Her Majesty’s Craftsman Nephew Hits Pay Dirt in the New World

In a city of trendy restaurants larded with piercing decibels and fussy ingredients, a great locus of civility is the dining room at the Carlyle hotel. Always a genteel watering hole, the Carlyle seems even more remarkable since Mortimer’s closed in September. True, there’s no Bill Blass meatloaf on the menu or, well, never mind to whom Glenn Bernbaum dedicated Mortimer’s pasta puttanesca. But there’s the steady Carlyle cuisine, the cold buffet–dieter’s delight–and discreet dessert cookies served on white plates graciously, without prissy swirls of expensive-restaurant strawberry treacle. Not that the Carlyle is cheap. A cocktail- and wine-free lunch for two costs about $100.

Among others in the hushed dining room the other day, there was Anne Cox Chambers, the communications heiress and former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, lunching confidently alone. There was arts patroness Maureen Cogan sitting next to a woman with a crown of yellow hair. There was Judy Peabody with photographer David Seidner and real estate executive David Jackson. And on April 23, Viscount David Linley, the 37-year-old British craftsman–and the son of Princess Margaret, beloved sister of Queen Elizabeth, and the world-class photographer Lord Snowdon–was enthroned on a banquette.

Happy, but jetlagged from a tour of some of the West Coast Neiman Marcus stores that sell his fine line of decorative household accessories made in wood, Viscount Linley ordered a cheeseburger. “An American cheeseburger with French fries, please,” he told the elegant maître d’ who took his order. “I reckon if you stick to the same thing every day for lunch when you are traveling, you know where you are. And it is one less decision to make.”

This sort of mental decisiveness must run in the family. Queen Elizabeth rarely worries about what to give for presents, thanks to her nephew. Recently, when the Queen toured South Korea, she presented First Lady Lee Hee Ho with a David Linley wooden inlaid box lined in velvet. Last year, when she traveled to Kuala Lumpur, she gave the Malaysian queen a different Linley box. Yet another Linley accessory was given by the Queen to the Crown Prince of Brunei during a royal visit.

“We arrived in the States the day before yesterday and started off our tour at the Neiman Marcus at Fashion Island at Newport Beach. Best day we ever had tradewise,” Viscount Linley said, beaming. “America is wonderful. A huge percentage of our core business is here, our core business being our commissions.”

Since opening his business, called David Linley & Company, in 1985, the Viscount’s made-to-order commissions in the United States have ranged from a grand table for the board of trustees at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to various boxes and decorative follies he has designed for Blaine and Robert Trump’s country house in upstate New York. In terms of ready-made items, the line goes from $16 doorstops to a $350,000 cabinet made in collaboration with the Sèvres porcelain company in France. Bergdorf Goodman is the exclusive outlet for Linley in New York. A special line called the Metropolitan Collection, inspired in part, Viscount Linley said, by the Sutton Place apartment of fashion designer Bill Blass, which he visited last year, was launched at a cocktail party April 27 at the Fifth Avenue store. A small dinner followed at Nan Kempner’s Fifth Avenue apartment.

“I like to say we can make anything in wood,” Viscount Linley said. The “we” is not only royal. Viscount Linley speaks in the plural tense to credit his 30-plus staff toiling back at the Linley studio on the Pimlico Road in London where, last year, he reported more than $8 million in total sales.

Ever expanding, Viscount Linley recently teamed up with the interior design team at Ralph Lauren and was commissioned to decorate a private yacht to be docked in New Zealand. “People have tried to get us into the boat business for some time, but it was Hamilton South, president of Ralph Lauren, who convinced us,” he said. “There are so many super yachts being built nowadays. I don’t know where the people go with them. Because the people who can afford them haven’t got the time to use them.”

His design for the yacht was not unlike the composed elements of the Carlyle dining room. “Rather than turning it into a rich caravan, it was like this room,” he said, eating his American lunch. “Nothing to suggest there’s anything out of the ordinary about your life.”

He paused. Smiled at the woman to his left sitting at the next table. “We’re pretending not to listen,” she said coquettishly.

“Feel free,” Viscount Linley responded.

From Newport Beach, he traveled to the Neiman Marcus in Palo Alto. “Silicon Valley! How exciting. It’s like a gold rush there, isn’t it?” Next stop was St. Louis, which he pronounced properly and then corrected himself. “Louis,” he said, almost whistling the name in French. “I had an interesting time; very sensible pace of life in St. Louis.”

A gathering at the Neiman Marcus store there brought him in close contact with his adoring customers. “Doorstops sold extremely well yesterday in St. Louis, let me tell you. I signed them all.” Questions about his personal life and the royal family were not bothersome. “I dodge the bullet. If someone raises their hand and asks about them, I start talking about cabinets and they fall asleep.”

Viscount Linley did allow that reports of Princess Margaret having been severely burned by bathwater during a recent holiday in Mustique are highly exaggerated. London tabloids say she is so ill she will miss the wedding of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones on June 19.

“She burned her feet terribly and it hurts like crazy, I think, but it is not life-threatening,” he reported.

“Everyone in St. Louis seemed pretty excited that my wife Serena is having a baby in June,” he said, then smiled. “They all clapped. That was really sweet.” Viscount Linley and his wife, the daughter of Viscount Petersham, a rich Anglo-Irish peer, recently put their London flat, in a former school in Battersea, on the market and are looking for new digs. The Linleys also have a house in Provence.

The bill came: $93.64 before gratuity.

“Hmmm,” said Viscount Linley, a curious guest. “The next time you’re in London, I’ll take you to lunch at a wonderful Scottish restaurant I know.”

Where?

“McDonald’s,” he laughed. “Ever heard of it?”

Billy’s List: Quiz time!

1. Who is Huey R. Freeman?

a. Editor in chief of DNR , the men’s wear newspaper.

b. The hero of The Boondocks , a new syndicated comic strip.

c. Henry Kissinger’s best friend.

2. Astounded by the high cost of estate gardening at the new country place, who recently said, “I know now why plants are green–they’re the same color as money”?

a. Michael Caine.

b. Lynn Nesbit.

c. Anne Bass.

3. According to The Wall Street Journal , who has the longest waiting list in Silicon Valley?

a. The makers of Range Rovers.

b. Child psychiatrists.

c. Ariel Bunker, designer of extraordinary wine cellars.

Answers: (1) b; (2) a; (3) b.