NEW YORK - It is always exciting to walk through a showhouse and see firsthand the interiors created by notable designers. But this month visitors to Sotheby’s second annual Designer Showhouse in New York will get to do more than imagine themselves living in such well-appointed spaces. On 20 April, at the end of the ten-day exhibition, art, antiques and design enthusiasts will have the opportunity to purchase nearly everything they see in a dedicated auction.

The objects, around 300 in all, come from myriad Sotheby’s departments – American Paintings, Silver, Photography, English Furniture, Carpets, 20th-century Design and more. Thirteen design firms will each curate a different Showhouse room with selections from that trove. “It’s like being the proverbial kid in the candy store,” says New York-based Russell Piccione, who is creating the dining room. “One of the most marvelous things about this project is that we have access to the best material from every period and category.” "We have always believed that extraordinary art is best enjoyed in a beautiful home," says Kathy Korte, President and CEO of Sotheby's International Realty, which is the presenting sponsor of the event. "I am thrilled to see what this talented collection of designers has to teach all of us about how to live a more beautiful life through the world of Sotheby's."


In this elegant boutique-like setting curated by a passionate group of tastemakers, prices will range from $5,000 to around $100,000. “Many people don’t realise that we sell far more than $100 million paintings,” says Andrew Ogletree, an English furniture specialist at Sotheby’s and organiser of the project with Danielle Wandersee. “The designers can mix and match the pieces freely,” adds Wandersee. “Something may be from the 18th century but in this context, it can complete a space and make it feel modern.” The Showhouse will also exist online, where buyers can browse the space, learn more about the designers and shop by room. During the live auction, bids can be placed by clicking on an object.

“I can’t wait to see what this year’s creative talents come up with,” says Margaret Russell, Editor in Chief of Architectural Digest, which is the media partner for the event. “We’re delighted to support this year’s Showhouse and all that it represents: inventive design by top interior decorators and the unique opportunity to see a range of exquisite auction items presented in imaginative settings.” 

In the pages that follow, we introduce some of the participating designers through photographs of their recent projects. They share with us their inspirations and philosophies about living with art and design, highlighting a few of the objects they have chosen for their rooms. Their completed designs will be unveiled at Sotheby’s on 11 April – see you there.

Ellie-Cullman_ImageElissa Cullman. Photography by nicholas johnson

Living Room

Cullman & Kravis

The living room was once the most sacred space in the house, reserved for formal entertaining and off limits for much else. But as lifestyles have become increasingly casual in recent years, designers like New York-based Elissa Cullman are finding ways to make the living room more multi-functional. “We like living rooms to have an open floor plan with comfortable seating,” says Alyssa Urban of Cullman & Kravis. To balance the more classical style of the table and chairs, the team selected a set of modern prints by Man Ray bursting with colour. “We want to bring the Sotheby’s pieces to life by infusing sparkle and shine in a nontraditional way,” says Cullman. “We love mixing traditional art in a modern setting or hanging a contemporary painting over a beautiful 18th-century chest.”


A living room by Cullman & Kravis. courtesy cullman & kravis.

Russell-001Russell Piccione. Image by Armando Roura.

Dining Room

Russell Piccione

“I really love dining rooms,” says Russell Piccione, who believes that a home is not complete without “a space for the celebration of domestic rituals.” He has a passion not only for tables, chairs, sideboards, chiffoniers and other furniture but for the silver and porcelain that adorn them. At Sotheby’s, Piccione is going for “a full dining equipage,” he says. “Salt cellars and teapots and kettles on stands – I absolutely believe in using these things.” Lately he has been drawn to George II silver. “There’s something about the proportions,” the designer explains. “It has a weight and solidity that looks good with a lot of things right now.” Porcelain is also crucial for both its use value and decorative qualities – “it can really knit together a room.” And one cannot underestimate the importance of artwork in the dining room. “Traditionally it has been where you hang your best paintings because you are sitting at the table for hours, looking at the wall.” For the Showhouse Piccione has chosen a 19th-century portrait of a lady with her son. What is he least likely to use? “I’m perfectly happy to not have curtains on the windows,” he says, especially when the architecture of a room is strong.


Piccione’s dining room for a Shelter Island house, 2014. photograph by Vicente de Paulo, courtesy russell piccione design, new york.
August Heinrich Riedel, Portrait of a Lady and Her Son . Estimate $20,000–30,000.
A regency part-ebonised giltwood convex girandole mirror. Estimate $7,000–10,000.
George II style parcel gilt walnut side table. Estimate $7,000–10,000.



