O ver the past months, the way most of us work has changed enormously; in many cases we are literally miles from our usual offices and conference rooms. The satellite offices we have created at home, with improvised desks comprising kitchen tables, coffee tables, kitchen counters, or even our lap, are thus our gateway to the world of colleagues and clients. But where possible, these new places of work need to also be places of sanctuary. Even more so during current times, they need to be islands that are our very own. So how should we furnish these new environments? Sotheby's upcoming online sale @Home is a cornucopia of everything one may wish, offering lots from several distinguished owners who knew exactly how to furnish a home office.
Camille Pissaro said ‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing’. It seems trite, even a bit silly, to use such a poetic quote when talking about something like an antique inkstand. But there is a truth in having something of beauty beside you as you work – something which can be inspiring, or a blessing by working as a distraction from mundane tasks. If you have to put a Biro pen or some Post-It notes somewhere, why not on a marble desk stand? Indeed, why not keep your paper clips in a gold box?
Major Ion Harrison (1889–1952) a Scottish ship builder and owner, aquired an outstanding collection of pictures by the Scottish colourists which furnished a glorious home overlooking the River Clyde – that great artery for "the second city of the Empire", Glasgow, which was also the source of his wealth. On his desk sat a group of sophisticated and functional Art Deco desk accessories in silver mounted translucent onyx banded with lapis. Not only do they make a statement about the period but they reflect Major Harrison's interest in Modernity, something he must have been keenly aware of as a shipbuilder in the 1920s.
Gloria Guinness (1912-1980) was chic, beautiful and a lover of exquisite decorative art. Her stunning apartment on Avenue Matignon in Paris was decorated by Georges Geffroy and adorned with museum quality objects like her gracefully elegant French mahogany desk, in the style of one of Europe’s greatest cabinet-makers, the royal ébéniste Jean-Henri Riesener. Guinness would have enjoyed Pissaro’s sentiments, particularly as a contributing editor of Harper's Bazaar from 1963 to 1971. No doubt this desk was the perfect spot for her to muse on the subject of beauty for her latest article.
John Bedford was an antiquarian in the truest sense of the word: a dealer, but first and foremost a collector of English furniture. This passion manifested through the creation of a world class archive of cabinetmaking, put together with real love and care. His amazing library is now with the University of Leeds.
There are several desk accessories from his home office in the upcoming sale and tellingly all were well-used. Included are a superb pair of Regency book carriers which held his beloved 18th century furniture catalogues.
Whilst their homes might not have been humble, these objects were all conceived as functional as well as beautiful. The ship builder, the socialite and the antiquarian would often have worked on humble, or indeed mundane, tasks, but with these cherished pieces beside them. These three collectors appear unanimous in their appreciation that it is good indeed to have beautiful things to appreicate at home, even whilst you work.
MAIN IMAGE: PART OF MAJOR ION HARRISON’S ART DECO DESK SET (LOT 85) IN HIS FORMER HOME, CROFT HOUSE, HELENSBURGH. PHOTO © ANGUS BREMNER