The royal-focused cover that kicked off 2003 for the magazine.

Photographed by Mario Testino, January 2003, Architectural Digest

Thanks to Netflix’s Sunday drop of The Crown season four, viewers the world over continue to be glued to their computer and television screens. And while the new episodes do focus largely on the arrival of Lady Diana Spencer, there would be no People’s Princess on the scene if it weren’t for Charles, the continuing heir to the British throne. In this new season, Josh O’Connor reprises his role as the Prince of Wales. For some, O’Conner’s depiction of Charles will clearly be viewed as that of a villain. But matrimonial entanglements aside, Prince Charles continues to be a figure on the world stage with his fair share of do-gooder—and design-focused—passions. 

One that has been noted widely throughout the decades is the prince’s commitment to sustainability. Another is his love of classical architecture. And while casual royal watchers might be familiar with his efforts to help combat global warming and his appreciation for great buildings of yesteryear, not many are acquainted with his efforts in creating eco-chic outdoor furniture. (And no, this hasn’t been covered on The Crown, at least not yet.)

In January 2003, Prince Charles appeared on the cover of Architectural Digest to promote his inaugural collection. The cover story, which was titled “HRH Prince Charles Presents Contemporary Furniture for the Garden,” featured a portfolio of consciously crafted wooden designs posed like works in a sculpture garden. The impetus for the collection was to help the local economy of Herefordshire, which has a large wood industry, and is part of the prince’s Duchy of Cornwall. 

The article was filled with insights as to what exactly Charles cared about while working on this project. “Prince Charles wanted the pieces to be sculptural and tactile,” Stephen Florence, a Welsh designer with whom Charles collaborated on the collection, explained at one point. “He saw them, in fact, not only as useful things to sit on and contemplate a garden from, but as things in a garden to be looked at, ornamental in their own regard: artifacts that would enhance the beauty and geometry of the setting.”

The furniture designs, which debuted at the Chelsea Flower Show, were available to purchase through Stephen Florence.

Photo: Architectural Digest, January 2003

Interestingly, the designs were first created for the Prince’s Gloucestershire country house, Highgrove House, which is a prominent location during season four of The Crown. (Prince Charles purchased it in 1980, just around the time that the new season begins.) The furniture designs created circa 2003 were also almost strikingly modern, as Florence’s colleague Will Bullough pointed out. “I think that’s one of the illusions, actually—that Prince Charles would want traditional garden furniture,” Bullough said. “The fact that he has often spoken out on behalf of certain traditional designs is really no reason to imagine that he isn’t just as receptive to interesting innovative designs. But because the Prince is universally associated with lofty historical references, this furniture may come as a little bit of a surprise to an awful lot of people, who will all be expecting it to be very recognizably traditional indeed—and that it’s not, I think, will be a source of great excitement to everybody.”

Interestingly, Charles is not without royal and royal-adjacent acquaintances who have worked or dabbled in the furniture trade. Viscount Linley, Charles’s first cousin and the son of his aunt, Princess Margaret, is a woodworker and furniture maker by trade. Recently, Princess Diana’s brother Earl Spencer, who is Charles’s former brother-in-law, collaborated with Theodore Alexander on a collection. So who knows, perhaps one day we might even get a line of sofas designed by Kate Middleton? Or a collection of Meghan Markle–approved chairs? If the past is any indication, there might just be hope.

Another spread from the feature. 

Photo: Architectural Digest, January 2003

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