Top collectors, what to collect, where to find treasures, and how to design with collections, plus tips from top dealers, specialists and a leading architect. A revolution has hit the world of antique, art and design and interiors will never look the same.
Collectors I Love:
Andrew and Françoise Skurman
The shock of the new. Avant-garde art, baroque sculptures, exquisite busts, vivid paintings,and provocative collections reverberate in an all-white apartment high in the sky above San Francisco’s Nob Hill.
Art and design collectors, Andrew and Françoise Skurman set new standards for inventiveness, connoisseurship, daring, and the best of world-class twentieth-century and contemporary furniture and paintings. Come and meet this chic couple and discover and explore dazzling fields of design to conquer.
Once there were only two settings for the design dial—traditional or modern. Designers and architects were either in love with elaborate Georgian curves or opulent gilded Louis XV chairs—or it was chrome and Miles and modernism all the way.
Today, true connoisseurs are staking out their own territories, exploring and Mapquesting the wilder shores of design history with grit and wit.
San Francisco architect Andrew Skurman and his wife, Françoise, schooled and anchored in the classical history of design, are putting a new spin on interiors, blurring the lines between furniture and art, and embracing bold new furniture materials like carbon fiber and plastic.
The Skurmans are also constantly editing and energizing their collections, adding depth with dramatic new pieces and weeding out a gilded mirror here, an over-wrought chair there. They live with their collections, savoring and appraising them and studying them every day.
Andrew and Françoise Skurman
Clarity and Light
Françoise and Andrew Skurman live in a pure white aerie on Nob Hill. They’re dedicated collectors, constantly on the hunt for provocative contemporary art, experimental furniture, and artist-designed conceptual furniture. A pure white background shows their large abstract paintings, modern furniture and antiques in full force.
As it happened, Andrew Skurman, founder of the nineteen-year-old San Francisco firm, Andrew Skurman Architects, originally worked on the all-white interior architecture for a client. Orlando Diaz-Azcuy had designed the original interior architecture of the apartment.
Now, through a turn of fate, it is the Skurmans’ art house, prominently featuring ‘The Fall of Icarus’, 2003, oil painting by Alessandro Twombly above the complex truss dining table custom-designed by Tom Dixon for the Skurmans.
Surrounding the table are a chunky grouping of white leather ‘Mars’ chairs are by Konstantin Grcic, 2003, and a pair of Meccano-esque truss chairs by Dixon.
“I don’t buy for ‘investment’, I buy for the love of the object,” said Andrew Skurman, a lifelong collector. As a graduate working for I. M. Pei in the seventies, he collected Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe furniture. Living with the work of avant-garde and accomplished designers and artists is very satisfying and fulfilling, he said.
Françoise sets her table for a celebratory dinner with her Parisian family’s heirloom silver, peonies in gold-embossed porcelain Limoges vases, and virtuoso glass goblets hand-blown in Provence. Above it is the dramatic painting, vivid and joyful, by Alessandro Twombly, son of Cy Twombly.
‘Bromphenol Blue–Cylene Cyanol Dye Solution’ 2005, by Damien Hirst hovers near a pair of ornate Louis XV fauteuils refinished in silver leaf.
“Andy is constantly researching art and design, and when we travel, it’s usually to art shows or architecture exhibits and art galleries,” said Françoise. “We collect together. Andy often instigates and does the research. We each have veto power, but generally we agree.”
In their sunny bedroom, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge in the blurred distance, a tall white-painted rope-wrapped chest is a custom design by Christian Astuguevieille, Paris.
In a corner of their bedroom, the couple have created an international incident with silver-gilt Venetian mirrors, ‘Fresh Fat’, a abstract extruded plastic table by London designer Tom Dixon a white leather ‘Odin’ settee by Konstantin Grcic, 2005.
“I’ve always thought that all quality pieces will work together and create a lively dialogue,” said Andrew Skurman. “Refined classical will always work with the best of modern. Then throw in an art piece. Your room will vibrate.”
And so collecting is a constant search for the new, the provocative, the daring and the familiar.
“Modernism is the expression of design for our day, but it is important to recognize and appreciate all the epochs that have gone before,”said Andrew Skurman.
Now is a great time to discover a new approach to interiors, and search the world for treasures.
“The best interiors will be a personal and ever-changing mix, a timeless and un-trendy approach,” said Andrew Skurman.
Collectors note: Seek out the treasures that turn you on. As long as it’s not bland, boring or static.
An international roster of design stars, including trend-setters like Konstantin Grcic, the Bourellec brothers, Marcel Wanders, Marc Newson, Tom Dixon, Garouste & Bonetti, are among the iconic talents that design collectors are seeking out today as their experimental shapes and space-age materials give them an edge on tip sheets for design immortality.
Avid collectors, designers and architects haunt auction catalogs, travel to antique fairs around the world, and are constantly researching in museums, galleries and transitional neighborhoods, not to mention flea markets, online, estate sales, antique fairs and collectives.
