and they were all the rage at the time. And they created a new Neo-Baroque because, before that, it was quite modernist. So they started to create more artistic, artisan furniture, which was what I always loved, even even from what I saw from historical work as a teenager. Then another one who was very prominent since the 80s, André Dubreil is one of those wonderful furniture makers designers, but totally old school, does his own metal work bronze casting, enamelling and Andre was very key. But then there's even very contemporary directions like Jorge Pardo, who is more of an artist who created the chandeliers and the dining room, but they're like sculptures so that there is— there is different bodies of work within the creation of the house, but what's fundamental is that a lot of the pieces were created for the house. And then the art was really art from what we had and though there are a few pieces that were specific contemporary art commissions, site-specific works— which the most important, I think, is the Daniel Buren ceiling in the main salon. And, also in the main salon, the Secundino Hernández large canvases because I think the house required to have some art that was created for there because of the volume. So it was just a build up of commissioning work and it's— it's you have to have quite a bit of guts to do it because you don't know what you're going to get. That's what I tell a lot of my clients. You have to have faith and you have to be believing in what you're wanting to do.

Francis:
And it is going to be a surprise. And sometimes it's going to take a while to get accustomed and to fall in love with it because, you know, it's going to cross boundaries with your own sensibilities. Even for me, I try very hard to push my own boundaries so then I commission things beyond my own expectations so when they arrive, they take sometimes just a day, but sometimes they take a week, sometimes they take a month for me to really have fallen in the love and [know] I've done the right thing because I'm still learning and educating myself to create new pieces and new directions.

Jon:
You're clearly, inherently incredibly gifted. You were going to go to architecture school but decided to make the move to London and are ultimately self-taught, even though, of course, you were mentored, I suppose, by some of the industry's greats. To what extent does natural ability win out over formal education in your mind?

Francis:
I think this is down to people's personal circumstances. I wasn't in a position to have a very great education. The only reason I was going to become an architect [was] because the only options to me at the university in Malta at the time was either being a doctor, a lawyer, an architect or a school teacher. They were very basic trades, so the architecture course was the most artistic of all the course options.

Jon:
How do you think you would have fared as a doctor or a teacher.

Francis:
A doctor, definitely not. I'm a hypochondriac. A teacher? I don't think I'd have the patience for it. A lawyer, probably quite a good lawyer because I've got quite a good legal business mind, apparently. I think— I mean, that's been one of the reasons why my design businesses do reasonably well is because I've got that kind of mindset about me. And the architecture, I suppose, would have allowed me to be artistic because— I mean, the only issue was that by the time I was 16, I'd already passed all my A-levels, which you normally do at 18. So I was ready for university at 16, y'now it was kind of— But I was I— I went to a very interesting part of my town's school because obviously I grew up in a very socialist state of Malta at the time and— and in true socialist style—because Malta was almost a bit communist at the time in its politics—they segregated the brightest children. And so they pushed us to achieve more. But what was taken away from my curriculum, funnily enough, was anything to do with art. So I only had sciences and— So I had a very academic— So that's why those magazines, in my spare time, were so important to me. And I didn't have much of a chance to go to any museums. But, I mean, I was fortunate enough to come to London every summer. I had a short moment of of seeing museums. And so when I had time on my hands, I wanted to get back to London and to allow myself to go and see exhibitions to be influenced by the past.

Francis:
And I was lucky enough that, you know, one of my favorite places was the V&A, which I have a lot— I owe a lot to because actually going through those rooms of exhibits, certainly had a big impression with me in my late teens. And I'm very, very grateful for being exposed to all those things. So my— I didn't really have an extraordinary education as such that, yeah, I got everything ready to go into university. And I made the move to come to London because, actually, I needed to get out of the island. I needed to have the guts to leave and take a risk with myself. I thought, you know, to go to university and do this course was not going to be the right thing for me.

