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

New York loft interior with wide bookcase and mid-century furniture collected by Michael Maharam
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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’

‘Rood Blauwe stoel’ (‘Red Blue chair’) from 1919

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

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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.

Handcrafted midcentury furniture from the Danish designers

Donald Judd ‘Desk Set No. 33/97’ with two chairs in Douglas fir, designed 1978, executed 2007

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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). 

Poul Kjaerholm settee from 1956 next to an Ole Wanscher cabinet from 1959 and a floor lamp

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)

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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.’

‘Tokyo’ bench by Charlotte Perriand

‘Tokyo’ bench by Charlotte Perriand, c. 1955

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Dining room interior

Dining room with a Hans Wegner dining table (c. 1952) and chairs (1960)

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Donald Judd ‘Desk Set’ with two chairs in Douglas fir and a yellow custom road bike

Donald Judd ‘Desk Set No. 33/97’ with two chairs in Douglas fir, designed 1978, executed 2007. Custom road bike, handcrafted by Sacha White for The Vanilla Workshop (2008)

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A wooden chair and table with a yellow Josef Albers painting

‘Moolenbeek’ lounge chair and occasional table by Gerrit Rietveld (early 1940s)

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Wooden Zig Zag shaped Chair by Gerrit Rietveld 

‘Zig Zag’ easy chair by Gerrit Rietveld (designed 1934, executed 1939 – 1947 by Gerard van de Groenekan or Metz & Co, The Netherlands)

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Living room interior with large bookcase, white area rug and green sofa

The apartment's living room, with an armchair and stool by Charlotte Perriand (designed 1935, executed c. 1950), a side table by Kaare Klint (designed 1927, executed c. 1960s by Rud Rasmussen, Copenhagen, Denmark) and a velvet sofa by Neil Logan (2003)

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A chunky wooden low table and lamp, pencil portrait of a man framed on the wall

Pierre Szekely low table (c. 1950s) and Tapio Wirkkala table lamp (c. 1958, produced by Idman Oy, Finland)

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Green organically shaped ceramics

Stoneware by Axel Salto (executed between 1940s and 1960s by Royal Copenhagen, Denmark)

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Live auction, Sotheby’s New York, 10am EDT, 15 October 2021


1334 York Avenue
New York


Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.