In a constant round of education and research, top collectors attend design lectures at the annual San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, for example, and the Biennale in Paris, the Armoury show in New York. They build a reference library, and grab every book (old or new) on their favorite periods and craftsmen, artists and designers. They become experts, constantly on the hunt.
Sites to watch:
Bonham’s Bonhams.com The international auction house often presents special sales of California art collectors, and memorabilia. Recent twentieth-century furniture sales have featured pieces by John Dickinson.
1stdibs.com Antiques have migrated to 1stdibs.com. The leading access site to hundreds of antique and art dealers around the country, and in London and Paris. Most leading galleries, antique shops, and vintage specialists in the US and internationally display and sell their wares on 1stdibs. An excellent site for researching and studying the market, watching trends, and comparing goods and prices.
Phillips de Pury & Company phillipsdepury.com. Focuses on art and significant design from the twentieth century. A recent sale offered Wiener Werkstatte designs. Phillips de Pure also builds art collections for well-heeled private and corporate clients.
Christie’s Christies.com Leading auction house offering museum-quality art, jewelry of historic provenance, and seasonal furniture collections. Excellent catalogs for reference.
Sotheby’s Sothebys.com Top auction house, with twentieth-century sales, as well as highly-collected and rare art. Outstanding catalogs are essential for current reference.
Wright Wright20.com Chicago-based pioneer of modern furniture, books and decorative arts, and a broad range of offerings from diverse and recherché twentieth-century designers. Excellent catalogs.
How to be a Smart Collector:
Andrew Skurman’s Top Tips
• Focus your collection into ideas and concepts. For example, Skurman collects only abstract modern art, very expressionistic, never figurative. Emerging artists. White.
• Consider art works on paper, prints, monotypes, and smaller pieces. They are well-priced.
• Attend graduate shows at local art colleges and schools. This can be a fine way of identifying emerging new talents and following their career.
• Haunt artists’ sites, as well as designer websites and antique and art sites on the Internet. Search sites such as www.architonic.com, www.1stdibs,com, and www.artnet.com. Search by designer, products, vintage, country, materials, style.
• Attend openings at antique galleries and get to know the dealers and artists. Learn from them. Let them know what you’re interested in collecting.
• Check on www.artdaily.org for news of galleries, artists, and up-to-date information.
• Find antique dealers and artists on Facebook. Therien was among the pioneers. Friend Therien and you'll receive daily updates on 'ten most beautiful rooms in the world' or 'why Palladio matters' written by Philip Bewley and Bob Garcia. Friend them, follow them, and get on their email lists.
Quick tips for aspiring collectors
“Snap up rare and quirky industrial parts that can be repurposed. For example, intricate rusted machinery can become lamp-bases or decorative objects. A dented metal rack can be used as a stationery holder or for cutlery storage on a buffet table. A rusted cog can make a graphic lampbase. Or display it as sculpture.” — Darin Geise, founder of Coup d’Etat, San Francisco
“The turmoil in the decorative arts field in the last five years has been a true game changer,” Therien’s Bob Garcia noted. “Respected and noteworthy dealers throughout Europe and the United States have been challenged to either change directions in marketing or throw in the towel. The excitement and challenge for designers, collectors and dealers is that there is no prevailing "style" or "taste" that we can determine, whether modern gothic, traditional European, early twentieth international or modern artist-designer furnishings. All are current and have their place—often in the same interior.”
“Don’t over-restore or over-polish old silver or decades-old copper unless you plan to use them. To retain value, leave them in their original condition so that their age and signs of use can be part of their inherent beauty. Old and rare pieces have to have some kind of surprise, oddity, and the unexpected. I consider any period or era or provenance of interest.” — Darin Geise, founder of Coup d’Etat, San Francisco
“We now expect to see unique and unusual combinations of designs seemingly casually thrown together but in reality they’re highly studied for counterpoint and edge,” said Bob Garcia, partner in Therien & Co, a top dealer in San Francisco and Los Angeles for four decades. “In the world of antiques and 20th century furniture, interiors are energized by contrasting experimental one-off twenty-first-century pieces in a room with classically-inspired Italian or French thirties seating or tables. Highly original pieces rule the market.”
“Buy only pieces that have inherent quality and character regardless of age or provenance. Always seek out solid wood, for example, not veneers, and inspect items for fine craftsmanship and lasting style. (Veneers of rare woods are OK.)” — Andrew Skurman, Andrew Skurman Architects
Interior architecture: Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, ODADA, San Francisco, CA. odada.net
Interior design: Andrew Skurman, Andrew Skurman Architects, San Francisco. www.skurman.com, and Françoise Skurman.
All photography of the Skurman apartment is by Lisa Romerein, http://lisaromerein.com/
All photography used with express permission of the photographer.
Lisa Romerein, whose studio is in Santa Monica, is a leading California photographer who specializes in interiors, travel, food, lifestyle, portraits and decoration. Among her longtime clients are C magazine and Santa Barbara magazine, and House Beautiful.