At first glance, the trade in luxury furniture design seemed to have stimulated the art market and has profited over the short term.
However much you may be fascinated by the speed and profit margins of the still young collecting field:
product design has its own rules and can sometimes be extremely irrational.
Or unique, depending where you stand.
LUXURY FURNITURE CHECKLIST
- Luxury furniture trade is fussy, driven by internationally active interior designers, fast fashions and high-gloss magazines.
- An object that previously had no one on its radar can transform all of a sudden to a star status of the international auction market.
- Once a must-have luxury furniture has been established, demand grows rapidly in the feverish design market.
- The players in the design market are so international that the tastes of the collectors can be very varied.
- The design market employs people in a more direct and accessible way than art can do in most cases.
- At best, it is an integral part of daily use and at the same time a perfectly designed sculpture.
- Top design have long exceeded the million mark, and their value in the past 10 years has sometimes more than tenfold.
- In many subcategories of the design market the prices have not been fully developed.
Luxury furniture design has stimulated the art market
Anyone who regularly engages in the art business with paintings, graphics or photographs knows the demand curves of the market only too well.
To the luxury furniture design collector such demand curves do not exist, regularly dancing on the threshold to an intensive state of irrationality.
There are plenty of leaps and bounds still to be made in the emerging design collecting field.
An example from the recent past: a club chair, which had never been on the radar before, managed to find a foothold in the international auction market after being just a few months away from the market scrapheap.
FROM BULKY WASTE TO AUCTION STAR
The wooden chairs with their curved armrests and somewhat short and chunky legs, which were reminiscent of saunas, had already been sold a few times for sums not worth mentioning.
The chair was usually manufactured without attribution and sometimes with a vague reference to the Danish designer Viggo Boesen.
In 2013, a Parisian dealer came up with the idea of blasting the Scandinavian curiosity with his best white sheepskin.
It was probably not the new home, but rather the combination of homely fur and eccentric rusticity, which brought the audience from international collectors, oligarchs who were buoyant, and who are always inspired by new interior design.
In any case, a commentary price increase was recorded in 10 months.
Copies of the newly upholstered "Clam-Chair" now came under the hammer for $50,000. A nice sum for an upholstered piece of furniture.
The rise in prices caused some Nordic design experts to get upset in Copenhagen and Stockholm: how could they have overlooked such a blue chip in front of their own eyes for so many years?
TROUVAILLEN IN THE SCANDINAVIAN UNDERGROUND
A new and up to date argument was launched. It then turned out that the chair, which was hotly debated in connoisseurs, was conceived in 1944 by the designer Philip Arctander (1916-1994) who had so far not appeared on the art market.
Arctander, who graduated from the Copenhagen School of Architects and worked as an independent builder from 1939 to 1947, had also made some furniture designs during this time.
He could have never imagined that his "Clam-Chair" would receive such attention again.
Art management can also be a be a good way to reduce your own tax burden.
The Scandinavian experts also forgot to mention that the new luxury furniture superstar was regularly sold at second-rate Danish auctions and collecting markets for just €250.
Presently, it might be worthwhile to go hunting for some other organic-looking and curving Danish furniture and to auction it in the outlets of the design trade or to have it presented in a gallery.
The "Clam-Chair" has already been sighted in Berlin lofts.
Once a must-have furniture has been established demand grows rapidly - especially in the feverish design market. This is not easy to handle.
PARADIGM CHANGE IN THE LATE 90s
A rather adventurous mix was offered from: vintage pieces, prototypes, Bauhaus rarities and contemporary editions from designers such as Ron Arad, Tom Dixon, Marc Newson, the Brazilian Campana brothers or the architect Zaha Hadid.
A few of these auctions were really well curated. But things are different today.
The American dealer and auctioneer Richard Wright from Chicago showed in which direction the future of the design market would go.
His exclusive design house was the first to adopt the most consistent graphic and book design as a design tool for an auction catalog.
This became a core brand and a benchmark for competitors.
Anyone who wants to sell design classics or prototypes today without a special web or catalog appearance has already lost. The design claim to the seller is high among many buyers, albeit always in the own perception world.
Design touches are used to engage people in a more direct and accessible way than the art market can ever do.
In the best case, it is an object of desire, an integral part of everyday use and interior decoration and perfectly designed sculpture that are simultaneously brought together.
Thus the market for historical as well as contemporary design has exploded since the turn of the century - both in terms of the traded pieces and categories as well as the number of acting and gathering actors.
This can also be seen in the sales figures: In 1999, the design department of Phillips, which is also a pioneer with design projects in this division, converted half million dollars.
15 years later, the owners have changed several times, but the turnover has continued to exceed $20 million per year.
Design has long been traded in the same way as other works of art, through interactions with art consultants and art collectors.
The times when design collectors and designers were on the same playing filed as art collectors and artisans are long gone.
Art Basel is still without furniture representation from the design trade.
