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New York design sales, collectors show the trends ahead
New records are set as contemporary art collectors move into this field

New world records were set at the 11 and 12 December sales of 20th-century design at Sotheby’s New York. The collection of fashion designer Wolfgang Joop achieved nine records alone. An Alexandre Noll 1947 chair made a stratospheric price, selling for $680,000 (est. $100/150,000). It was bought by New York private dealer Christina Grajales, reportedly for publisher and collector Peter Brandt, husband of supermodel Stephanie Seymour. Designer furniture by Jacques Adnet, and Charlotte Perriand also made record prices.

Racking up a record too was Jean Royère’s six-branch floor lamp from the 1950s. Expected to make $40/60,000, the “Liane” hit $187,200–the price of a real Tiffany stained glass lamp. Interestingly, Ms Grajales snapped up the Royère lamp as well. She was on a $1 million-plus shopping spree, taking home the Noll chair and another Royère lamp. “All are going to an American client,” said Ms Grajales, who was instrumental in forming the Joop collection and is well known for her Hollywood clientele, including screen idol Brad Pitt.

Another single-owner sale, the Seymour Stein collection saw a record set for a chromium-plated aluminium bed by Louis Sognot and Charlotte Alix, made for the Maharaja of Indore’s Manik Bagh Palace, from about 1930. Estimated at $180/240,000, the bed sold for $209,600.

Driving prices for the Stein material was its freshness to the market. “It had been warehoused for decades,” said Sotheby’s specialist James Zemaitis. He also noted that bidding was as strong as in contemporary art sales: “Between 50 and 75% of the buyers were contemporary art collectors,” he says.

Clearly, Sotheby’s choose well in plucking Mr Zemaitis, 35, from Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg. Barbara Diesroth, who previously headed Sotheby’s department, had made her focus Tiffany glass, which is considered passé taste by today’s hip generation.

Meanwhile, Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg is continuing its search for a replacement for Mr Zemaitis. According to industry sources, Simon de Pury has been approaching a number of high-level dealers.

Christie’s is planning to strengthen its 20th-century decorative arts department. The firm named Jason Stein, its longtime Los Angeles-based expert known for heading up the Tony Duquette sale, as senior specialist in New York. He is planning sales for 9 and 10 March, while Nicola Redway concentrates on earlier material such as Hoffman and Tiffany. Christie’s under Nancy McClelland had been the market leader in this area. The current shakeout in 20th-century design is bound to be closely watched.