Wednesday 18 July 2018

Treasures: Everything's coming up rosewood...

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

A pair of black leather swivel chairs by Osvaldo Borsani
A pair of black leather swivel chairs by Osvaldo Borsani
An Italian dining table on a metal base
King Charles 1

Eleanor Flegg

Most Irish antique furniture was made for big houses. Now, few of us have the space for it. In a big country house, a gigantic mahogany sideboard will look magnificent but you'd have fun getting it in the door of your average semi-d… In Europe, it was a different story. Wealth was distributed differently and, as the 20th century wore on, many people living in small houses and apartments had the money to buy nice furniture. Beautifully made, cleverly designed, and on a much more manageable scale than Big House furniture, mid-century European furniture is now massively popular.

"People can't get enough of it," says Domhnall Ó Gairbí, a dealer in mid 20th-century furniture and design. His company, Acquired, is based in the Store Yard, Portlaoise. "There's still an interest in traditional antiques, but that's mainly the older generation. With mid-century it's a much broader customer base. I'm selling to students, grannies, interior designers and rock stars!"

Ó Gairbí's student customers must be buying very small pieces. Twentieth-century design doesn't come cheap.

Last week he sold a graceful pair of lockers for €1,600. They were made of pallisandro wood (a type of rosewood) and glass in the style of the Italian designer Ico Parisi (1916-1996). "The classic place to put them would be beside a bed, but I've also sold them to people who wanted to put one on either side of the sofa," he says.

An Italian dining table on a metal base
An Italian dining table on a metal base

A pair of armchairs attributed to another Italian designer, Paolo Buffa (1903-1970), is priced at €3,000. They're elegant, dynamic, and beautifully made. A circular rosewood dining table on a single stem costs €2,000. "One of the things about this furniture is that it holds its value," Gairbí explains. "You could buy a dining table on the high street and, after a couple of months, it's worthless. People like the mid-century furniture because it's a good investment." As with all antiques, condition is hugely important. A piece of furniture will hold its value, but only if you're nice to it.

To date, a lot of the mid-century furniture sold in Ireland has been Danish but there's an increasing interest in Italian design.

You'll find plenty of mid-century Italian pieces in de Vere's Design Auction, which takes place on October 15. Italian and Danish furniture has a lot in common. Both are compact in scale, made with exquisite craftsmanship, and show a liking for rosewood. But, while Danish furniture tends to be simple, muted and unobtrusive, Italian designs are louder, glitzier, and a lot more fun.

"Italian furniture from the 1950s and 1960s is more elaborate than the Danish equivalent. It's got a bit more swagger," says Rory Guthrie of de Vere's. He points out a 1960s rosewood side cabinet with a smoked glass top (est €1,400 to €1,800) and four gilded-metal drawers. "A Danish design would never have that much bling!" Similarly, an extrovert set of gilt shelves (est €1,000 to €1,500) and a pair of forked-legged Italian-rosewood beside tables (est €800 to €1,200) have more attitude than you'd expect from the sober Danes. Another difference is that a great deal of Danish furniture can be attributed to specific designers.

"With the Italian furniture you often can't work out who made it. It was made in little workshops all over Northern Italy, they were all copying each other, and their furniture wasn't labelled or stamped."

A piece of furniture from a known designer or factory will command a higher price than one that's anonymous.

There are several pieces in the sale from the Italian brand Tecno, founded by Osvaldo Borsani and his twin brother Fulgenzio in 1953. They're best known for highly engineered upholstered furniture, especially the P40 Lounge (1956), a chair that could be adjusted into 468 different positions. They also designed a sofa version, called the D70. The Berlin-based retailer Panomo has a vintage D70, much worn, that would set you back €6,562 (plus €523 insured delivery from Belgium).

The pieces at de Vere's are cheaper, if not quite so iconic, and include the T69 Dining Table (est €1,000 to €1,500) designed by Osvaldo Borsani and Eugenio Gerli, for Tecno, Milan.

