I find great inspiration in the collections and homes of others. I have always been a fan of themes, whether when matching my holiday reading to my destination or carefully plotting a cocktail party, and I think a home should similarly embrace its locale.
The residences of Richard Mellon Scaife, whose collection will be auctioned in our New York salerooms on 30 June and 1 July, certainly did. Drawn from the interiors of the late Pennsylvania-based owner and publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the sale represents a lifetime of collecting across a variety of categories and styles. Highlights include a fantastic George II pagoda-form display stand and an inventive mahogany commode with a pull-out dressing stand, perfectly fitted with a mirror and lidded compartments. An impressive silver-gilt dinner service, made in 1889 for Washington Augustus Roebling, the engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, contains more than 1,000 pieces.
But my favourite aspect of the collection is the 200 or so lots of fanciful ceramics that embrace the distinctive locations of the homes: delicate Worcester Flight, Barr and Barr dessert services for the city; animal-shaped hunters’ saddle cups for the country; and Minton majolica lobster tableware for the seaside.
Left: This brightly coloured screen depicting ladies in glamorous evening wear is by Howard Chandler Christy. The screen is accented by a fine George III giltwood bench and a Meissen teacup. Right: Playful and naturalistic, this exceptional faience pigeon-form tureen nestles among a collection of cabbage, gourd and melon tureens. The fine George III inlaid mahogany sideboard and knife box sit beneath a scrolling giltwood mirror. These pieces and those below will be offered in our sale of The Collection of Richard Mellon Scaife on 30 June and 1 July at Christie’s in New York.
My own introduction to collecting came through the contents of a print drawer that hung in my childhood kitchen. Laden with tiny treasures, from miniature lead postmen to doll-sized Toby jugs, heart-shaped rocks and a child-size Georgian silver toast rack, this miniature kunstkammer represented my mother’s adventures, which she would happily recount as we admired the objects one by one. To collect things, to choose them through time so that they become part of who you are and drive the stories you tell, is a way of building a personal history. And with any collector, the objects they admire and acquire serve as a window into their lifestyle.
I grew up outside New York City, but every summer my mother and I would dutifully accompany her parents, a Scottish-born priest and an Anglophile organist, on a choral festival tour around the great cathedrals of the British Isles. Through our detours and day trips, I discovered new worlds of art, literature and history: the lush Lake District and Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top house; the gardens of Sissinghurst; the Swiss Cottage at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. As a 12-year-old aspiring Egyptologist, my highlight of one summer was a trip to Highclere Castle to pay homage to the legendary collection of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, long before his home became an international phenomenon. My love of antiquity opened the door onto the world of country-house interiors, inspiring my future passion for the decorative arts. Years later, I gleefully moved to London for my master’s degree, and devoted more time to studying the Chippendale furniture at Harewood House, the cabinets at Kenwood and other treasures hidden in homes throughout the country.
Left: Classic local baskets, and seabirds by Mary Patricia Gardner. Models of a sailing ship and a speedboat complement the nautical-themed hooked rug and the copper gallon measure mounted as a lamp. Right: Ligonier Hunting-themed Staffordshire stirrup cups modelled as foxes, hounds, hares and fish sit in front of local maps and automotive memorabilia. A generous George II walnut corner chair and a diminutive chest of drawers stand by a high table made from a 19th-century barrel. Other treasures include a humidor in the form of a coal car, a set of Victorian brass measures and a tin modelled as a pile of books
I moved back to New York City a few years ago, and although I can picture the diverse stylings of my future Charleston townhouse or Cotswolds cottage, my reality is rooted in midtown Manhattan, a few blocks from Christie’s Rockefeller Center premises. Embracing its environs, my apartment is coolly midcentury modern, all black and white, with Barcelona chairs and photographs of the skyline. But with a bit of storage space, I am able to enhance my spare, streamlined decor by weaving in a single accent that provides a pop of colour and highlights the season. To mark the end of winter, I’ve stored away my Emma Bridgewater Union Jack teapot and a Wedgwood Jasperware royal commemorative plate. A single cabbage tureen by the window now picks up the hint of green leaves emerging in the park a few blocks away, a prized piece that would have fitted neatly into the rich collection of Richard Mellon Scaife.
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