It is a popular misconception that all many auction rooms have to offer with regard to furniture are large and usually brown pieces from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. Of course, these antiques used to form the bread and butter of many auctioneer’s stock, however, the reality is that many auctioneers now also sell pieces of modern design furniture dating from the 20s right up to the 70s and 80s.
Such furniture appeals to the young professional classes especially. Monumental pieces of Victorian furniture are wholly inappropriate for the modern interior and sometimes won’t even get through the door, so minimalist, compact pieces of modern design are often the desirable and pragmatic choice.
The major London auction rooms spotted this trend several years ago and now hold dedicated sales to the sale of this rapidly growing market. Bonham’s have their Vision 21 sale, Christie’s had their first modern design sale back in 1996, with Sotheby’s recently announcing their first auction dedicated to 20th and 21st century design.
The well publicised Yves Saint Laurent sale at Christie’s Paris in February earlier this year produced the most expensive piece of modern design furniture ever sold at auction. The Art Deco Dragon Chair (illustrated) by Irish designer Eileen Grey, sold for a incredible 19.5 million Euros against an pre-sale estimate of 2–3 million Euros proving that 20th century design inspires passion for those with the means to afford it.
It is a fantastic sum for a piece of decorative furniture, but this was one of the sales of the century, with the Yves Saint Laurent name playing a large part in achieving that sum.
Those wishing to furnish their homes without a few million to spare should not be concerned, many auctioneers now sell unique pieces of decorative furniture from £100 upwards. Surely preferable to a basic flat pack piece or Granny’s ‘Chippendale’ sideboard?
Robert Coram James, MRICS
Robert Coram James is an art valuer with Coram James Ltd, a firm of antique and art valuers specialising in probate, divorce and insurance valuations.