Francis:
I would become like everybody else, whereas I'd been dreaming about great people in the past, great designers, and I wanted to be like them. I had a dream. I was 16, 17, 18. I want— I dreamed larger than young and I was living on. I thought, I must give this a chance. I suppose it's like people wanting to be an actor or something. I knew I had a gift, so I had to go and try and achieve my dream. So I did try to get into a college in London and I was having to pay for the courses, but they didn't accept me because they didn't like my designs. They didn't— They thought my— my idea of what design and furniture were like, because I was so influence by this Neo-Baroque Paris wave, was not good design. I think the bravest thing I did was coming to London to try and make it happen.

Jon:
So you pursued the dream, and clearly it doesn't seem that you were ever destined just to be an in-house designer designing run of the mill furniture for a big furniture company. What is it that inspires your determination to create truly unique pieces which are often actually considered works of art in themselves and, in turn, help you to create interior spaces, which many people consider a liveable art galleries?

Francis:
It's always been about moving, being disciplined and moving fast with what I want to do. And I think it carries on very much still today, and I feel very energised by it. The more I do, the more I feel stronger about what I'm creating and feel more confident.

Francis:
I mean, I've always suffered from a feeling of being an underachiever and it's something actually that a few of my friends who are top designers in fashion, etc. It's something we all suffer from because we never feel that we've done enough or are good enough. So in a way I think it's always pushing us to do better things—it's what drives us. And I think you get to a certain age, as I am now in my mid life, so to speak, and we have a crisises of many types, it makes you reflect a lot about who you are and not being afraid to discuss the issues that hope— where you— where you are at now, with your work and your personal life and everything and where you want to go.

Francis:
I mean, for me, the last few months have been a very interesting period for my life, not just for work, but also for my own growth from where I want to go and what has value to my life and what part of my work has value and what I do in order to carry on moving forward. What do I want to value? So it's very interesting, but I think for a lot of us, especially in the world of design, the psychology behind what we do, what drives us, what inspires us is kind of key.

Francis:
And when you understand it and when you understand the human condition about it, I think you feel a lot more relaxed about it. I think now I'm feeling more relaxed than I've ever done about my work.

Jon:
And in many ways, you recapturing that somewhat lost art of furniture design, perhaps referencing the past, drawing on the history left by the French ébénistes. So you often employ artisans to create your designs using time -honoured skills and craft. How important is it to you and to your product design and I suppose your interior design to build on this sort of prestigious heritage of decorative arts?

Francis:
It's hugely important because I have— I have a very important role to play in the industry, because what I do is, fundamentally, I create an interior where I create furniture for it. And I am employ important artist to create pieces alongside mine to create an entire scheme. And I think I first saw that when, in my teenage years I came across Jean-Michel Frank. And he designed his own interiors, he designed his own furniture, but he worked with people like Emilio Terry, Christian Bérard, Salvador Dalí... Many, many important artists that helped in a way create his look.

Jon:
As I started working with the [David Gill] gallery and I discovered especially with Garouste & Bonetti and André Dubreil, I realised that I was evolving a new version of that and that my furniture had to become something that was tailored, but beautifully made. And so that side of things grew with the artisans and the designers and the artists.

Jon:
And I hear that you continue to hand draw and watercolour all of your designs. How does that physical connection of pencil in hand on paper, rather than working on a computer encourage creativity and the whole sort of design as art concept, do you think? Is it even reasonable to suggest that your designs literally begin as art?

Francis:
You see, what it is, is it's about romance. It's not even for me about the art. I'm a romantic because one of the big influences in my life are old movies, you know— Old Hollywood movies I love because, actually, post Second World War, a lot of great designers became set designers. And so it's— In the back of my mind, those movies were places I dreamt and in my mind I still have, like, shelves of imagery in my head about certain stills from films.

