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    Sale 7545

    A Town House in Mayfair

    20 November 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 501



    Price Realised  


    Each with paper-scroll and pierced foliate cresting and caned back, the caned seat with Fortuny fabric cushion, the legs joined by a stretcher, on stylized hoof feet, decorated all over with scrolling foliage and flower-heads, both inscribed in pencil 'Randolph Berens' (2)

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    Born in 1844, Randolph McLauglin married Ellinor Frances Berens, daughter of Henry Hulse Berens, in 1877, and changed his name to Berens. Both he and his wife were passionate collectors of Egyptian antiquities as well as decorative arts, furniture and books. The majority of their collection was sold at Sotheby's on 18th June 1923, although antiquities and artefacts were donated to, or acquired by institutions including the British Library, British Museum, and Victoria & Albert Museum.

    A mahogany and ebony table by George Bullock for Napoleon also owned by Randolph Berens was sold Christie's London, 24 April 2008, lot 25, for £96,500.

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium


    The Rev. Randolph Berens (1844-1922).
    Supplied by Richard Himmel, Chicago.

    Pre-Lot Text

    A Mayfair house of red brick and stone, with a square staircase going from the ground floor all the way up, had to be adapted to contemporary standards of convenience and comfort. This late Victorian house had an Edwardian feel reminding one that periods overlap. The requirements were: add an elevator, luxurious bathrooms for each of the 6 bedrooms, and air conditioning [a very different matter from air cooling]. Whereas all these expectations were reasonable, not to say routine, we had to retain all the oak panelling in the dining room and library and in no way alter the appearance or character of the house built for a less demanding era.

    All went smoothly with the planners. English Heritage requested that a modest fireplace could only be removed on the condition that it was put elsewhere in the house. In a year all was done and the house furnished with the hallmarks of the owners' personal style.

    Specialist painters colour-washed and stencilled the walls with customary artistry. Architectural drawings and gouaches of Italian interiors and classical motifs gave a feeling of perspective and formed a collection throughout the house. The inimitable comfort of Howard chairs and sofas were provided, colour schemes had been dreamt up to create an atmosphere that suited this most urban of houses.

    In the owners' lexicon of personal taste were rugs, carpets for the landings, and runners from Agra, Moorfields, Axminster and Alcaraz, Pontremoli needlepoint carpets for two of the bedrooms, and in the Nursery a kilim with a large blue donkey at its centre. Another expression of the owners' interests came in a very fine collection of sporting pictures, with a particular emphasis on equestrian subjects. Shooting scenes reflected the owners' affection for the sport that brought them to England.

    The Library was given a blue and red tartan carpet; armchairs, sofas and curtains of a different predominantly blue check. Felt cushions of paisley motifs gave a turn-of-the-century feel [the cushions hand-embroidered with exceptional skill by the London firm Hand & Lock]. The same motifs were used on panels of red felt as bases for a pair of specimen marble tops. The Victorian-panelled room with its soaring carved fireplace was complemented by a library table of the same period and mahogany chairs in the manner of Thomas Hope. Beautiful bronzes, ormolu lamps, a vast ottoman and fringed stools enhanced the atmosphere of deep comfort.

    The oak of the panelled dining room when cleaned glowed golden. The table and chairs harmonized with the Victorian Jacobean sideboard that took up one whole wall, a proud fireplace stood opposite. The glint of silver, silver-gilt, Louis XVI oil lamps and, quirkily, a large porcelain charger from the 1920s made this room both unique and appropriate to the period of the house.

    All over the house mahogany and calamander wood tables, grained Regency stools, the colour of rosewood with sharp touches of ebony, John Stefanidis designed gilt lamps and scagliola, ormolu and bronzes harmonized with each other. The mirrors - another owner trademark - were as varied as they were fine; an outsize George IV gilt-wood mirror; a blue glass and gilt 18th century mirror attributed to Precht; the exuberance of a splendidly carved George II mirror attributed to Matthias Lock; and a gilt convex mirror to make you smile all lined the rooms that beckoned you to sit and chat. Velvets and hand-woven Florentine silks merged with fabrics of cord and honest felt - tactile and sensual - everywhere in this London house was a feeling of restful benevolence and unpretentious luxury. Added to this sense of harmony there were eccentric and unexpected touches such as a gilt Roman table with a marble top, as well as blue and white pots, celadon, Imari and cloisonné - a nod to the 19th century - all helped to catch and please the eye.

    Did this house live up to a description of my work as "splendid unobtrusiveness"? - an oxymoron if ever there was one.

    JOHN STEFANIDIS - July 2008