JUNE has been quite a month for record-breaking results in 20th century design.
A set of Eileen Gray Mermaid armchairs sold for a combined total of €7.79m (£5.3m) in Paris on June 1.
Seven days later the 20th century design records took a massive leap forward when a glass-topped oak trestle table designed by the Turinese architect Carlo Mollino in 1949 sold for a multi-estimate $3.4m (£1.95m) plus buyer’s premium in New York on June 9.
The price more than doubles the previous record for a piece of 20th century furniture, the $1.7m (£1.23m) set in the same rooms in December 2000 for a Ruhlmann Tardieu chrome and lacquer desk. Significantly the new record breaker is a post-War rather than inter-War piece.
The Mollino table is a unique (as opposed to a series) piece made for the Casa Orengo, a small Turin apartment and last went through the salerooms in Italy 20 years ago.
It was one of a group of 26 largely French inter-War pieces in the sale from the collection of Dakis Joannou, acquired for his Athens home, which was sold in New York because they felt it had the strongest market for such material. Their judgment was proved right.
The Mollino table had a $150,000-200,000 estimate although they hoped it might double that level.
There were several prospective purchasers lined up on the phones to bid on the table, but they never got a look-in. From the start the competition was between two determined contestants in the room: the architect Lee Mindel, who was bidding on a mobile phone for a client, and the New York dealer Christina Garjales.
Bidding swiftly rose to $800,000, progress then slowed but once it got past the $2m mark the bidding was over in seconds, with the hammer falling to Christina Garjales.
Much of the attraction of this piece is that Mollino’s output was tiny and largely for a local clientele. “Mollino is highly regarded, he is one of those cult designers. There hasn’t been anything on the market for decades that was a top item by him.
He added that for the first time a piece by a highly regarded but local 20th century architect has achieved a price equal to (or better) than that commanded by better-known names.