Francis:
And I— I enjoy having computers, etc. and technology, but there's nothing for me that beats sketching to derive different things to do with my idea in my head, because it's a dream and I have to draw it out. I couldn't imagine— I don't even know how to draw on computers. I mean, my whole studio does, but I don't. What I don't like is when they take a drawing and then a watercolour of mine that I show to my client and we see the romance, we can see the beauty—it's a dream still, because it's not the reality. Sometimes its proportions are not right, the colours are not right but it's a dream on paper that's come from my head and then they take it on to computer and— They take away its soul. It's quite funny, but then I say to them, look, this is what we have to do as a working drawing, because computers take away certain aspects of beauty, in my view, and— romance and— but it's required in order to create something. But then the artisans put it back in because it's— a lot of my things are made by hand. So then the beauty returns. So it's it's kind of an interesting process, the whole thing.

Jon:
And what do you think that our listeners should look for in the furniture or décor or art that they buy in order to ensure that sense of quality, timelessness and perhaps even future heirloom appeal? You know, those pieces that really will be retained for their artistic value, not only by the owner, but potentially generations to come?

Francis:
Yeah, I mean, I'm— I'm a strong believer in buying good quality pieces. One, because they will last a lifetime, so from a point, it's ecologically better to buy something more expensive, that will last the test of time. I think you, in a way, have to educate yourself by seeing a lot of things to know what truly you like, aesthetically. So you build up your own personal style and not to be afraid. But, I mean, key is looking at different looks and saying, what is my— what do I like best? Because you should go with your heart. It's a gut feeling. And to get rid of your fears about what you'd like, because at the end of the day, your home is a reflection of you.

And we need to educate ourselves to make the right decisions, but also to put value to what you buy—that certain pieces cost more because of the artisans that have been involved to make it and to value that because somebody has handmade something or handwoven something or carved something or cast something. It has a value because it's been done with care and with an expertise. And that, in turn, if it's been well-designed, will carry— will last and will be wanted again. I mean, we see it now, even for periods of furniture from the 50s, 60s, 70s, even now, the 80s, where things were made well and they were aesthetically designed well, that we will want them again. So this whole— this whole evolution of things coming back in, it's important so I think that is— that is super important. But I think many people want to understand what is good. And that's why certain platforms are really good, because they they show the right kind of things and then people can make decisions based on the editing they've seen in front of them, you know, so I think that is good for them.

Jon:
I did come across a quote the other day which said something along the lines of "There's no such thing as a bargain. Somewhere along the line, someone has paid the price".

Francis:
I think, yeah— I mean, bargains. What is a bargain at the end of the day? It's something mostly that is going to be disposable. I value artisans and the families that they support and the time involved to make something. I think, you know, they— you know, there is— this is why things cost what they do. But I would rather have an artisan make me something and have less than have a larger quantity of things that are mass-produced and machine-made most of the time and— because I know that they have something more human about them. You know, there is— there is that human touch, the way things are made and craft is very, very important.

Francis:
And in— y'know and it's part of our history. And, you know, you can always tell when people put more love into making pieces of design. It's there to se and it's happened in history and the different movements and why they've happened. So it's like from, you know, the Arts and Crafts movement, it came against industrialisation. And that was a fundamental change in how people perceived arts and crafts but, craft, it led to different designs so it's all a process. And I actually also believe in that people should support local industries for where they live. You know, if something comes from there, you know, it's important and that's why, when I design houses in certain places, I like using design of that place. I think it has a part to play for wherever we are in the world—not to make everything so global all the time. So it's really interesting with design from all over the world now and different designers, you know, we can we can go from, you know, Campana brothers in Brazil to, you know, you go to Piere Yovanovitch, a designer like myself in Paris, you see the differentiations. It's rather nice to see how people design furniture differently from different places. But there's one common thing. It's been done with a really good mindset and what they're creating about beauty and about quality and also making it a statement and creating a movement for the future so in history, we will look at them and value it because it will always become something that we want.

Jon:
I mean, so many of your pieces, to my eye at least, really are works of art and some might question their utility as pieces to use every day, or at least they might be a little scared to treat them as they would any old coffee table or favourite armchair. So how do you recommend that people balance form with function in both, you know, furniture and interiors? Can art and comfort coexist readily in your mind?