And the same desks and chairs by Jean Prouvé, Marcel Breuer or Gerrit Rietveld, who are often sat on while completing major art deals, can be bought at the satelite design fairs that follow the great art fair global migration.
Design has long been indispensable to Art Basel in Basel and Miami, but it also has its own independent performance in Paris, London and New York, as well as increasing attraction in Arabia and Asia, with different focal points through specialist magazines such as American Art, Auctioneer and Modernism Magazine.
Important collectors such as the Parisian advertisement and gallerist Krzentowski (Leuchten) or the American Boyd (Industrial Design) have published books about their collections.
From the Braun collection to the tropical house of Jean Prouvé, there are countless private collections, or several museums devoted to the presentation and storage of design, the MoMA in New York, the Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs and, of course, the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany.
New collections, private and public, are emerging mainly on the other side of the Atlantic and the Pacific.
As a result, design is subjected to the cyclical distortions of the market just as much as the flatware - only the wheel rotates even faster, driven by the lifestyle press, blogs by interior design experts and the global penetration of design in the everyday life of the upscale leisure and fashion industry.
AND THE WINNER IS>> THE INTERIOR
Nevertheless, some agents are suddenly more in demand while others have to leave the playing field within just a few short months.
One should never forget: for many buyers, the end is still about the interior design. The focus being on the object that is in front of or beside the artwork. To the environment for art on the wall.
The interior design business all too often follows the same changes of taste as those of the fashion world.
What was fast becoming in "Vogue", falls just as rapidly to the history book
Luxury furniture design as a commercial commodity of the art market is no longer limited to the to the design insiders, but is bought by anyone who can afford it as a luxury symbol and thus wants to present a distinctive image on their walls.
What was fast becoming "en vogue" or in the "Vogue", falls just as rapidly to the history book of the design historiography.
Just a few years ago, the concept of "design art" was driven by the global village of the style elite.
In general, design has long been its own historiography, parallel to, but also independent of the art market.
KEY OBJECTS FOR KEY PLAYERS
The paradigm shift is particularly easy to read from a key object.
The Australian industrial, product and furniture designer Marc Newson manufactured his "Lockheed Lounge" made of fiberglass and riveted aluminum sheet in a limited edition of 10.
Not forgetting the very important: plus prototype. This was titled "LC1" and was developed by Marc Newson in 1985 for the exhibition "Seating for Six" of the Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney.
Formally, the classic Récamière served as a reference, the title of which is derived from the portrayal of Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Juliette Récamier from the year 1800.
Contrary to Newson's apprehension, more demand for his LC1 emerged than he had thought.
From 1986 to 1988, he transformed the LC1 into a more streamlined form, the so-called "Lockheed Lounge", which, because of its surface of nearly seamless aluminum plates fixed by blind rivets, looks more like a historical airplane trim.
One of these copies was auctioned in 2000 by Christie's for $105,000, a six-digit amount that turned the markets attention.
Only 9 years later came a "Lockheed Lounge" from the same series under the hammer. With a tiny difference: this time it was brought at £1.1 million at Phillips in London, making the furniture the most expensive object of contemporary design.
The copy from the auction had gained fame as Madonna featured the lounge in the opening sequence of the video for her single "Rain".
Profit maximization at the top and global interest at the base.
Another "Lockheed Lounge", it is estimated, only changed hands some time later in a private sale for $2.5 million from the owner.
And all records were broken in 2015, when Phillips could again be auctioned a "Lockheed Lounge" for $3.7 million.
There was hardly, including the history of the art market, such a second increase in value in such a short time.
What can be said for the top is also true in its triangular base.
There is an incredible influx of new prospects from Asia, Eastern Europe and the Latin American countries.
For example, if Taiwan's stylistic tastes suddenly become interested in fragile glass lamps by Louis-Comfort Tiffany, or Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann's Makassar furniture, then the monetary effects of the Taiwanese collectibles are the opening of Galleries around the Parisian Rue de Seine or on the American east and west.
The changes in taste may temporarily, it may be regional or continental, but the effects are always global.
COURAGE TO GET STARTED
For the beginner, however, there are still plenty of opportunities in the international design market.
German design is completely undervalued, international studio ceramics are in greater demand, but there are still countless prizes to be discovered.
And traditional Rya carpets, which are already changing hands in America for several tens of thousands of dollars, can still found in Scandinavia for a fraction of that cost.
Scandinavian design has attracted considerable attention over the past five years, but the quality of craftsmanship and material quality, especially in the case of high-quality rosewood, is still not in comparison with the French Art Deco.
We cannot foresee which furniture out there has the potential to the next "Clam-Chair". But it is certain that it is still slumbering somewhere in the Scandinavian forests.
The beauty is: If you want to go hunting, there are still countless areas.
Whether on the net, or in small or large auctions, or even in the lowlands of the clearing business, anyone looking for luxury furniture treasures will surely find something of value.