How to score special decorative objects at New Zealand’s premier auction house, Webb’s

In association with Webb’s.

According to Florence S Fournier, Decorative Arts Specialist at New Zealand’s premier auction house, Webb’s, objects are more than objects — they can also be a form of personal expression and speak to a wider social history. In her role that involves tasks  such as appraisal, art direction,  styling photoshoots, curating gallery installations and creating a narrative around the items going up for sale in Webb’s auctions, extensive research is essential to understand the historical context, provenance and significance  of each piece. She and the Webb’s team aim to highlight the objects’ uniqueness and value, alerting potential buyers  to both their aesthetic and their historical importance.

So Florence, how does all this inform the way you present a Webb’s collection? I think it’s important for each sale to have a distinct personality. The styling often reflects the era or style of the collection, incorporating complementary colours and layering to enhance the overall aesthetic and evoke a sense  of immersion.

TOP The Decorative Arts department at Webb’s has brought some unique collections to auction recently. “We’ve been lucky to work on some significant single-owner collections in the past few years,” says Florence. “It’s a collaborative effort that requires a keen eye for quality and authenticity, and a deep understanding of what collectors are looking for.” Pictured here are (from left) a pair of Ugandan Hima milk vessels, a vase by Anders Ousback and a 300 vase by Crown Lynn. ABOVE A teapot by Jean Hastedt.

As well as its Decorative Arts online auctions, Webb’s has recently reinstated its Decorative Arts live auctions — what does this mean for collectors? We’re really excited about this development. Design Live is our new quarterly live auction showcasing the best of mid-century and modern design. A celebration of craft, materials and the designers who brought them to life, with the opportunity to experience the energy of bidding in person, these sales offer the best examples of decorative arts in a premium setting, from modern masterpieces to timeless classics.

What would you say are the main differences between Webb’s The Estate auctions and Decorative Arts auctions? The Estate is more affordable and varied, and brings together an eclectic mix  of pieces every time, whereas the Decorative Arts auctions are premium and thematically curated. Themed auctions allow us to explore specialised areas of decorative arts and engage  with different types of collectors. 

What are your insider tips for people who are wanting to add unique finds to their homes from the Decorative Arts auctions? Look for pieces that speak to your personal style and interests, and consider their historical and artistic value too. I’m always impressed by the modern design consignments we get. You can find amazing pieces by design heavyweights at great prices and with no lead time. If you’re after smaller accents for your home, our Applied Arts sales always bring in vibrant and exciting ceramics, art glass and textile works, many by local creatives.

TOP A vase by Ernest Shufflebotham for Crown Lynn (left) and an orb by Una Sharpley on a side table by Drexel. Where does Florence think interiors are heading? “I believe we’ll continue to see a fusion of traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design, as well as a growing appreciation for sustainability and ethical sourcing. There’s also a trend towards creating more meaningful spaces that reflect our individual lifestyles and values.” ABOVE A cocktail chair by Marilyn Sainty and a Murano-glass mushroom lamp.

New Zealanders often take quite a ‘safe’ approach to their interiors —  how can people be braver? To me, the best-looking spaces bring together a mixture of colour, texture and form. I love using colour for impact, but neutral spaces can be enhanced by bringing in accents that have surprising textures or shapes; this stops things from looking too matchy-matchy and the tension between contrasting items provides depth. I also believe in leaning into our personalities and following what catches our eye, in order to stop narrowing down our design choices to align with what’s popular.

You’re a collector of vintage cookware — how did that come about? I just didn’t see why my cookware couldn’t be stylish. It’s nice to cook with items I know have been treasured by someone else before me, and I like knowing I can extend each piece’s life. My most recent addition is a Liekki casserole dish designed by Ulla Procopé for Arabia that I bought through The Estate at Webb’s. I check through each and every sale; recently there have been lots of amazing cast-iron pieces coming through, including great Le Creuset finds.

What other dream pieces are you on the lookout for? I’m on the hunt for a striking floor lamp. Top of the wishlist would be a green Bellhop lamp by Flos, because I love its refined but playful form. I’m hoping someone consigns one soon and I can bid at one of our auctions! Something that caught my eye in homestyle recently was a fabulous Bold Bench by Big-Game for Moustache. An electric blue one would be perfect for my bedroom.

Interview Alice Lines
Styling Juliette Wanty
Photography Webb’s

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