Francis:
Yeah, they have to. I think you can't be— If you're buying something today, you can't be too precious about it, but you must take care of everything. I mean, I was always brought up to take care of everything that I lived with, to look after it, to maintain it, to clean it well. And I think the thing is, you must understand that if something is made in a certain way, one must look after it in a certain way. But you have to live with it. You have to enjoy it. The patina of usage is a lovely thing. But then to not look after something is a sin. You know, if you if you don't take care of something and you let it deteriorate, it's not a good thing. It's not correct.

Francis:
So for me, I live with everything I enjoy at all. I like to see it where I'm not— I'm not worried if somebody, you know, drops a glass of wine on upholstery. I am a bit upset about it but, if it's clear, it's not going to make a stain. But that's life. You've got to live and you've got to enjoy your home and you've got to enjoy your furniture. And I always say to clients when they arrive and they've got these perfect, beautiful silk velvet sofas and then suddenly, after their first party, somebody— there's a drip of champagne. I said, look, you know, you're living now. This is part of enjoying what you are. And one day, in six or seven years, you're going to recover the sofa again so it's going to be fine. Enjoy. It's life, you know. What you don't want to do— You must you must care for things. And you— And you must really understand their value. And if you follow that philosophy, you'll be fine. I mean, for me now, I'm very relaxed about things like this because I rather have the joy of being around these things and using them and sharing them. And I think for us homes now are going to be more and more important because they are our sanctuaries and the place we are at peace. And you must enjoy them, in every sense.

Jon:
So, Francis, we've heard about your style. Now it's time to hear about your home life, which means we've arrived at the section of the show we call How I Live. So let's begin with where is home for you?

Francis:
I live just off Piccadilly in London. So very, very central.

Jon:
And how would you describe your home style?

Francis:
Well, my home style is— I actually— my London home is quite formal because it's— I live in a Grade One listed historical house, so I have an apartment in an old mansion. And— so being Grade One listed means it's of national historical importance and I have some vey beautiful interior architecture by William Chambers. So there is a certain formality to my home. And when I am in London, there— I have certain purposes which I need my home— you know, with all my philanthropy work, sometimes I— I engage with bringing patrons in from art museums to talk about fundraising, etc. So I have a practical use for my home so that works. Then there's another side to my home within this kind of elegant British architecture that it needs to be casual because I need to relax in my London home so there— I have two salons, so to speak—my formal blue salon, which is very formal, but then we have a very casual one, which is more contemporary. Still with Georgian architecture, but we have more easy sofas with bigger art, with a big TV...

Francis:
Because there is- I have a contradiction in my home life. There is a formal thing that they need to work with. And there's my own space, which I just want to be cosy and relaxed and easy.

Jon:
What's been your most recent home purchase?

Francis:
The last thing I've ordered is more bed linen and towels because I love good bed linen and towels so that was the last thing I actually ordered.

Jon:
Which room do you spend most of your time in?

Francis:
In my blue salon, because it's where my desk is and it's placed in a bay window of three windows, curved bay, and it faces North. And I spend a lot of time in this room. During lockdown, I mean, I was spending 14 hours a day. I was working from there, literally, from morning till night at my desk.

Francis:
It has no TV. It just has music because I would have the radio playing because I always loved noise behind me, so I always have the radio—a classical station or a pop station, depending on my mood. And so I never realise I was spending so much time in that room, but actually I was very, very lucky to work in such a beautiful space. It actually kept me going because there were times when, you know, not knowing how long you're going to be stuck there for, if you let your mind wonder, could get you down a bit. And I used to look up at my ceiling—because I have this beautiful William Chambers plaster ceiling—and think. This is a joy. And it's— I have five and a half metre high ceilings. I have space. So just use that space and get to work and start designing. That's what you're here to do. I used to say that to myself every morning. And it just became a way of life. One gets used to it after a few days.

Jon:
And away from the desk, what's your favorite way to relax at home?

