You swore you’d never part with that nine-foot Edward Wormley sofa from the 1950s – until you traded living room square-footage for more light. Too nice to give away and too expensive to store, a high-quality investment piece can find a new home on Sotheby's Home, an online marketplace for vintage and antique furniture. The best part: you can replace what you sell with just the right piece from the site’s inventory. Now that stock of thousands of pieces will be supplemented by property from Sotheby’s, which has acquired the New York-based firm. As Sotheby's Home celebrates its fifth year, we spoke with CEO Elizabeth Brown about the fast-growing startup.
SOTHEBY'S HOME CEO ELIZABETH BROWN.
What is the Sotheby's Home model?
Our goal is to provide an easy, seamless way to buy and sell luxury furniture and decor online. For sellers, we offer a full-service consignment solution through our network of 30-plus curators across the country, who come on-site to photograph, measure and collect all details for a listing. From there, we recommend pricing and take care of all logistics around pickup and delivery. For buyers, we are able to offer a unique assortment of products online in real time, presented in a highly curated way.
How was Sotheby's Home born?
It started as a solution to a practical problem – every time you move or redesign your home, you always have great pieces that you can’t take with you, that don’t fit, or just don’t suit your taste anymore. A high-end designer sofa or table will be valuable to someone, but how do you connect to that person? We knew amazing product was out there – it just needed the right digital channel.
AN INTERIOR BY AMY ELBAUM, FEATURING PIECES FROM SOTHEBY'S HOME. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY SOTHEBY'S HOME.
That was five years ago. Has the business evolved as you expected?
We knew that this was a big problem for many people, but we weren’t sure how it would resonate within the broader market. When we launched it was a small team of three people working out of a small Upper West Side apartment. I remember the turning point: about a month after launch we were featured in a piece in The New York Times that led to an influx of traffic, including several prominent interior designers who quickly became regular clients. We thought if the experts saw value in what we were building, then we must be on to something.
And what is the “something” that is unique to Sotheby's Home?
In many cases, you can’t find these products anywhere else online. Often, only trade professionals can purchase them, or they are one-of-a-kind custom items or are no longer in production. Sotheby's Home introduces these pieces to an online audience for the first time, at great prices, and without the four- to six-month wait that is typical for furniture of this quality. This is finally an option for individuals to buy a gorgeous piece with character, often for far less than you would pay for retail.
What are the some of the top-selling pieces and styles?
Seating, side tables and dining tables have always been our most popular categories. In terms of styles, mid-century is always popular, but we sell items across the board, from English antiques to contemporary.
A ROOM WITH A VIEW, DESIGNED BY FOLEY & COX. PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GILBERT, COURTESY SOTHEBY's HOME.
What does the Sotheby’s partnership mean for Sotheby's Home?
The challenge of a startup is rising above the noise and catching people’s attention, so to immediately align with a historic, well-known brand like Sotheby’s gives us an added layer of trust and allows us to reach a global network of clients that would have taken many years to build. We are also excited to begin serving Sotheby’s clients as we introduce a new digital channel to be considered alongside the traditional auction model.
High-end online resale sites such as The RealReal are really resonating with consumers. Why do you think shopping that way is so appealing?
I think the idea of being able to get beautiful things at a great price is universally appealing. In some ways, furniture fits the consignment mold even better than fashion, as high-end design and antiques are not as driven by fads and maintain their value for decades, if not centuries. These pieces often have a lot of useful life left in them, so it makes sense that you should receive something in return for your investment. There’s also an emotional component – you’ve lived with a piece and you’ve really loved it. You know it should find a home with someone who will love it just as much.
Click on Sotheby's Home for more.
Lead Image: Photograph by Katie Lydon.