The Tastemakers Reimagining the Rockefeller collection

The Tastemakers: Reimagining the Rockefeller collection

Six prominent architects, designers and decorators select their favourite pieces from The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, and reveal their ideas for incorporating them in a contemporary living space

Sara Gilbane: ‘After exploring Peggy and David Rockefeller’s vast collection and getting a sense for how they lived in their homes, it’s clear that each of their acquisitions was wonderfully well thought-out. They were brilliant enough to collect things that lived very happily together.

‘If you start with a great piece, you can put the brightest red velvet on it and it will feel totally fresh,’ says interior designer Sara Gilbane

‘If you start with a great piece, you can put the brightest red velvet on it and it will feel totally fresh,’ says interior designer Sara Gilbane

‘With this vignette, I wanted to mix different artistic styles and mediums, as well as different furniture styles and patterns. I first looked to the paintings to get a sense of the colour palette. There were a lot of blues and greens in the works themselves, so I put the Rockefellers’ vibrant red sofa in the centre of the room to act as a visual stick of dynamite. I then added cushions and furniture that had a sense of humour.

‘The Rockefellers entertained frequently, and in that spirit I wanted to make sure there were plenty of places to sit. They had a million interesting chairs in their collection, so I was able to weave in a larger wing chair, a medium-sized settee, a smaller side chair and a beautiful needlepoint bench. 

‘All of the Rockefeller furniture is beautiful and timeless. If you start with a great piece — like any of these — you can put the brightest red velvet on it and it will feel totally fresh. So long as the shape is classic, it is a forever piece.’

Jane Scott Hodges: ‘At Leontine Linens, our goal is to create beautiful heirloom linens with a modern vibe. I love pairing china with coloured table linens rather than traditional hemstitch table linens, to add a real joie de vivre. I think that many of the fabrics we paired with the Rockefellers’ beautiful collection of porcelain were ones that would have appealed to Peggy and David.

‘The traditional monograms for which Leontine Linens is known, or our pale-pink linens, could have been used by the Rockefellers. It must have been lots of fun to host parties in their homes and share all the beauty that they collected with friends and family’

‘The traditional monograms for which Leontine Linens is known, or our pale-pink linens, could have been used by the Rockefellers. It must have been lots of fun to host parties in their homes and share all the beauty that they collected with friends and family’

  • 3
  • Kevin Sharkey, Senior Vice President, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc.

‘Peggy and David Rockefeller always used the most beautiful floral dishware — we would try to guess the name of the flower on each plate,’ recalls Kevin Sharkey

‘Peggy and David Rockefeller always used the most beautiful floral dishware — we would try to guess the name of the flower on each plate,’ recalls Kevin Sharkey

Kevin Sharkey: ‘Peggy Rockefeller loved to entertain, and she loved to include flowers in her entertaining as well as in her day-to-day living. I was lucky enough to have dined at the Rockefellers’ home a number of times. They always used the most beautiful floral dishware, and we had a game where we would try to guess the name of the flower on each plate. I loved knowing that when I dined there, I was going to be among people who had a real enthusiasm for beautiful things, for the decorative arts. I love the fact that each of these pieces was used  — and not just by the Rockefellers.’

Lee Mindel with some of the Rockefellers collection of duck decoys.

Lee Mindel with some of the Rockefeller's collection of duck decoys.

Lee Mindel: ‘In each of these vignettes we have tried to convey the duality that is central to the Rockefellers, and to the way they collected: their American patriotism, on the one hand, and their love of cultures around the world, on the other.

