Gallerist David Gill is a pioneer of the contemporary art and design scene, championing furniture as art. After founding his eponymous gallery in 1987 on London’s Fulham Road, he moved to Vauxhall in 1999, and in 2012 reopened his gallery in St James’s. He has represented artists and architects such as Fredrikson Stallard, Mattia Bonetti and Zaha Hadid, whose first furniture collection he produced, and has collaborated with David Chipperfield and Grayson Perry. France has honoured Gill with the Chevalier and Officier to the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for his contributions to art and design.
Why did you choose to start a gallery? What was your background before that?
My training was in 17th-century Old Masters at [auction house] Christie’s, but my hobby was 20th-century art. In fact, my only real job was at Christie’s on King Street. From there, I started my own gallery. It was in the late 1980s and I opened with a group of painters — the neo-romantics, from Christian Bérard to Leonid Berman — and all the great names in 20th-century furniture — [Diego] Giacometti, Jean-Michel Frank and Eileen Gray.
Why did you decide to collaborate with designers on new limited editions?
Limited editions are a way of collecting. Making it limited makes it more desirable and, therefore, more collectable. To make furniture to the level that we do in the gallery is very costly, so to make a collectable edition is also the right thing to do financially. I was looking for all these early pieces by designers and could never find what I wanted. So I thought, why don’t I work with contemporary artists to do this? I think I was probably one of the first, if not the first, to do contemporary furniture from a gallery.
How would you characterise your style?
David Gill! I can’t really say what my style is, other than through the pieces I am working on with artists. It’s about making choices. Let’s just say I cut the beautiful flowers from the beds and arrange them.
Name your top three influences.
Art is one, then architecture, and fashion. All these go together, and what brings them together is the eye. They make us look at the visual part of our lives.
What has been your most exciting sale, or the piece you are most proud of producing?
They are all challenging because there’s a huge desire and optimism when a new design is put in front of you. But the challenge is that it’s not easy to build furniture. That said, when I saw the Miss Blanche chair [made by the late Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata], with the roses inside, encapsulated in clear Lucite acrylic, I thought it was wonderful. In my mind I wanted to live in a glass house.
If you weren’t allowed, who would design a piece of furniture for you?
I like all my designers and I like them for different reasons. In my new apartment in Albany [in London] I want all my designers to be involved, so each is going to make a piece. There are many people that I haven’t worked with whom I admire a lot though — [couturier] Azzedine Alaïa, for example, who has unfortunately passed away.
What is the one object you would never allow in your home?
A doormat. They’re simplistic.
What do you look for in a client?
Clients that know exactly what they’re looking for. People that are, in their own right, collectors and have done their research. This amazing woman — a top CEO in America in the 1960s — came into my gallery once and said, “I want to buy everything in this place. In fact, I want to buy David Gill.” I asked if I could write down the quote! She’s seen the world — she’s not necessarily coming to the gallery because it’s me but because she has looked at everything and she’s made choices.
Is there a space you feel most inspired by?
When I travel anywhere I get inspired. When I am in London I know everything well. When you are travelling you begin to look at windows or rooftops or things you wouldn’t normally look at. You make choices in different ways.
What do you think is more important in design: form or function, or comfort or aesthetics?
There are so many aspects to it. What is most important is that it must be innovative, to a certain extent provocative and ultimately surprise you in some way. You must want it — and I’m not talking about the next iPhone. A sofa is like a dress: it should say something about you. You should look great on it. It should be sexy and comfortable.
What do you see as the overriding trend in your field at the moment (even if you don’t subscribe to it)?
There are times when plastic is overriding wood, when wood is overriding bronze, when bronze is overriding stainless steel. We live in a polyglot world and we’ve seen so much. There are trends and everyone is doing the same hotel room everywhere. The ones who are set apart in history are the artists who are one step removed from that.
Photographs: David Gill Gallery