Material world: Sotheby’s announces autumn design auction

Taking place on 17 October, the sale features post-war and contemporary designs curated by Wallpaper* Editor-in-Chief Tony Chambers

Sotheby’s London’s ’Design: Living in a Material World’ auction is set to open in October, guest curated by Wallpaper*
Sotheby's London's 'Design: Living in a Material World' auction is set to open in October, guest curated by Wallpaper* Editor-in-Chief Tony Chambers. Left, 'Extruded Table 3' by Marc Newson, 2008. Right, 'Rocker' armchair by Joris Laarman, 2007
(Image credit: (L) Marc Newson (R) Joris Laarman)

Over the past few seasons, Sotheby’s has garnered much publicity and financial success with a series of art sales curated by public figures. Creatives who have lent their discerning eye include fashion designers Erdem Moralıoğlu and Anya Hindmarch, comedian Jill Kargman (together with her brother, art advisor Will Kopelman), and most recently choreographer Michael Clark. Now for the first time, the auction house has brought this guest curator model to its design arm. The next post-war and contemporary design sale, held in London on 17 October will be curated by Wallpaper* Editor-in-Chief, Tony Chambers.

Titled ‘Design: Living in a Material World,’ the auction will explore the ways in which leading designers past and present have engaged their materials. The selection covers a broad chronological spectrum, varying from a pair of stools from Swedish designer Axel Einar Hjorth’s ‘Utö’ series, 1932, to recent creations by the likes of Marc Newson and Studio Job. The materials themselves range from the traditional (wood, stone and marble), to modern and perhaps unconventional (concrete, plastic, even organic matter).

For Chambers, the theme of the sale reflects a recent, collective revelation that our heavy reliance on the internet has left us yearning for the tactile experiences. ‘As our lives become increasingly governed by the digital world, we have subsequently become more appreciative and sensitive to the analogue,’ he explains. ‘We now crave the touch, the feel, even the smell of the material world.’

Laetitia Contat Desfontaines, 20th century design specialist and head of sale at Sotheby’s, pointed out that the exhibition will consider the use of materials not only for aesthetic properties, but also structural strengths. She notes the diversity of the works on offer: ‘It’s fascinating to see how designers might have been using the same materials at exactly the same period, but achieving radically different results’.

A preliminary list of highlights, released this morning, reveal a 3D-printed armchair by Joris Laarman, a Newson table extracted from a single block of marble, a Thomas Heatherwick chair rendered in Murano glass, a Ron Arad table in honeycomb paper and carbon fibre, as well as a Studio Job cabinet that combines 17th century marquetry with 21st century laster-cutting technology.

The sale will be preceded by a public exhibition and a series of gallery talks, details of which will be announced imminently. The auction house continues to accept consignments.

Highlights include Ron Arad’s ’All Night Long’ table (left) and the ’Void’ chair series (right)

Highlights include Ron Arad’s ’All Night Long’ table (left) that uses Nomex honeycomb paper and resin coated carbon fibre and the ’Void’ chair series (right), sculptural pieces that are created using vacuum technology and secret tinting processes

(Image credit: Ron Arad)

Left, Studio Job’s cabinet from the ‘Perished’ collection, 2010. Right, ’Keep off the Glass’ chair, 2004 by Thomas Heatherwick

Left, Studio Job’s cabinet from the ‘Perished’ collection, 2010. Right, ’Keep off the Glass’ chair, 2004 by Thomas Heatherwick

(Image credit: Thomas Heatherwick)


‘Design: Living in a Material World’ pre-sale exhibition will run 13-16 October, with auction on 17 October at Sotheby’s London. For more information, visit the Sotheby’s website


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TF Chan is a former editor of Wallpaper* (2020-23), where he was responsible for the monthly print magazine, planning, commissioning, editing and writing long-lead content across all pillars. He also played a leading role in multi-channel editorial franchises, such as Wallpaper’s annual Design Awards, Guest Editor takeovers and Next Generation series. He aims to create world-class, visually-driven content while championing diversity, international representation and social impact. TF joined Wallpaper* as an intern in January 2013, and served as its commissioning editor from 2017-20, winning a 30 under 30 New Talent Award from the Professional Publishers’ Association. Born and raised in Hong Kong, he holds an undergraduate degree in history from Princeton University.