‘The works we have selected may not be obviously related. But when you group them together, relationships develop,’ says Lee Mindel. Included in this vignette are Jasper Johns (b. 1930), Within, executed in 2007. This work is from the edition of 61 (there were also 12 artist’s proofs). Estimate $12,000-18,000. Offered in The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller Fine Art, Day

‘The works we have selected may not be obviously related. But when you group them together, relationships develop,’ says Lee Mindel. Included in this vignette are Jasper Johns (b. 1930), Within, executed in 2007. This work is from the edition of 61 (there were also 12 artist’s proofs). Estimate: $12,000-18,000. Offered in The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: Fine Art, Day Sale on 10 May; Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Small Plow (Maquette), executed in 1956. Estimate: $100,000-150,000. Offered in The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: Fine Art, Day Sale on 10 May; Henry Moore (1898-1986), Oval Sculpture, carved in 1964; unique. Estimate: $300,000-500,000. Offered in The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: Fine Art, Day Sale on 10 May; Boris Lovet-Lorski (1894-1973), Standing Horses: A Pair of Works. Estimate: $80,000-120,000. Offered in The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: Fine Art, Day Sale on 10 May; Chuck Close (b. 1940), Marta/Fingerprint, executed in 1986. this work is from the edition of 45 (there were also 14 artist’s proofs). Sheet: 54 x 40 in (1371 x 1016 mm). Estimate: $3,000-5,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: Fine Art, Day Sale on 10 May

‘Their collection, much like Rockefeller Center itself, reflects what the family stood for: it is not pretentious, and has no artifice.

‘The works we have selected may not be obviously related. But when you group them together, relationships develop. None of it feels decorated; it feels as though these are objects organically having a conversation with each other.’

‘Personally, I love the smaller things that you can obsess over,’ admits Miles Redd

‘Personally, I love the smaller things that you can obsess over,’ admits Miles Redd

Miles Redd: ‘The Rockefellers bought what they loved, and had the wherewithal to buy the very best. In these objects, collected over the past 80 years, you see the voraciousness and the eclecticism of their style. Most collectors feel comfortable in a single genre, either contemporary or antique. But David knew how to pick something great from every decade, and that’s a gift.

‘Personally, I love the smaller things that you can obsess over, such as the Chinese stand and the English hall chairs. I always look at things with a decorator’s eye and consider how it’s going to be used, where it’s going to be used, how it functions.

Robert Arthur Goodnough (1917-2010), Circle with Red, painted in 1962-1963. Estimate $5,000-7,000. Offered in The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller Fine Art, Day Sale on 10 May at Christie’s in New York. A pair of George II solid mahogany library armchairs. Attributed to Wright and Elwick, circa 1755. Estimate $50,000–80,000. Offered in The Collection of Peggy and David

Robert Arthur Goodnough (1917-2010), Circle with Red, painted in 1962-1963. Estimate: $5,000-7,000. Offered in The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: Fine Art, Day Sale on 10 May at Christie’s in New York. A pair of George II solid mahogany library armchairs. Attributed to Wright and Elwick, circa 1755. Estimate: $50,000–80,000. Offered in The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: English & European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations, Part I on 9 May at Christie's in New York

‘For this vignette, I selected pieces that would stand out against a daffodil-yellow wall, taking objects that “might have belonged to your grandmother” and making them feel modern. A yellow wall makes things pop, and all paintings look good against it.

‘In my work, I am always taking design lessons from the great collectors of the last century. They have taught me so much about layering, patterns and mixtures.’

Nell Diamond: ‘When putting together this vignette, it was really important to mix the new and the old. This is something I try to do in my own life as well. I’m such a magpie and I love the history of objects and learning the story behind different items. Absolutely, things need to be liveable. But sometimes we forget that things that are liveable and practical can be beautiful as well. 

‘When styling your own home, start with your absolutely favourite piece and then see how you can work in other objects. There is no formula; there is no right or wrong. It is about how it makes you feel.

‘Sometimes we forget that things that are liveable and practical can be beautiful as well,’ says Nell Diamond

‘Sometimes we forget that things that are liveable and practical can be beautiful as well,’ says Nell Diamond

‘Each of the objects in the Rockefellers’ collection were carefully selected. You can tell that the family really thought hard about what every object meant to them. What’s particularly impressive about this auction is that the objects offered will not only bring happiness to the people who acquire them, but their sale is also going towards making change in the world.’