As they scramble for clients in an ever-increasing competitive environment, auction houses are being forced to be very creative in the sales they organize, and the latest "great idea" comes from Sotheby's. Named "By Design," the auction offers property from some of the world's top decorators of the 20th century, both living and deceased.
Why should we care about stuff that designers may have had in their inventories for years and are trying to sell off? Because a lot of it is decorative—that means beautiful or very pretty to everyman—and is worth the price. And, says Mary Cunningham, a specialist in French and Continental furniture, "This is a showplace. Every designer wants to put his or her best foot forward, not to mention the fact that each piece in the auction has Sotheby's seal of approval."
Indeed, a trip through the catalogue (more on that later) presents a feast of delectable styles, from a 1993 Baccarat crystal side chair upholstered in red velvet (see picture in table of contents) that took 360 hours to copy using the original molds from the 19th-century original to a circa-1930 lacquered-wood and sharkskin gondola bed (below), designed by André Arbus with lacquerwork by Jean Dunand (below). These are two of the auction's high players, with the well-documented bed, which is from the collection of Frenchman Jacques Grange, estimated at $100,000 to $150,000 and the Baccarat chair, offered by Tessa Kennedy of the United Kingdom, estimated to fetch between $22,000 and $28,000 (a pair of matching tabourets are estimated at $30,000 to $50,000). Juan Pablo Molyneux's rare Valadier marble temple (bottom right), dating to the late 18th or early 19th century, has an auction estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.
There are pieces with great whimsy that are more decorative than functional, such as the Gabhan O'Keeffe–designed passementerie window bench (top left) and a pair of circa 1810 Brighton Pavilion bamboo armchairs from Marjorie Shushan in New York (estimate: $10,000 to $15,000).
In the category of furniture one can actually use, Suzanne Tucker of San Francisco is offering a pair of 1940s-style silk-tufted chaise longues (top right) and a Louis XV walnut fauteuil à oreilles (above left), both of them beckoning a tired visitor in need of a comfortable seat. Craig Wright has consigned a set of thickly cushioned pliant reproductions (middle left) and Eric Cohler a pair of Louis XV white-painted chaises (lower left).
Sotheby's ensured that the sale would be a memorable one by designing a radically different catalogue. The consigned items were photographed against special backgrounds and photos placed in a modular layout with borders. Unforgettable, until the next great idea comes along.