20th-century classics designed for life

An auction in Dublin will feature iconic contemporary furniture from the 1950s to 1970s

The red chair in the window of deVeres auction house on Kildare Street gives a flavour of the lots on offer in its upcoming design auction of classic 20th-century contemporary furniture.

Designed by Paul Volther in 1964, Lot 4, the sculptural Corona Chair, in red leather, produced by Erik Jorgensen, carries an estimate of €1,400-€1,800. It is one of many 20th-century design classics, by high-profile designers working in the 1950s to the 1970s, that features in the auction, alongside other mid-century modern pieces that are sought as home furnishings for their striking streamlined design and quality production.

Top lots to go under the hammer next Monday include Lot 23, a 1960s rosewood sideboard by Gianfranco Frattini (€2,000-€3,000), one of several sideboards in the auction; Lot 70, a set of eight French 1970s dining chairs (€1,000-€1,500); and Lot 15, a set of four Niels Moller Model 78 chairs with tan leather seats (€1,000-€1,500).

The design auction has grown since deVeres held what it called its first "Interiors" auction in 2012. The market here for this type of furniture is only beginning, says Rory Guthrie, director at deVeres, and buyers tend to be older than the auction house first anticipated. It was thought the market for these pieces would be buyers in their 30s but instead, he says, they tend to be in their 40s and 50s.


Supply, in what is a relatively new market here, is also a challenge and items for this auction come from “20-30 private owners” rather than dealers.

A Dublin collector with a special interest in Scandinavian design has consigned 10 pieces, while an architect supplied other pieces including Lot 40, the beige leather Barcelona chair, designed by Mies van der Rohe (€600-€900). Unusually, this does not have a maker’s mark (the first thing buyers tend to look for as Barcelona chairs have become one of the 20th century’s most copied chairs) but Guthrie is happy it is the genuine article as it was in the architect’s ownership since the 1960s and “the measurements are correct”.

Buying 20th-century furniture from the big names in design is different from buying traditional, much older, antique furniture in that it is usually still in production, being licensed to top-end manufacturers.

Such is the case with Lot 6, the vivid red Up sofa by Gaetano Pesce for B+B Italia in moulded foam, which caused a sensation because of its technical innovation when designed in 1969 (€1,500-€2,000); Lot 54, the Coconut Chair by George Nelson for Vitra, (€1,000-€1,500), and Lot 55, the LC1 Chair by Le Corbusier for Vitra, in chrome and canvas (€1,000-€1,500). It's in these lots buyers might find good value as their estimates are lower than their current retail prices.

What is likely to be a much sought-after lot is number 12, a set of six Arne Jacobsen Model 7 chairs for Fritz Hansen (€1,000-€2,000). Designed in the mid-1950s, these are still in production, generally selling for about €850 each. Similarly, Lot 41, the pair of 1970s white acrylic Panthella table lamps by Verner Panton, has an estimate of €800-€1,200. These are still in production and retail at about €600 each – so a pair at the lower estimate represents good value, but at the upper estimate, when the sizable 25 per cent buyer's fee is added on, not so much.

The auction includes several 1970s mirrored or chrome and glass pieces not attributed to any designer, including Lot 3, a 1970s French coffee table, €600- €900 and Lot 30, an adjustable chrome and glass drinks table, €400-€600. Other interesting pieces include Lot 79, a walnut and gilt French dining table in art deco style (€2,000-€3,000) and Lot 22, a pair of very elegant 1950s cherrywood armchairs and stools by Guglielmo Ulrich, (€1,400-€1,800). Lot 100, a Danish rosewood extendable dining table by Johannes Andersen (€800-€1,200), is typical of many of the Scandinavian pieces on offer; it is a practical piece of furniture that would fit into any contemporary interior for daily use.

Well-known Irish sculptor Patrick O’Reilly, who has designed a new furniture collection, has several one-off pieces in the auction including Lot 39, his quirky, slice-of-cheese-inspired, Emmental table (€1,500-€2,000).

"Furniture needs paintings," says Guthrie, and there are several in the catalogue including a large collection of oils by Makiko Nakamura with estimates ranging from €600 to €1,800. Key works include Lot 76, Grey Abstract by Felim Egan, oil on canvas (160cm x 160cm) €4,000-€6,000, and Lot 77, Super Blue – Milan 2005, by Richard Gorman, 150cm x 150cm oil (€5,000-€7,000). Two John Minihan photographs, one of Samuel Beckett and the other of Francis Bacon, both signed and dated, carry an estimate of €1,500-€2,000. DeVeres Design Auction is on Monday, April 25th at 6pm at the Royal College of Physicians, Dublin. Viewing at DeVeres auction house, 35 Kildare Street, Dublin 2. See deveres.ie