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Sotheby's Showhouse is a Lawless Extravaganza of Picassos, Nakashima Tables, and $35K Mantel Clocks

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It is the nature of showhouses to be unattainably rife with name-dropping furnishings, fixtures, and artwork. So, yes, the occasional Warhol gets thrown in, or even a veritable "United Nations of furniture" from centuries past. The Sotheby's Designer Showhouse, an event that began last week at the auction house's New York HQ, is in a different league. Heck, it's probably playing a different game altogether. It's the kind of next-level extravagance where having a Picasso in the room is the norm, and where each space is crowded with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art and antiques.

By providing designers the opportunity to decorate with stuff like $120K Francis Bacon paintings and $35K mantel clocks, Sotheby's wants to show that antiques and pieces "from the whole smorgasbord of collecting categories" can easily meld into a 2014 lifestyle. Or, in the immortal words of Sotheby's English furniture specialist Andrew Ogletree: "it's not necessarily grandma."

And so they gave each designer a space carved from Sotheby's sixth-floor gallery, a totally blank slot—"we tried to give them as much freedom as possible; there are very very few rules," Ogletree says—that measures about 19 by 19 feet. They sent the designers a catalog of 1,000 different lots, from African masks to Old Master paintings to 20th-century furniture. From there on out, the designers had free reign, and the diversity of looks is, well, staggering. Have a look at each room, below.

Shaler Ladd III

All photos by Will Femia

↑ "My first instinct was to do a library," Shaler Ladd says of his experience pilfering the annals of Sotheby's catalog. "For centuries people have used books to travel back in time, but also to consider the future and see how we live today." He wanted to blend antiques with contemporary lifestyles in a way that mirrored the contemplative quality of books. Following that theme, Ladd nabbed furniture from Europe's Age of Enlightenment, things like a bureau plat writing table from the late-18th-century France, a pair of 18th-century brass-mounted mahogany directoire chairs, and a pair of George II satinwood bookcase cabinets. Much of the modern feel comes in the form of an orange print (valued at $40,000 to $60,000) by 20th-century painter Francis Bacon, coupled spatially with a 20th-century Italian light fixture that "looks like it came from outer-space," Ladd says. "It has an incredible relationship with the Francis Bacon, which is all orange and pink. It's like the black and white forms of this chandelier came out of the 2D lithographic and out into 3D form."

The whole room is draped in a silk-and-cotton fabric "to make it look like a tent," and also includes an English telescope, a pair of Regency-period English globes, a Regency octagonal side table (topped, duh, with a silver tea set), and a Trabiz carpet from late 19th-century Persia. The total value of Sotheby's items here is estimated to range from $258K to $398K.

Olasky & Sinsteden


↑ For their take on a "gentleman's drawing room" designers—and Curbed Young Guns!Catherine Olasky and Max Sinsteden brought in a pearlwood secrétaire, a huge George II parcel-gilt cabinet, and an unambiguously rad George II mahogany barometer. It's all set on a saturated backdrop of "rich, warm ochre orange," as Sinsteden describes, which helps "offset all these wonderful antiques." The room's palette is not the only device used to balance the Old World feel of the room: a painting by Françoise Gilot spills primary colors above the marble chimney piece, while a small cubist work hangs beside the cabinet. And, of course, there's nothing quite like a MacBook and a copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma to bring a room into the 21st century. The Sotheby's goods add up to $337,500 to $489,500.

Daun Curry

All photos by Will Femia

↑ "It's just been so cold this winter so I was really drawn to a very light, springtime color palette, even though traditionally drawing rooms are kind of dark," designer Daun Curry says of her space, which borrows heavily from Victorian Britain and midcentury America. One of the room's keystones is the fireplace, a Scottish hand-carved monolith Curry outfitted with a stainless steel box to "bring a sense of something modern" and "show how you can translate these pieces" to keep them from being to precious or stuffy. "I didn't want to just take the things from the Sotheby's and put them together in a nice way; I tried to think a little bit outside of the box and do something with the pieces."

Highlights include an orange-and-mint painting by Jean-Pierre Cassigneul, a black-and-white Picasso, two Andy Warhols (one of Sitting Bull, the other of Marilyn), and a 20th-century metal "willow" by Harry Bertoia. And, of course, it's a crime to not mention the 20th-century Baboon bench (by Judith Kensley McKie), the "freeform sofa" (by Vladamir Kagan), or a fabulous desk by midcentury furniture poohbah George Nelson. In all, her wares have an estimated value of $314K to $464K.

Ryan Korban

All photos by Will Femia

Ryan Korban describes his decorating process as "organic," which is only a little funny when one considers how he's stacked his "foyer" with things like "Ebonized Cartonnier Clocks," "George III style Girandoles," "Regency Gilt-Brass-Mounted Parcel-Gilt Maple Circular Tables," and other such items described by him as "dark and sexy."

"I wanted it to seem sort of whimsical and romantic. Dramatic," he says. Other highlights: much in the way of gold brocade mirror, plus a Empire-style gilt bronze marble fireplace and works by Picasso and Jean-Pierre Cassigneul. "My room's not really about modesty," Korban says. "I really wanted to play up the sort of ornateness of everything." His room, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the most expensive, ringing in at $633K to $975K.

Ann Pyne

All photos by Will Femia

↑ Included in the eclectic dining area created by Ann Pyne of design firm McMillen: a Roy Lichtenstein work, a pair of London Victorian candelabras, a pair of Italian Neoclassical parcel-gilt and green-painted settees, and a 12-panel, Chinese gilt-and-black-lacquer screen. The green side chairs are from 1760, while the flatware hail from 1890 Paris. Total estimated value: $193K to $279K.

Rush Jenkins and Klaus Baer

All photos by Will Femia

↑ For designers Rush Jenkins and Klaus Baer of WRJ Design Associates, the goal was to create a space that, despite the extravagance and history of its contents, radiated serenity and steered clear of fussiness. "The best thing people are saying when they walk in is 'I want to live here' or 'I want this to be my apartment,'" Jenkins says.

In the name of creating serenity, the designers kept a neutral color palette, so the name of the game, here, was texture. "The space has these layers," Jenkins says, "and when it's monochromatic, the focus is on the lines and form and texture of the pieces." What pieces, exactly? A "divine" baby cashmere blanket, rabbit fur pillows, alpaca wool textiles, and a tangle of iron provided by the Albert Paley-designed sideboard. Other name-droppers: chests of drawers by midcentury designer George Nakashima, a sketch by French artist Edgar Degas, a coffee table by Brazilian starchitect Oscar Niemeyer, and a "Wiggle" side chair by none other than Frank Gehry.

· Sotheby's Designer Showcase [official site]
· All Showhouses coverage [Curbed National]