Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: inside Elton John’s Atlanta oasis

The Rocket Man singer and his husband, David Furnish, discuss the Peachtree Road residence where the pop legend became a ‘serious collector’ of exuberant art and objects

In 1991 when Sir Elton John bought a duplex-apartment at Park Place on Peachtree Road in Atlanta’s coveted Buckhead neighbourhood, he couldn’t have imagined the extent to which the city would transform him personally and professionally.

‘I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I’ve loved every single minute,’ the British icon whose chart-topping hits include Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer and Bennie And The Jets, recently told the crowd during his final Georgia performance in September 2023. The EGOT winner retired from touring soon after. ‘So I will take you with me in my heart, in my soul, and I’ll never forget you.’

Inside Elton John’s Peachtree Road residence, Atlanta. Photograph © 2023, Visko Hatfield

Inside Elton John’s Peachtree Road residence, Atlanta. Photograph © 2023, Visko Hatfield

At the height of his international touring, John opted to make Atlanta his East Coast home base on account of its rich music culture and the fact that his then romantic partner was living there. Struck by the warmth of the locals, the musician even became a die-hard Atlanta Braves fan, enmeshing himself in the Southern city, while selling millions of records worldwide. Soon after taking up residence in Georgia, John, who has been awarded six Grammys, two Academy Awards, a Tony and an Emmy, founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992. The organisation has raised more than half a billion dollars to fight HIV and AIDS.

‘When Elton goes down the rabbit hole with something, he goes very, very deep and immerses himself,’ John’s husband, the Canadian-British filmmaker David Furnish, who also serves as chairman of John’s charity, tells Christie’s. ‘He’s like a sponge, soaking up as much information as he can about an art form, artist, type of music, or sports team.’

It is with that same intention and passion that John approached his vast art and design collection, largely influenced by his embrace of his sobriety. ‘Atlanta opened this odyssey for Elton as a collector because prior to getting sober, he had completely emptied out his main home in Windsor and sold the contents,’ says Furnish. ‘So he was starting with a clean slate. Elton very much looked at the world differently, and new things spoke to him in a way that they hadn’t before.’

Terry O’Neill (1938–2019), Elton John (Album Cover Variant), 1974. Chromogenic print, printed 2014. Image: 24 x 24 in ( 60.9 x 60.9 cm); sheet: 30⅜ x 29⅞ in (78.1 x 75.8 cm). Sold for $20,790 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: Opening Night on 21 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York

This February, John’s treasures, each as distinctive and vivacious as the musician’s larger-than-life persona, will be offered at Christie’s New York in The Collection of Sir Elton John: Goodbye Peachtree Road. The series of eight auctions will feature art and objects from the singer’s Atlanta residence. Not only did John construct one of the largest private collections of photography in the world, but his extensive collections also range from 19th-century sculpture and crucifixes to contemporary art glass and Versace silk shirts.

Other highlights include John’s living-room piano and the 18th-century fancy dress conceived by the award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell for John’s 47th birthday. The latter is one of countless gems from the singer’s bountiful closet. And yes, there are sunglasses and platform boots, too.

‘It may not be everyone’s taste, but it’s certainly my taste,’ says John of his eclectic and deeply personal collection. ‘My apartment in Atlanta was like my man cave full of things that I loved, mementos from everywhere in the world, things that gave me inspiration every day.’

With his enthusiasm for collecting, John quickly ran out of wall space in his 2,500-square-foot duplex. Over three decades, he would combine five apartments (two duplexes with three single-storey units between them), resulting in more than 13,500 square feet of space, shared with Furnish and their two sons, and filled to the brim with photographs, contemporary art, furnishings, fashions, and more. ‘It was like living in the most beautiful treetop gallery in the world,’ describes Furnish.

Open link

Irving Penn (1917-2009), Black and White Vogue Cover (B) (Jean Patchett) New York, 1950. Selenium toned gelatin silver print, flush-mounted on paper, printed 1984. Image: 14¾ x 15 in (37.4 x 38.1 cm); Sheet: 17¼ x 15⅝ in (43.8 x 39.6 cm). Sold for $126,000 n The Collection of Sir Elton John: Opening Night on 21 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York

Open link

Herb Ritts (1952–2002), Versace, Veiled Dress, El Mirage, 1990. Gelatin silver print. Image: 21⅞ x 17⅜ in (55.5 x 41.1 cm); sheet: 24 x 19⅞ in ( 60.9 x 20 cm); mount: 25½ x 21¼ in (64.7 x 54.1 cm). Sold for $119,700 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: Opening Night on 21 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York

John’s budding interest in photography especially reflected how his sobriety shifted his artistic predilections. ‘I’ve had my photograph taken by so many famous photographers, but I never considered it as an art form until I got sober,’ recalls John. ‘Collecting photography has given me so much joy.’ John’s holdings range from iconic, glamorous shots by Irving Penn and Herb Ritts to Ryan McGinley’s provocative Two Heads of a snake wrapped around a man’s genitalia.

