Historically, luxury British furniture is one of our country's most admired exports (you can read more about its history in our Made In Britain article). Even through changing trends, it has continuously enjoyed demand around the world, from Chippendale's chairs to the neoclassical designs of T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings.
Someone who knows a thing or two about the worth of British furniture is Richard Davidson, founder of Davidson London—the purveyor of high-gloss, high-style furniture of even higher quality.
We caught up with the founder to hear more about the story behind his brand.
What drew you to antiques initially? How much did you specialise in furniture back then?
Some people know exactly what they want to do from an early age—I am not one of those people. Whilst at college in Brighton, I used to walk around ‘The Lanes’ area where, in those days, there were endless antique dealers. I found myself naturally being drawn into them, observing the things being offered and found the obvious bartering experience going on both fascinating and exciting! One weekend, I wrote a long letter to my mother—I explained to her in some detail that I had decided to alter course and become an antique dealer!
I attended various courses on the fine arts (there is no university course for antique dealing) and managed to secure a job at one of the foremost antique dealing firms in Bruton Street who specialised in the finest European porcelain of the 18th century, as well as English furniture. Whilst my initial interest centred around ceramics, I was very quickly drawn to the furniture side of the firm.
How did Davidson start out?
My wife and I made the big decision to set up our own furniture design company in the early part of the nineties. For a while it ran alongside my antique dealing. We had our own restoration workshop where we restored furniture for our own company as well as for other people. People started asking us if we would make things for them like low tables and cabinets for televisions and I guess this really was the start.
What was the goal for the company in the beginning?
In our industry… Quality, quality, quality! For us it has always been about designing and creating high quality pieces of furniture that provide life-long pleasure.
You refer to the Davidson furniture “signature style”. How would you describe that?
Over the years the style of our furniture has naturally adapted with the times and the trends. Today I would describe our signature look as cool, contemporary and with an understated elegance. Our signature finish is highly glossed, as most people who have visited our London showroom will vouch for. A lot of our furniture incorporates metal work, such as brass or nickel, which creates an added sense of lustre in combination with our beautiful range of luxurious and unique finishes.
In what way did your experience in the antiques industry influence that style, Richard?
I still have a love of antique pieces and, whenever time allows, I love to visit museums and marvel at the craftsmanship of earlier pieces. My time as an antique dealer I still remember with great fondness and this influence remains alive behind the brand today.
What does it mean to you to have your name linked so closely to your products?
It must make it an extremely personal endeavour. The fact that our name is stamped on every piece of furniture we sell does make it a very personal business and one which can only strive for perfection and total client satisfaction.
The collections seem to be greatly inspired by Art Deco. How do you keep your designs fresh?
Many of Davidson pieces, particularly those from our earlier collections, have drawn inspiration from some of the great designers of the Art Deco and modern periods of furniture design. As a brand we have tried to evolve an approach where we recognise those great icons of design whilst taking into consideration the last eighty years of furniture evolution. Our contemporary designs respect the heritage and acknowledge the brilliance that has come before but are never solely routed in the past.
How do you combine traditional aesthetics and craftsmanship with modern counterparts?
In a similar way to how any great architect would design a modern structure using their intrinsic understanding of the classic orders of architecture from Greek and Roman times onwards, we understand the traditions of furniture design and craftsmanship and ensure these are incorporated in to every piece we offer.
Our collection incorporates many materials and finishes, but the core material is almost always wood and so the construction is routed in craftsmanship. Because of this, we needn’t treat traditional aesthetics, craftsmanship and modern counterparts as separate factors; they simply gel together as each of our designs take shape.
What are some new techniques, styles or finishes we can expect to see from Davidson?
Our most recent designs have in fact been looking to the traditional to offer the new. For the finishes, we’ve been incorporating classic brass and gold trim with beautiful gilding work in more contemporary contexts. We have also been looking to use wood carving and turning with our signature high gloss finishes to add a unique feel to some of our more recent pieces.
When so many furniture brands are moving their manufacturing processes abroad, what encourages you to continue making your pieces in Britain?
At Davidson, we pride ourselves on being Best of British. Our product will always be luxurious but never be over-the-top. It oozes a sense of cool, understated elegance which has become associated with a sense of ‘Britishness’ in luxury design.
Everywhere we turn, there are products that presumptuously claim to be luxury products. But what is real luxury? It’s hard to define, except that you know it when you see it, smell it, [and] touch it. A luxury item is well-made using the best materials, probably crafted with incredible care in a traditional way.
To achieve this it is vital that our furniture undergoes scrutinising quality checks through every step of production. Being located close to the workshop allows us to closely oversee and monitor its smooth running so that when our furniture finally gets delivered, it is nothing less than perfect. You will find me down at the workshops at least once a month along with our production team who are there much more frequently!
Davidson London is also participating in our Think Big, Shop Small campaign—designed to support small and independent design brands and artisans who need extra help more than ever right now.