Susan Cohen and Hanna Packer

“A garden has to be inviting,” says Susan Cohen (left). “But above all, it has to be simple,” adds Hanna Packer (below). “If it is too busy, people’s eyes will wander.” Although the two landscape designers maintain their own practices, they share an ethos of simplicity.  Designing a garden “is a process of reduction,” says Cohen, who is also the coordinator of the landscape design programme at the New York Botanical Garden. They met there in the mid-1990s when Packer took a course taught by Cohen, but have collaborated only once before. That project, a garden for an Upper East Side town house (above), seamlessly combined the classical (lion’s head fountains; rustic cobblestones) with the contemporary (ultrathin zinc panels; recessed coloured lighting). While that was a private space, the Showhouse garden is “a transitional area that will usher visitors into the house,” says Packer. “It is also a work of imagination.” The roughly 26-by-8 foot pergola will have hanging sculptural elements made from white orchids and moss. At one end will be a pair of ten-foot-high marble fountains with shell forms that will be filled with plants. “It will be simple and fresh,” says Packer. “We want to change people’s mood the moment they enter,” adds Cohen.

A Manhattan town house garden co-designed by Susan Cohen and Hanna Packer. photograph by hanna packer.
One of a pair of Louis XIV-style rance de Belgique marble wall fountains, France, 19th century. Estimate $10,000–15,000.



Juan J. Carretero

“The library as an independent space in the home remains very much in vogue in high-end residential design,” says Juan Carretero of New York firm Capital C Interiors. This is perhaps surprising these days, when reaching for an iPad is as common as reaching for a paperback. But as Carretero sees it, shelves are not just places for beautiful bound volumes – one of his favourite decorating devices – but an important spot for revealing personal taste and history. “A wall of bookshelves can tell a lot about its owner while setting the mood for a whole house,” he explains. “I like to combine coffee table books and other volumes with meaningful objects, family portraits, sculpture and anything that defines what a client loves.” While the library was traditionally a “secluded sanctuary,” says Carretero, for some clients a book-filled room is a now an everyday living space. His Showhouse library encourages comfort but also includes some statement pieces. Anchoring the room is a neoclassical secrétaire, which he chose for its “incomparable gravitas.” But he also sees its potential as a “bar to fix the perfect Scotch to go with that favourite novel.”


A Carretero-designed library in New York. photograph by TYSON REIST, courtesy juan carretero, capital c interiors, new york
An Italian four-piece tea set with matching tray, Gabriele de Vecchi, mid-20th century. Estimate $5,000–7,000.
A North German neoclassical part-ebonised, mahogany and fruitwood secrétaire à abattant, circa 1830. Estimate $5,000–8,000.
Chen Jiagang, Third Front–Schuicheng Iron & Steel Co., Ltd. Estimate $15,000–25,000.


Family Room

Eric Cohler

“They don’t want to live in a museum,” says Eric Cohler of the couple he envisions inhabiting the Sotheby’s Showhouse. They would have college-age children and high-powered careers, entertain frequently and possess a superb collection of art and personal objects that Cohler has helped them edit and curate for display. “They want to live with what they love, but comfortably,” says the New York-based Cohler. For his Showhouse design, Cohler wants beauty, richness and “lots of texture.” Among his selections is a George II white and Sicilian jasper chimney piece. “Everything will revolve around the fire,” he says. Peppered throughout will be an eclectic mix of objects: a pair of early 20th-century British ceramic table lamps, black and white photographs by Berenice Abbott, a Dan mask from Ivory Coast and a pair of 18th-century white marble urns. Cohler also plans to cover the furniture with indoor-outdoor high performance fabric “so you can spill a glass of wine and not worry,” he says, and to hang dramatic window treatments. “Collectors don’t want to be in their grandparents’ or parents’ homes anymore – they want to be in their home, with some of the same things they grew up with, but on their terms. I’m bridging the two worlds.”

A family room by Eric Cohler. Photograph by Yale Wagner, Courtesy Eric Cohler Design.
Fritz Henningsen, armchair, circa 1930s. Estimate $8,000–12,000.
Pablo Picasso, Dormeur. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
Dan miniature mask, Ivory Coast or Liberia. Estimate $2,000–3,000.