Francis:
You know, I used to have to say, before, in London, I never used have really much time to relax at home because I have quite long working days and I start my days very early at 5:45am. And to be honest, I would— I wasn't here half the weekends of a month. So relaxing at home actually was very little. But what I do like is to watch a very nice movie, cook at home and more so now I've realised I enjoy that so much. I love this introverted part of my life that I'm allowing to prosper now during the current circumstances. I think I won't be leaving that in a hurry.

Jon:
Now on to the section we call Who, What, Where and Why—some deeper questions which we hope will reveal a little bit more about you. So firstly, who is your style inspiration?

Francis:
Who is my style inspiration? I suppose I have to look at collectors and two people in particular, really, I think have inspired me were Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé because they, as two people, created a way of living, of style, of taste, etc..

Jon:
What is the most defining characteristic of your style?

Francis:
Being contemporary. Being of now and in a way, what I want to do is always create a history so what I do now will be remembered tomorrow.

Jon:
Where were you the last time you were inspired with a great idea?

Francis:
I was in bed, actually. I always come up with good ideas, when I wake up in the morning at five.

Jon:
At 5:45?

Francis:
Yes, 5:30 actually. I wake up at 5:30. It takes me 15 minutes to get up. So it's my— it's my everyday cycle. I'm afraid it's really boring, but by 7am, I have my trainer which is virtual right now so I have to have my laptop at the ready and my elastic bands. Life has changed somewhat for me. But, yeah, my routine has remained the same now. You know, it's just great. 5:30, 5:45 out of bed so I have fifteen minutes of thinking and then we get up.

Jon:
To contemplate the horror of the workout.

Francis:
I— yeah exactly. Actually, I've— I have a wonderful trainer who is actually, he's— Every day he makes my mind set perfect even if I have a tough day ahead. I think your mindset has to be up and upbeat. And for me it's not about being super— It's actually my mind and my body to keep reasonably fit. But, you know, with the pressures of city life and, before, with the amount of travelling I used to have to do and everything else, discipline was hugely important. It's what kept me together. And what I what I love now is, even during the time of lockdown, I've tried to maintain the pattern because it gives me comfort that I feel like my life is carrying on just the same. I want— I don't want there to be fundamental changes that I don't like. I like my routine. I'm a person of routine. And the one great thing I love, which a lot of people don't realise, is that I'm not a great flier. I hate flying. For someone who used to take sometimes four flights a week, I'm not the best of fliers if the weather's bad, so right now I've been in heaven realising I've not had to take— I've not taken a plane in, what, ten weeks, I think now? It's amazing.

Jon:
And why is living beautifully important to you?

Francis:
Because it's what I am. I mean, I've spent my whole life being inspired by beautiful homes and beautiful interiors and what they're all about. For me, it's— for me is what I'm here— it is what I wake up for every day. I wake up from my work. My work is that if I didn't have that, I wouldn't be me. So I don't mind it consumes me. It's everything I am about because it's always been that way since I was a little boy. So it will never change.

Jon:
And last, but by no means least, A Question of Taste—out quickfire round where we ask you ten questions about taste. At what age did you have the worst taste?

Francis:
Probably early 20s, because I was— there was too much experimentation. That's what you do in your 20s. It's good to experiment. You know, there should be no end to it, Zaha Hadid always told me. But it comes to certain levels as you grow older. But I experimented a lot. Fashion and things I was liking or not liking.

Jon:
And at what age do you expect that you will have the best taste?

Francis:
Oh, I don't think I'll achieve best taste. There's no such thing. There's just taste. I think I've got reasonably good taste. So that's how I leave it on that one.

Jon:
What's the most tasteful object in your home?

Francis:
I think they're all reasonably tasteful to me. I don't have one in particular, to be honest.

Jon:
And on the flip side, what's the most tasteless object in your house?

Francis:
Well, there isn't really anything case but for most people, what could be considered tasteless is the collections we have of 1950s cookie jars. Not that we eat too many cookies—we try not to—but we have a lot of those.