"It would seat six," says Guthrie.

"It's a heavy piece with a circular rosewood top on a split metal base."

Other Techo pieces in the sale include a pair of 1960s black leather swivel executive chairs by Osvaldo Borsani (est €600 to €900) and a chromium plate and glass table, the Nomos (€1,400 to €1,800). It was designed for Tecno by Sir Norman Foster, architect of London's Gherkin building, who described it as: "evocative of the Lunar Landing Module, or a grasshopper".Like most of the mid-century European furniture that sells in Ireland, these pieces have been brought in from Europe for the sale.

"You don't find the really good quality rosewood furniture here at all," says Guthrie. "To have got these pieces over to Ireland when it was made in the 1950s and 1960s would have cost a fortune."

The downside of this is that you're unlikely to discover a valuable piece of mid-century Italian design lurking in your attic. The upside is that if you buy a piece, nobody else will have one like it.

The Design Auction at De Vere's is currently on view at 35 Kildare Street, Dublin 2. The sale takes place at The Royal College of Physicians, No 6 Kildare Street, on October 15 at 2pm.

See See also, and

In the Salerooms


King Charles I of England was a controversial character. He lived up to his reputation at Sheppard's Legacy of the Big House Auction, which took place on September 26 and 27.

King Charles 1

In the sale, a half-length portrait of King Charles I (above) wearing the order and ribbon of the Order of the Garter (est €2,000 to €3,000) sold to a London gallery for a staggering €28,000. The painting was attributed to a follower of the Dutch painter Daniël Mijtens (c1590-1647).

Another, less spectacular, sleeper in the sale was an 18th century painting, The Descent from the Cross (est €5,000 to €7,000) attributed to a follower of the Italian artist Pompeo Batoni (1708-87). It sold for €11,500. More modestly, a 19th century marble sculpture of a girl by Emile Andre Boisseau (1842-1923), sold just above its upper estimate for €5,300. Other pieces to achieve high prices in the sale included a white gold diamond solitaire ring with diamond shoulders, which sold for €10,500, and a white gold three-stone diamond ring (€5,700). For full results see

Herman & Wilkinson

Upcoming events at Herman & Wilkinson include a Jewellery, Coins and Collectables Auction which takes place on October 18 at 161 Lower Rathmines Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Expect a collection of French gold coins and Irish Central Bank issues with jewellery highlights including a diamond and platinum bracelet, and a gold, diamond and ruby chick brooch. Viewing will be on Tuesday (2pm to 5pm) and on Wednesday (10am to 6pm). The sale begins at 6:30pm. It will be followed, on October 19, by the Swan Hall Fine Art Auction, which takes place at 10am. This sale includes a sizeable collection of die cast model cars; Georgian furniture, Irish and European painting, silver candlesticks and teapots

You can view the sale on Tuesday (2pm to 5pm) and on Wednesday (10am to 9pm). For full catalogue and online bidding, see


A barefoot girl lies on a cliff, arms outstretched, with a smile on her face and a small bunch of flowers between finger and thumb; a summery moment, captured by Sir William Orpen (1878-1931), in the years before the First World War.

"For all his philandering and bouts of hard drinking, these summers were to be the best times of his life," wrote Professor Kenneth McConkey. Entitled On the Hill of Howth, County Dublin, it sold for €30,000 to a dealer in London at Whyte's auction of Irish and International Art on October 2. The two top lots in the sale went to Irish collectors. Against The Stream, 1945, by Jack Butler Yeats exceeded its upper estimate of €80,000 to sell for €92,000, while Paul Henry's West of Ireland Bog fetched €100,000. The ceramic sculpture Female Figure Holding an Hourglass by Michael Powolny (est €5,000 to €10,000) sold for €13,000 and Rory Breslin's Mask of the Boyne fetched €8,500. For full results see

Indo Property

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