Snap up a unique treasure, intriguing antique or bargain masterpiece at auctions around the country
Flick through any interiors magazine and it will be full of owners or designers purporting their passion for ‘one-off, unique’ finds.
Mini masterpiece: The Royal College of Art Secret Postcard annual auction will be held on November 30
That’s all very well for those whose day job it is to scour the globe for furniture. But where do we mere mortals start?
A spate of upcoming auctions may prove a fruitful source for unusual treasures. Some will leave you feeling good rather than guilty about what you’ve spent, too.
Take the five hand-painted lamps going under the hammer in honour of home specialist Porta Romana’s pledge to raise £30,000 to build an education centre for children in South Africa.
Inspired by a former colleague’s involvement with a small family-run charity, SOS Africa, Porta Romana’s founders Sarah and Andrew Hills have enlisted help from the artist Adebayo Bolaji and leading designers Kit Kemp, Alidad, Martyn Lawrence Bullard and Turner Pocock (supported by Porta Romana’s own team of artisans).
They have each decorated a Porta Romana lamp, in a shape and style of their choosing. Online viewing and bidding opens on November 15, ending November 29 (portaromana.com/charity).
Bright idea: Decorated by interior designer Turner Pocock, this is one of the Porta Romana lamps being auctioned off in aid of the charity SOS Africa
Meanwhile, multiple generations of the Conran clan have contributed a 33-piece dinner service to Women for Women International’s #SheInspiresMe auction (womenforwomen.org.uk) taking place online now until November 19.
The white Portmeirion bowls, plates and mugs, have been decorated in blue with hand-painted motifs, from flowers to faces, by members of the family including designers Sophie and Sebastian, restaurateur Tom, plus their offspring.
Also up for grabs is a large-scale drawing by Barnaby Barford (whose work is displayed in the V&A), a bespoke fragrance by Azzi Glasser, a masterclass and late lunch for you and five friends with chef Thomasina Miers (co-founder of Mexican restaurant group Wahaca) and a four hour design consultation with House of Hackney founders Frieda Gormley and Javvy M. Royle, in Loddiges, the couple’s magnificent Victorian townhouse.
The latter comes with a set of bespoke curtains thrown in.
Pottery lottery: Sophie Conran with her design on a Portmeirion mug, part of the 33-piece dinner service for the Women for Women International’s charity auction
Even if you never had the chance to sashay across Mark Birley’s Annabel’s nightclub dancefloor at 44 Berkeley Square, the romance of its heady days – where the worlds of music, theatre, aristocracy and royalty (including the Queen) collided in private abandon – still holds an allure.
The club has since been usurped by new owner Richard Caring’s gaudy venture two doors down. But on November 20, Christie’s (christies.com) will be auctioning everything from the old club, including its iconic Buddha to drawings by political cartoonist Nicholas Garland and paintings by Sir William Nicholson.
There are some bargains to be had – a William IV rosewood library table is estimated to sell for £2,000, a gilt occasional table or powder room vanity for £300, a Haviland Limoges dinner service for about £1,000.
Plush perch: The Annabel’s red sofa which is to be auctioned at Christie’s with an estimate of £2,000 to £4,000
If those prices are too steep, register now for the Royal College of Art Secret Postcard annual auction on November 30.
An online preview of postcards will be available the day before. Who knows, you might be lucky to take home a mini masterpiece; past contributors have included Anish Kapoor, Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry and Paula Rego.
Funds raised provide the next generation of Royal College of Art (RCA) students with financial support.
Of course, normal everyday auctions are just as good a place to pick up a bargain or an unusual find.
Antique treat: A William IV Brazilian rosewood library table circa 1835 with an estimate of £2,000 – £3,000
Designer Christopher Jenner has revamped the interiors for stores such as perfumers Atkinsons 1799 and tea merchants Kusmi, as well as launching Gestalt, a new crystal lighting collection, in his own home.
‘Most of the pieces I’ve collected have been given over to chance,’ he says. ‘I place bids with a string of specialist auction houses across Europe, then sit back and wait.’
London-based Criterion Auctioneers (criterionauctioneers.com) is also a favourite – in next week’s auction there is a pretty Clarice Cliff bowl, estimated at only £80, and a pair of Howard & Sons leather armchairs for £300.
At 1stdibs.com, a worldwide online portal connecting dealers with buyers, they recommend friendly bartering as many sellers will consider bids below their estimates. Show the seller you’re serious by offering no less than 10 per cent to 20 per cent off the listed price.
Research, research, research so you understand better the standards of quality and prices for similar pieces on the market. Know your budget (and stick to it), and be aware of the additional costs which come with an auction bid (including VAT and a buyer’s premium, levied at different levels according to final sale sum).