At your service: curating interiors with Christie’s

Christie’s private sales presents a conversation between interior designer Alyssa Kapito and specialist Michael Jefferson about creating stunning rooms with pieces sourced by 20th Century Design

Interior designer Alyssa Kapito is best known for her use of textures and subtle decorative elements in residential apartments on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and family homes in Beverly Hills.

As part of Christie’s At Your Service series, Kapito will create a room set using a range of objects from the Design auction that will be held at Christie’s New York on 9 December. The pieces on offer are, she says, ‘visually so powerful’, but as she points out to Michael Jefferson, International Senior Specialist, Design, part of their attraction is that ‘these works have stood the test of time’.

Jean Royère (1902-1981), Rare ‘Étoile’ desk, c. 1948. 28½ x 71 x 29 in (72.4 x 180.4 x 73.7 cm). Estimate: $150,000-200,000. Offered in Design on 9 December 2021 at Christie’s in New York

These two aspects feed into the pleasure of assembling the right works. ‘One of the things I love the most about collecting is the “conversation” between the pieces and the tension that creates,’ she says. ‘You can take a polar bear sofa and mix it with a contemporary photograph; or you can match it with a piece of Renaissance art and it will have a completely different conversation and a completely different feeling.’

For Jefferson, a more literal feeling is part of the attraction with these pieces. Kapito has selected a desk by Jean Royère, which changes the way Jefferson thinks about the room. ‘I see the desk and my eyes close; it’s all about my hands on that straw marquetry,’ he says. The effect of the furniture goes beyond a temporary touch in the hands of a designer like Alyssa, because she places it in the client's home. Jefferson says: ‘This is how you get to live, it’s a visceral thing.’

François-Xavier Lalanne (1927-2008), ‘Moutons de laine’, sheep and two ottomans, 1969-1971. Sheep: 35 x 20 x 38 in (89 x 50.8 x 96.5 cm). Each ottoman: 22½ x 19 x 31 in (57 x 48.3 x 78.7 cm). Estimate: $800,000-1,200,000. Offered in Design on 9 December 2021 at Christie’s in New York

For Kapito, ‘one thing that’s important to me is texture, and introducing different mediums as visual interests’. Hence her introduction of a Lalanne sheep into the space. But it represents another important element of good design: ‘A sense of humour is refreshing,’ she says.

Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999), Dining table, for Steph Simon, designed c. 1956-1960. 28 x 90 x 34¾ in (71.1 x 228.6 x 88.3 cm). Estimate: $40,000-60,000. Offered in Design on 9 December 2021 at Christie’s in New York

The variety of textures don’t merely evoke what Kapito calls ‘whimsy’, but adds variety to the scheme, as seen in the surface of the table by Charlotte Perriand: ‘The wood grain doesn’t just speak historically, it speaks with its patina and creates visual interest.’

Jefferson recognises that patina is a sign that ‘objects have a life’, and part of the importance of pieces is that ‘they should be for living. A Boule chair is delicate; visually it’s on a par with a Calder, but you’re experiencing it close up.’

Jean Royère (1902-1981), ‘Boule’ chair, c. 1950. 36½ x 19½ x 18 in (92.7 x 49.5 x 45.7 cm). Estimate: $18,000-24,000. Offered in Design on 9 December 2021 at Christie’s in New York

Finding a piece that works with the furniture you already own might seem daunting, but part of the specialists’ job at Christie’s is to create auctions that have a story, ‘We aim to create cohesive groups of works that are unified by their designer, style or period,’ says Jefferson. ‘These become “chapters” in our sale.’ As a buyer you just need to find the right chapter for you.

Of course, you might be looking for a piece that isn’t in the auction, and that is where private sales come in. Jefferson’s advice is to forge a direct relationship with a specialist. ‘This allows us to understand the style and scope of your collection. We keep wish-lists for clients who are seeking specific works or even general types of design.’

Sometimes it’s just a question of where to begin. ‘“How do you start your collection?” is a question I am asked a lot,’ says Kapito. The answer, like her designs, is elegantly simple: ‘Start small: you’ll find out how well you live with what you have chosen and whether it will enhance your life. Just living with something old that has a soul — I think that can be really good for you.’

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