Michael Maharam on collecting design: ‘Buy what you love, don’t overthink’

Michael Maharam on collecting design: ‘Buy what you love, don’t overthink’

Michael Maharam’s personal design collection goes on sale at Sotheby’s New York (15 October 2021), featuring an impressive and diverse group of rare objects, including pieces by Gerrit Rietveld and Donald Judd as well as contemporary designs by Tokujin Yoshioka and Hella Jongerius

As far as design authorities go, few can compare to Michael Maharam, the tastemaker and former CEO of Maharam, who ran the family’s textile business with his brother Stephen until its sale to Herman Miller in 2013. Highly respected as both a collector and a design connoisseur, Maharam has pieces from his impressive personal collection going on sale at Sotheby’s in New York on 15 October 2021. Assembled over the last 20 years, his diverse, yet carefully chosen collection is filled with covetable treasures that reflect the distinct visual ethos of Maharam’s corporate office and his two, well-documented loft apartments in Manhattan located adjacently.


‘Design Agenda: The Collection of Michael Maharam’

Gerrit Rietveld wooden chair in blue and yellow
Gerrit Rietveld ‘Rood Blauwe’ chair, designed 1918 – 1919, executed early 1920s, commissioned by Mrs Charley Toorop for her house De Vlerken, Bergen, Holland

Comprised of more than 130 lots, with an additional 17 lots offered exclusively online until 19 October, the sale – titled ‘Design Agenda: The Collection of Michael Maharam’ – is filled with rarities, including one of the most comprehensive surveys of Gerrit Rietveld chair designs outside of public institutions. Ranging from masterpieces such as 1919’s ‘Rood Blauwe stoel’ (‘Red Blue chair’) to the equally iconic ‘Steltman’ chair of 1963, Maharam’s Rietveld collection showcases the enduring versatility and impact of the Dutch designer’s output.

Michael Maharam New York loft interior with wooden chairs and desk by Donald Judd photographed by two windows
Donald Judd ‘Desk Set No. 33/97’ with two chairs in Douglas fir, designed 1978, executed 2007

Other highlights include an array of handcrafted midcentury furniture from the Danish greats, Finn Juhl, Poul Kjaerholm, Hans Wegner, and heartwarming objects from Carl Auböck and Tapio Wirkkala. One exceptional piece is a rare brass table lamp (1928) by Vilhelm Lauritzen for Louis Poulsen, which boasts a unique natural patina. 

It’s no surprise that contemporary design works also feature strongly in the auction. Michael Maharam’s eye for innovative design is exemplified by the long-standing relationships he nurtured with designers such as Hella Jongerius, Konstantin Grcic and Paul Smith, who continue to collaborate with company today. It is also evident in items such as Tokujin Yoshioka’s ‘Water Block Bench’ (2002) – a piece making its debut at Sotheby’s; Jasper Morrison’s ‘Wingnut’ chair (1985); and Studio Job’s intricate ‘Bavaria’ screen (2008). 

Michael Maharam bedroom in his New York Apartment, minimally decorated with a platform bed with white bedlinen
A Poul Kjaerholm settee (designed 1956, executed before 1982, produced by E Kold Christensen, Denmark) next to an Ole Wanscher cabinet (c. 1959), and a floor lamp attributed to Gino Sarfatti (c. 1945 – 1951)

The sheer wonder of viewing such a collection is equalled only by appreciating and understanding the level of skill behind Mahram’s curatorial eye. He provides some insight to his collecting process in an interview with art and design consultant Simon Andrews that features in the printed catalogue accompanying the sale. Rather than collect in an orchestrated or highly calculated way, Maharam shares simply, ‘buy what you love, don’t overthink, say no more frequently than yes and spend painful sums when there’s something you believe in and can’t live without. Sooner or later you will forget the price, but you will always own the pleasure.’ §


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