When you are decorating on a budget, you might think designer furniture is way beyond your pocket. But visit a few auction houses and you’ll see used 20th-century classics in excellent condition fetching a fraction of their original price.
If you want an investment, get to know Danish design. Prices have doubled in five years for items such as second-hand chairs by Danish master of design Hans Wegner, and there is no sign of the market slowing. “The strongest period for Danish furniture and modern design generally is the Fifties to Seventies,” says James Nurse, head of the 20th-century department at Chiswick Auctions.
Tom Keverne, modern saleroom manager at Lots Road Auctions, Chelsea, highlights items from Italian makers B&B Italia and Poltrona Frau as good bets to hold their value, while his colleague, senior auctioneer Nick Carter, mentions a growing interest in Eighties design, in particular Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis collective.
The most important thing, says Carter, is to buy things in good condition “or with minor damage that can be restored” and to avoid bidding online without first viewing in person.
When it comes to authenticity — especially important with big brands — ask staff about maker’s marks and provenance. A reputable auction house should only be offering authentic pieces by licensed manufacturers.
AUCTIONS IN LONDON
The Cabinet Rooms, which describes itself as London’s only auctioneer specialising in modern design, holds sales three times a year at Cecil Sharp House in Primrose Hill — the next is on June 20 — where the focus is on rare pieces by “Great Danes” such as Arne Jacobsen and Verner Panton.
At West Norwood, in south London, Roseberys is a great hunting ground for high-quality bargains. It holds regular Decades of Design sales featuring everything from Art Deco bronzes to mid-century furniture. Highlights of a recent sale include a Fifties cobalt velvet sofa and two armchairs by British designer Guy Rogers, which sold for just £600. The next sale is on September 5.
Hammer prices at Lots Road tend to reflect the affluent location, but there are still plenty of surprises. The weekly Sunday auctions are worth a look, and every couple of months there are sales of “exceptional” contemporary art and design, with items dating from the Fifties to the present day. The next is on June 25. Recently, a burgundy velvet sofa by luxury Italian label Fendi Casa, which cost almost £12,000 new, was a steal at £3,200.
Chiswick Auctions holds five 20th-century and contemporary art and design sales a year, where you might find glass and ceramics by the likes of Whitefriars and Lucie Rie, plus rare modernist furniture. A recent sale turned up a series of teak pieces by collectable British makers John and Sylvia Reid including a sideboard for £420, as well as a Bird chair by Harry Bertoia for Knoll International that sold for £400. The next sale is on July 11.
OUT OF TOWN
The Modern Design sales, held three times a year at TW Gaze in Diss, Norfolk, turn up some great finds. Recent lots include a set of four Gio Ponti “Superleggera” chairs for £350 — Cassina’s modern editions cost upwards of £1,500 each — and a handmade Forties sofa by Danish designer Frits Henningsen for just £190. Whitefriars glass and some interesting mid-century art pieces are also regularly on offer. The next sale is on July 8.
Seven miles outside Bath town centre is Gardiner Houlgate, which holds Vintage & General sales around three times a year and Modern Art and 20th-century Design auctions twice a year. A Swedish teak sideboard recently sold for £400, while a pair of lounge chairs attributed to Danish designer Grete Jalk fetched £460. The next 20th-century design sale is on June 30, with a Vintage & General sale on July 27.