How to collect 20th century design

Ahead of Phillips’ 20th Century and Contemporary Art & Design Evening Sale, which will be held on 26 November at Mandarin Oriental and is expected to realise in excess of HK$120 million (lots include original mid-century masterpieces from the likes of Hans J. Wenger, Finn Juhl and Gio Ponti, as well as works by Richard Prince, Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat), we speak to Marcus McDonald, international specialist of design at Phillips, about how best to go about acquiring your own piece of contemporary design history.

Why would you recommend collecting iconic items of furniture?

As William Morris famously stated: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” It is imperative to surround yourself with design that you engage with personally and psychologically, evincing quality, intrigue, and beauty. When united with design, a room is rendered as if it were a performance, with seating and lighting working in accord to define the space, harmonise the environment and express refined sensibilities and sophistication.

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Hans J. Wegner, rare Dolphin folding armchair, model no, JH510, designed 1950, estimate HK$750,000-1,200,000
Why do you think there has been increased interest in and activity of collecting design, both in Asia and further afield?

Throughout the 20th century there was a myriad of world fairs, expositions, triennials and more, all of which presented the greatest architectural and design talents from around the world. Design has always been a global community where the discussion of ideas, solutions, aesthetics and production methods is open, reflected and appreciated. The international status of design, including current interest and activity in Asia, represents a globally appreciated market.

What are your top tips for budding collectors?

I would advise attending auctions, as these provide a platform where a multitude of design works are available to view. Choose works that resonate with you and then refine your appreciation by acquainting yourself with the designer and the different periods of their work.

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Finn Juhl, pair of chairs, model no. FJ 53, estimate HK$150,000 – 250,000
What is the one design item that you would most like to have in your personal collection and why?

For its modernist beauty and superb craftsmanship, I would select the Dolphin folding armchair by Hans J. Wegner, which is included in our forthcoming Hong Kong sale. The work is a poetic example of the fruitful collaboration of the architect Hans Wegner and esteemed Copenhagen cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen. Another work to focus on from the sale would be the FJ 45 pair of armchairs, designed by the Danish architect Finn Juhl, handcrafted in Bangkok teak and produced by the master cabinetmaker Niels Vodder.

Lot 55 & 56 - Gio Ponti HIGH RES (1)_RS
Gio Ponti, pair of armchairs, model no. 516, estimate HK$70,000-100,000 and settee, model no. 516, estimate HK$70,000-100,000