When writer and broadcaster Rosie Millard purchased a Georgian town house in North London with her partner, they turned to buying at auctions during lockdown to complete the refurbishment.
For Rosie Millard, writer and broadcaster, it started with a Google search for a ‘mid-century light’.
She and her partner were moving to a Georgian townhouse in North London and refurbishment plans were forming. ‘I knew I didn’t want to buy new and the architects we were working with suggested lighting that in my eyes was too typical of things used by bars and cafes over the last decade. I particularly liked the Mid-Century look so that’s where it began.’
The search engine took Rosie to a ceiling light designed by Sciolari that was listed for sale in one of Sworders’ Design auctions. It was just the look she had in mind and the estimated price was agreeable. A second search took her to a biography of Gaetano Sciolari (1927-1994), the owner of Sciolari Lighting and designer for the Italian manufacturer Stilnovo in the 1950s. She was hooked.
It was lockdown, and we all had a little extra time on our hands. Rosie had begun by creating mood boards, often taking inspiration from the pages of World of Interiors, Elle Decoration, and Country Life. ‘I would spend hours creating my wish lists, then would research the names of designers. I really enjoyed that.’
Part of her research was to compare objects and prices available from retailers and those at other auction houses. She decided to focus on Sworders’ Design sales. ‘I like the price points at Sworders and I like that the sale catalogues are “curated” with all the Mid-Century items placed together.’ It allowed Rosie to visualise the pieces in her home, make judgments about which would sit well together, and offered suggestions on accent furnishings. Alongside the Sciolari light (bought for £670) Rosie added a brutalist giltwood resin wall mirror by Syroco (£520) and colourful glass bowls and vases by Whitefriars and Murano.
Buying at auction was unfamiliar. ‘Before lockdown, I had never purchased items to furnish my home at auction,’ said Rosie. ‘I had bought houses at auction but not art, antiques, or collectables.’
Covid restrictions meant that the doors were closed to public, but - with the help of new technology - this was seldom an impediment to purchasing.
‘Viewing the items in person was not an option but I then suppose I didn’t know any different,’ Rosie muses. On sale day I chose to bid live through Sworders’ website and I arranged collection myself from Sworders’ auction room. The whole experience was just so easy,’ said Rosie.
‘Amazingly, there were no unpleasant surprises. I didn’t worry too much about measurements, but surprisingly everything fitted perfectly, probably because I was furnishing an empty house,’ she beams. The circular orange, brown and beige wool carpet, designed by Verner Panton in 1970, makes a real statement. It was bought in October for £1,040 and is the perfect size. The brutalist Syroco mirror above could have been designed for the space it inhabits.
Managing a budget, Rosie chose to mix ‘investment’ pieces such as this, by leading makers and designers, with more budget-conscious furnishing items that helped achieve the right look. The set of rosewood dining chairs in the kitchen-diner are the apogee of Danish style - seminal designs by Johannes Andersen for Bernhard Pedersen & Son. The two elbow and four single chairs, all retaining their original upholstery, were the couple’s most expensive single purchase at £2,600. However, the walnut table they sit around - made by the Virginia firm Lane Altavista - was secured for just £195. Rosie deems it her best buy.
She found her auction purchases blended seamlessly with some contemporary furnishings the couple were keen to own. For example, the brass and steel brutalist table lamp by Maurizio Tempestini (bought for £338) in the loft room has a shade by the Monkey Puzzle Tree, a Leeds-based company with a strong social conscience that seeks to support local artists and manufacturers.
It all makes for a home that is bursting with style and personality. Proof that whether your taste is for Victorian aestheticism or post-war Scandinavian design, decorating your house with period furnishings could be just a few clicks away.
Rosie Millard OBE is a British journalist, writer, and broadcaster. She is Chair of BBC Children in Need and Chair for Firstsite gallery in Colchester.
Our next Design auction on July 13 will include a dedicated section devoted to photography. Providing the impetus to the new focus is the consignment of a very fine collection of photographs by important 20th century American and European photographers.
Otto Billström joined our Design Department in January this year and believes his Scandinavian heritage aided his appreciation of 20th century design. Let's find out more about him...