Jon:
What's the most tasteless thing you have ever worn?

Francis:
Oh, God, that— that comes back to my 20s. I have worn a few shockers where there was a look called voyage and I don't think I could wear it again. Kind of gypsy look. Yeah, that was a moment. There was— It was very in at the time.

Jon:
But not something you think you'd be pulling off now?

Francis:
I— Thankfully got out of that phase pretty quickly and then went into Savile Row tailoring.

Jon:
Very wise. So what's the worst thing you've ever tasted?

Francis:
Oh, God, it was awful. It was I didn't realise until I ate half of it. [It] was a very big eyeball of a fish in a Japanese restaurant.

Jon:
Which restaurant serves the best tasting food?

Francis:
Actually, if I have to say it's a restaurant in Valetta in Malta where I go to a lot called Rubinos, which is in an old confectionery shop. It's just good old fashioned Maltese cooking.

Jon:
Which interior designer, aside from your good self has the best taste?

Francis:
Living or dead?

Jon:
Shall we do both?

Francis:
Okay, dead, I would say it would be Jean-Michel Frank, because he was, like, one of the biggest influences in showing me the light for my own career. And living, I think the grand señor, for me, of decorating today, Jacques Grange.

Jon:
What is the most tasteful historical period of design?

Francis:
Oh, for me, definitely Art Deco.

Jon:
And what's the least tasteful historical period of design?

Francis:
I try to find the good taste in every period, but the one period I found difficult was the Memphis movement, which was like, you know, 80s. But I still find a bit of beauty in some of it, especially with Mendini.

Jon:
What's the best taste you've ever acquired?

Francis:
I think contemporary art. I found that, in a way, some of it tough to begin with, growing up with classical. So I got mentored on contemporary art in the mid 90s when Saatchi was promoting contemporary art and the British movement. And that— that taste is what I acquired to give me the strength and art today that I love.

Jon:
Which country out of all those you've visited has the best taste?

Francis:
Oh, God, that's difficult because there are two. It's Italy and France. I don't know if I could outshine one more than the other because they've both been a huge influence. I have to say both. They— They're both equal for me.

Jon:
What is the number one crime against good taste that people typically commit in their homes?

Francis:
I think not thinking things through and they have too many ideas and they just stick them all together and hope it's going to work and it turns out to be a mess.

Jon:
When is bad taste actually good taste?

Francis:
I— You see there isn't really bad taste. Everybody has taste and actually bad taste—when it's what reflects on that person, who they are and what they love—no matter how we would think down on what they have, I think it's actually really good. Sometimes tacky can be very chic.

Jon:
When is good taste actually bad taste?

Francis:
When people become so safe and, in a way, so boring because it's so perfect. But perfection doesn't exist and they think it is so I think when it is not.

Jon:
Who is your taste icon?

Francis:
Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent.

Jon:
Why does taste matter?

Francis:
Because taste defines us. You know, it is always a question of taste—it's what we desire and it's what makes us who we are so it is important.

Jon:
Thank you, Francis. That was absolutely fascinating. Where can people find out more about you?

Francis:
I think they can find out about me online. If they Google, I can get my book at Vendome. I also would like to say that, you know, keep going to museums and institutions and keep getting inspired so they will help you create beautiful homes and help your eye grow.

Jon:
Incredible advice and a really, really interesting conversation. Thank you so much for being on The Tastemakers with us, Francis.

Francis:
Great. It's been a pleasure. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Jon:
That wraps up this episode of The Tastemakers. Thanks for listening. If you'd like to be notified of new episodes, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and if you enjoyed the show, please do rate and review us. You can discover related images, articles and products in our show notes at LuxDeco.com, where you can also shop over 150 of the world's finest design brands and subscribe to our online magazine, The Luxurist. I've been your host Jon Sharpe. You can follow me on Instagram @jonsharpe—that's J-O-N-S-H-A-R-P-E—and follow LuxDeco @luxdeco. I'll see you next time.

Jon:
Until then, live beautifully.

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