Douglas Mackie: Curating a Room for Sotheby’s

By Paul Johnston

LONDON – As both an avid collector and a renowned interior designer, Douglas Mackie was the perfect candidate to curate two spaces at Sotheby’s New Bond Street to showcase works from the upcoming sales. Recognised by House and Garden magazine as one of the 100 leading UK designers since 2009, Douglas set up his own company in 1995 and has built up a loyal clientele internationally. The specially created rooms at Sotheby’s bring together highlights from across the Summer season sales including Impressionist & Modern Art, Contemporary, Treasures and Made in Britain. Ahead of the exhibition, which is open to the public from 8–12 June, we caught up with him to find out more about the collaboration.


Sotheby’s: How did this collaboration come about?

Douglas Mackie: Sotheby's wanted a slightly different approach to the way that works are displayed and suggested mixing  works from many different sales in order to create some sense of a domestic space, rather than an auction gallery. I hope it will be a different approach to the way that the works are normally displayed ,and also very stimulating visually.

S: How did you approach the concept?

DM: It was about trying to highlight elements that could be brought together into one gallery, but somehow have a resonance with each other; trying to find elements that could be juxtaposed successfully from very different periods into a setting  with visual integrity.  Essentially it is an instinctive choice of elements that I feel  work together and have sufficient strength to work alongside each other. In addition to the works from Sotheby’s auctions, we’ve brought in a number of pieces from projects we’re doing internationally and also furniture from galleries that we work with frequently. I’ve tried to create a set piece working primarily with Sotheby’s elements, but bringing additional pieces that add a richness to those items that are going to be auctioned ,making it almost feel more like they’re in a domestic setting rather than purely in a gallery space.


S: How long does this type of project take?

DM: I think the whole thing evolved over a period of about three weeks as we receved images of pieces that were going to be made available to us and it’s still slightly changing. I will ultimately make the final decisions when we actually see all these things in the gallery together on 6 June, so it’s almost like making a room for a client.  You are constantly editing, constantly making decisions, sometimes at the last minute. It’s about seeing how different pieces of sculpture and ceramics fit together with the paintings and instinctively trying to create a visual balance within that space.

S: What do you think a curated room adds to the experience for those who visit?

DM: I think it’s a considerably richer experience because we’re actually combining paintings with furniture and sculptures and bringing them into a gallery in a way that we would in our clients’ houses, so it adds a depth and a layering to those objects that you wouldn’t normally  see in a gallery.  We’ve specifically chosen two early eighteenth century commodes from the Treasures sale, along with German ivories and some very fine pieces of Modern British sculpture, particularly Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.  To have the ability to bring these different elements in from different periods and different styles into one gallery is for us very interesting, because we can approach it as interior designers, rather than purely as Sotheby’s curators, just dressing a single sale.  It’s the cross referencing and layering of different periods which makes this an interesting and a rather fun task, having our pick of the most beautiful things that Sotheby’s have coming up over the next three months and putting them together into a how a room might be composed in a house.  We  have within the Linnell gallery the idea of the study of an important collector who surrounds himself with beautiful things and those objects comprise many different periods, deliberately combined to have that personal and slightly eccentric feel that you find  in a great collector’s house.


S: Were there any artists featuring in the auctions that you’ve already had an interest in?  

DM: Many of the other artists we have hung before in clients’ houses, particularly Auerbach, Freud, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.  One of the artists that I haven’t actually hung before is Dominguez and we have a painting by Oscar Dominguez, which is coming up later this month in the one of  Impressionist sales and he is an artist I very much like.  Likewise  the painting  by Balla who I admire , but I haven’t actually hung before.

S: You’ve studied architecture and you’ve got this passion for painting, sculpture and design, how do all those things marry together in a real life home situation?

DM: They marry together in the way that we place them together and it’s ultimately an instinctive placing of objects based on experience and knowledge about the clients and their houses. It’s juxtaposing things in a fashion that always makes each object and painting resonate in a different way, by placing it with an object or painting or sculpture from a different period . It's essentially the ability to create a balance of scale, period, colour and form in a room that is ultimately the mark of a good interior designer. It’s the combination of experience and knowledge and a constant exposure to paintings, sculptures, furniture and art, which is ultimately what my design DNA is all about.


S: What advice then would you give to someone who has like a total blank canvas of a home?  Should they start with art or should they start with furnishings?

DM: We always say to clients it is easier to have a starting point, a visual reference point; something that defines their taste. Having a client with a clear sense of taste in art is ultimately very important to us. The fact that a client owns a particular painting or a piece of sculpture is indicative of an interest in art and sculpture and an interest in a particular period. That can be a very informative starting point in a room , even if it’s just one or two paintings or objects, having that sense of identity, sense of the personal taste of the owner is a wonderful way to actually begin.  We would ideally say to a client, if you start off with one painting buy something that you love, a really fine example of a painter’s work and buy the best thing that you can afford, whether or not it’s a relatively inexpensive twentieth century painting by a less well known artist, but something that you find is beautiful, something that has a visual strength to it. That can be a wonderfully useful way to start a room.

S: Who currently makes work that you’re excited by?

DM: In terms of paintings, there are so many artists, but a particular favourite of mine is Albert Oehlen, a contemporary German artist whose work I adore.  In terms of furniture there are many rather experimental galleries whose work I particularly admire including Studio Glithero who are based in London.  I greatly admire their work , so I'm  very pleased to be bringing one of their pieces into the gallery.  In terms of my clients, we’re probably using more twentieth century paintings or furniture rather than necessarily purely contemporary, but I’m obviously being exposed to contemporary art on a regular basis and we also go to quite a lot of the degree shows, myself, but we are drawing from so many different periods and types of artists.  We are also using quite a few pieces by Swiss furniture designer Mattia Bonetti, whose work is very much furniture as sculpture. Also, pieces by Fredrikson and Stallard are items that we like to bring into our projects, so I'm very pleased to have their meteor chandelier being loaned by them for the gallery space for this installation. They would fall into the category of people whose work we’re excited by that we enjoy setting alongside sometimes much more classical and antique pieces within a client’s house .

S: Finally, where’s the most inspirational space you’ve been to personally, either man-made or otherwise?

DM: I would say Katsura Imperial Villa and Gardens in Kyoto.

You can view the rooms curated by Douglas Mackie at Sotheby’s New Bond Street from 8–12 June. For more information on Douglas Mackie visit

With thanks to Fredriksson and Stallard, Willer, Gerald Bland, Gallery Fumi and Toyine Sellers

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