- Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher, Features Editor, MR PORTER
Messrs Philip Thomas and Christian Quinlan, two London furniture dealers, have founded The Cabinet Rooms, a new auction house with a physical and virtual presence. Their aim is to create a modern auction event that will simultaneously revitalise the dusty world of salerooms and breathe some life and style into the furniture market.
The main attraction of their approach is that prices are set to start rather lower than might be expected, because The Cabinet Rooms has no permanent premises and lower overheads as a result. Thanks to this nomadic nature, sales will be held in a variety of interesting spaces around London, the first of which is a former postal sorting office in Notting Hill, as well as running online.
I was inspired by an auction I went to in Copenhagen about 20 years ago. It was totally unlike a traditional British auction house
Other innovations that are intended to bring the auction experience up to date include a café designed by renowned reclamation and design company Retrouvius and operated by Prufrock, one of London's best-regarded coffee shops; flowers by the famous florists, wild at heart; cocktails by artisanal spirit brand Sipsmith; and a bookshop run by Mr Don Kelly, a dealer in art reference books. "I was inspired by an auction I went to in Copenhagen about 20 years ago," explains Mr Thomas. "It was in Christiania, and there was a great Scandinavian buffet, space for people to sit and talk and a pop-up design bookstore. It was full of families and there was a relaxed atmosphere. It was totally unlike a traditional British auction house."
In recent years the furniture market has, according to Mr Thomas, become increasingly reliant on impersonal online sales, which is something that he, as an ex-shopkeeper, regrets. His intention is to re-inject the process of buying furniture with a sense of fun, community and openness. Although, as part of being open, the auction will be run online as well as in the hall, in order to reach the largest possible audience.
An auction is only as good as the items offered, and the catalogue for The Cabinet Rooms' first sale is impressively varied. The pieces range from a 1981 floor lamp by Mr Ettore Sottsass to a high-back chair in mahogany that was designed by Mr Harry Napper in the Arts and Crafts style in 1905. There are exuberant pieces by the celebrated Danish designers Mr Hans Wegner, whose unique-looking Flag Halyard chair is offered, and Mr Verner Panton, whose extraordinary Sitting Wheel also appears. The latter has an impeccable provenance: it was owned by the hairdresser Mr Vidal Sassoon.
Mr Wegner's Flag Halyard chair
The clean lines of American modernism are represented by a 1952 example of Mr Charles and Ms Ray Eames' famous LCM chair, while the more expressive Italian school of mid-century design is also present in the form of a pair of chairs designed by Mr Marco Zanuso in the early 1950s. More contemporary pieces include a 3m-wide sofa by architect Ms Amanda Levete, and an Embryo chair by Mr Marc Newson.
The Cabinet Rooms promise to be useful whether a man's in the market for a rare icon of 20th-century design, something comfortable to sit on while he watches television, or merely a well-made cup of coffee and the opportunity to browse for a good book.
Auction starts at 7pm on Tuesday 9 July, The Sorting Office, London. thecabinetrooms.com