John attributes much of his knowledge of the field to the Atlanta gallerist Jane Jackson, who lent him books on the history of photography and encouraged his passion. In 2000, John’s photography collection was spotlighted in Chorus of Light at the High Museum of Art, with Jackson serving as an exhibition consultant.

John’s photographs were subsequently shown at the Tate Modern in 2016-17. Beginning May 18, 2024, more than 300 images of his will be exhibited at another revered London institution: the Victoria and Albert Museum. Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection will mark the institution’s largest photography exhibition to date.

The musician’s interest in contemporary art also flourished while he lived in Atlanta. Amongst the highlights being offered at Christie’s are a painting that Damien Hirst made specially for him and a monumental Deborah Butterfield horse sculpture that had pride of place in John’s home gallery. ‘I’d never seen a sculpture like that before,’ says John, who discovered the American sculptor’s work when visiting another apartment in his building and soon tracked down one of his own locally in Atlanta.

Of course, hailing from a style icon, John’s garments and jewellery are as showstopping as his art. Reflective of his fearless embrace of colour are more than 100 Versace woven-silk shirts from the 1990s. ‘I just loved them with their amazing patterns,’ says John, who has a complete set in the UK and in America. ‘I never wore half of them — I just wanted to hang them. It was like an art installation with shirts.’ The shirts are amongst several objects, including lavish Versace dinner services and furnishings upholstered in the Italian house’s fabrics, which attest to the musician’s close friendship with the late designer Gianni Versace.

‘Elton and Gianni used to bounce off each other all the time. Elton found the exuberance of Gianni’s spirit so inspirational,’ adds Furnish. It was John who introduced the late designer to the world of contemporary glass, even taking him to Murano to see glassblowers at work.

Furnish recalls the scene he found one morning when staying at Versace’s New York home: ‘There were 50 drawings all over his kitchen table of designs for a line of Versace glassware. He said he had jet lag and couldn’t sleep, so he decided to design some glass,’ says Furnish. ‘It was unbelievable, to think that Elton inspired Gianni to go into an entirely new direction in terms of the house of Versace and homeware.’

1990 Bentley Continental two door convertible. Black with black leather interior and a black top RWD (rear-wheel drive) automatic 3-speed gearbox gasoline engine with displacement: 6750 cm3 / 411.9 cui, advertised power: 160 kW / 215 hp / 218 PS (SAE net), torque: 540 Nm / 398 lb-ft, Left hand drive. Sold for $441,000 in The Collection of Sir Elton John: Opening Night on 21 February 2024 at Christie’s in New York

Like fine art on wheels, cars — especially Bentleys — also greatly interest John. The musician calls his black convertible 1990 Bentley Continental ‘one of the most beautiful cars of all time.’ Bought in Los Angeles, the vehicle accompanied John and Furnish to Atlanta and later to their home in the South of France. John notes his beloved ride was ‘a bit of a scene-stealer in Atlanta,’ where the weather was perfect for open-top motoring.

In Atlanta, a city where he felt welcomed, safe and revitalised, and living in a home where he could be surrounded by his art and objects, John found inspiration to fuel the next chapter of his artistry. ‘When you live in an environment that inspires you so much with things that inspire you so much, it spills over into every aspect of your life,’ says Furnish, noting that John frequently burned scented candles and walked through the sprawling residence, admiring his art as if in a museum.

ej atlanta house

Inside Elton John’s Peachtree Road residence, Atlanta. Photograph © 2023, Visko Hatfield

In addition to his 27th studio album, Peachtree Road, John also wrote the music for the Broadway shows Billy Elliot and Aida, both of which won numerous Tony awards, while in Atlanta. ‘I remember Elton saying the songs just poured out of him,’ Furnish adds. ‘It was not a painful process but a joyful one.’

Thus, as John is no longer touring and in need of a residence in the American South, the departure from Atlanta, and that magical chapter in his life, is bittersweet. ‘There’s very much a little piece of Elton’s soul in every single item,’ says Furnish of the objects from Peachtree Road going under the hammer at Christie’s this February. ‘Buyers of these pieces are going home with something that has, without question, inspired Elton in his artistic journey.’

Explore The Collection of Sir Elton John: Goodbye Peachtree Road

Sign up for Going Once, a weekly newsletter delivering our top stories and art market insights to your inbox

Related lots

Related auctions

Related stories

Related departments