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Francis Sultana certainly is a man on a design mission. With a career spanning residential interior design projects, his own furniture collections, a role as the V&A Design Fund Chairman, and a brand new super yacht interiors project, he definitely has a lot on his plate. This inspirational figure lives and breathes design, thriving off a design fuelled adrenaline rush to the head. Add to all of this his role as Artistic Director for revered design house David Gill Galleries, and we start to build the picture of a man determined to live out every single one of his design ambitions. And yet, Francis is still finding the time to join us at Decorex this year as part of our renowned Seminar Programme.
Is he insane? Obsessed? Or purely passionate? We found out when we caught up with him ahead of the show...
What first drew you into the world of interior design?
I think I first got drawn to it at the age of 5. When I was a little boy I was looking at magazines like House & Garden, and I was fascinated by homes and furniture. I loved The English Ideal Home, and instead of copying cartoons I would copy floor plans. By the time I was 6 I was asking for Frank Lloyd Wright in the library, so it was very natural for me.
How did you get into your first role in the industry?
When I came back to London in my late teens I met David Gill, who I still artistically direct today. I was going to become an architect, but in the end I ended up working for him in his gallery, because I realised that I wanted to work with the designers and artists I was reading about.
Who or what would you say is your biggest inspiration?
My inspirations come from people who are close to me, I’m very fortunate to have a lot of creative people around me, from very well known designers, to David himself, and to certain patrons who I know who collect art and design. I can go to the V&A and walk into a room which I haven’t walked into for ten years, and think ‘oh my god, I love that texture, that’s going to be something for my next collection’. I think inspiration can come from anything, as long as you really open your eyes to it.
What is the biggest challenge in your working life?
For me, time management is the biggest challenge because the way we work today is very demanding, both mentally and physically. The whole way we work in the industry has changed a lot, especially if you are working internationally, everything is created so much faster. I’m 42 now, and in over 20 years of being in the industry I have seen so much change in how we work. I see it in my own studio, in my own offices, how the people in their 20’s work completely different to my age group now.
If you could describe your work in 3 words, what would they be?
Sophisticated, contemporary, elegant.
What would be your favourite object in your own home?
If I had to take one thing from my home, it’s a chair I own - with a lot of history. The chair was designed by Emilio Terry, and was made for Carlos de Beistigui’s penthouse, which was designed by Le Corbusier. It is one of those very rare historical chairs of the 20th century that has so much of a legacy, and that, for me, makes it an object of great beauty. I love a lot of beautiful things, but that chair has a very big place in my heart.
Can you tell us about your new collections being launched later this year?
We’re doing something new for this autumn, with a capsule collection in addition to the main collection. The main collection coming out has 28 pieces, the capsule only has five. Each of my collections is named after a muse, the capsule one will be called Anita, and it is based on something I did in a previous collection in Kidassia fur.
Our main collection for this autumn is called Celia. It’s all about sophistication and understatement, but uses very rich materials; bronze, beautiful linens, and beautiful molten glass. People will see a very simple collection, pieces which will look very good in a summer house, or in the city where people want to be very low key.
You have recently been commissioned for your very first super yacht interior, can you tell us about the project and what challenges you will face?
It is a 58 metre, state of the art sailing yacht that will cross boundaries in yacht design. The company building the yacht, Royal Huisman in Holland, are going to reveal the exterior for the first time at the Monaco boat show. I have never done a yacht before, and with a sailing yacht there is much more engineering involved, a lot more technicalities with regards to weight and distribution. I’m known for using a lot of bronze, which of course will not be happening on a boat, so it will definitely be a new thing for me. The yacht is being previewed in September, we’ve already started working on the concepts, and the boat should hit the water in 2017 if all goes to plan.
Can you tell us about your role as Artistic Director of David Gill galleries?
I work with a lot of designers who have exhibitions, and the gallery produces visions of their work. From people who are very well known, like Zaha Hadid, to people like Mattia Bonetti. My role also involves looking at new designers, and gradually introducing some new names. It’s not easy because this house is known for its high design and luxury, so finding designers that have the capacity to produce designs which fit the criteria here can be difficult.
You are also Chairman of the V&A Design Fund, can you tell us a little about this?
My role involves working with the museum to raise funds for contemporary design, so that the buying department actually have budget to purchase. Now in our 4th year, and with a new museum Director, there is a big plan to boost contemporary design. Our plan is to make it grow, and make the contemporary design department a main part of the museum, so that we have what the museum needs to own long term for the benefit of the nation. I think that I the next 12 -18 months we will see some great announcements from the museum.
What does the future hold for you?
International luxury brand stores are a new thing for me, and I’ve decided that corporate design can be quite fun. From now on I plan to only select the projects which I would really like to do. I’ll be concentrating a lot more on my furniture collections in the next few years, so we will be developing that into something as strong as our current project offering.
What are your plans for your seminar at Decorex this year?
I want to talk about the influences on luxury interior design from London. London is its own entity, the capital of Europe today, and there are a lot of creative ideas which stem from this city. Contemporary art had made such a big impact on London, and in turn London has an impact on designers. What happens in London has a trickling effect on designers around the world. This is why people come down to Decorex, and down to LDF. Paris is not like London. Milan is a small town in comparison. This is all about London.
As a renowned figure within the industry, what would your advice be for aspiring designers?
I would say that young designers need to realise that being a designer today is not just about creativity anymore – you also have to be very good at business. Everything is super-yesterday, and ideas need to flow very quickly. You can’t expect when working on a luxury high end project that these powerful people are easy to deal with! Get to know your contractors, make sure you know that they will not let you down. Deal with the one thing you don’t want to do first, then it is out of the way and you can do what you love without it being spoilt by the looming task.
Register for Decorex 2014 to hear more from Francis Sultana at the show!