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ERN DE-SIGNWritten by
and media pundit.Look around your home as you read this and odds-on there are probably at least a dozen everyday objects to which you barely give a second glance – and yet they are design classics.
Often simple pieces of furnishing, machines or even works of art, they may appear to have little or nothing in common with each other, but true classics tend to combine form and function in a way that ideally suits the times in which they were created.
Look through Catherine McDermott's book 20th Century Design and you'll see everything from Toilet Duck to Concorde.
The Victoria & Albert Museum's summer exhibition British Design 1948-2012 celebrated the best of innovation, and when the Design Museum reopens in the former Commonwealth Institute building in West London in 2014, you will be able to see how much further the 21st century has taken the concept of modern design, from the smallest objects such as cutlery through domestic interiors to cutting-edge technology that simply didn't exist a few years ago.
Counter-intuitive collectibles?Many artists and designers, for instance, now create special cases for smartphones and tablets: objects that barely existed even five years ago. Meanwhile, ashtrays and cigarette lighters are no longer the focus for designers that they once were... a fact that, perhaps counter-intuitively, can make such objects all the more collectable: as they become rarer and more difficult to find, so they become more desirable to collectors.
Landmark exhibitions create renewed interest in the fields they cover, and this can also bolster prices.
The end of the Second World War brought a new impetus to modern design, which enjoyed an outburst of colour and creativity as society recovered from the strictures of conflict and rationing.Artistry and craftsmanship was built on the foundations laid by the leading pre-War designers, and as marketing methods became ever more sophisticated, advertising and brand building were added to the mix along with new materials and products in an unprecedented burst of activity. The advent of television and then mass media entertainment took design concepts even further.
The US and Europe contributed strongly to this trend, but Britain was just as big a player. Names like Terence Conran and Ernest Race, for furniture and interiors, Issigonis and his Mini, Stuart Devlin's silver and, in the mid- to late-1970s and beyond, Vivienne Westwood and a new wave of fashion designers contributed a whole new generation of classics, some of which now command exceptional prices. But you can also start to collect for just a few pounds.
With such a vast repository of materials, makers and ideas to choose from, where do you start if you are thinking of investing some money?
TOPTENTIPS1. Be practicalWhatever you buy you will probably have to live with – maybe for some time – so consider the space you will keep it in.
2. Budget3. Think small to start withRemember, investment inevitably brings an element of risk. How much can you afford to spend on your new interest without the need to recoup it in the short or possibly even medium term?Dip your toe in the water by investing a modest sum in something you like – it may take you some time to make that profit.
4. Test your taste5. Learn the five factors that canaffect desirability and price6. Source your collection carefullyDoes it fit with your home and lifestyle? Don't make expensive mistakes.Rarity, condition, provenance (the history of the object and its ownership), maker and changing tastes.Car boot sales, auctions, galleries, fairs and online all have their advantages, costs and risks. The more you know, the less the risk… and the greater potential for profit.
7.Calculate the costs of buying at auctionRemember it includes the hammer price, a buyer's premium (a fee charged by the auctioneer, which can be as much as 25 per cent of the hammer price), and storage costs if you don't take it home quickly.View items before
the auction8.Auction sales are not subject to retail laws and bidders are expected to satisfy themselves before the sale that they are happy with the objects they are bidding on.
9. Buy onlineLive online auctions and timed bidding sales can save you a lot of time, shoe leather and petrol. Auction alert systems mean you can receive emails about relevant lots.10. Enjoy yourself!Shopping for art, antiques and great pieces of modern design can be great fun. It's not just the thrill of the chase; whether you are heading for an auction view, preparing to raise your bidding paddle or setting out for the latest decorative arts fair, you should meet a lot of interesting people, see a lot of fabulous things and enjoy the buzz of the marketplace. Have fun.
NAMESTO WATCHFORDr Michael Jeffery is head of 20th Century Design at Salisbury auction house Woolley & Wallis. His tips for names for the future include:Lucienne DayMdina GlassOne of the foremost designers of the post-War period, Day's textiles encapsulate the character of the times and have a strong retro feel to them, but have perhaps suffered in popularity more recently because of the challenges of display. However, the best of her designs are overdue to for a serious comeback.
Left: Shape and Outline (detail), a silk mosaic hanging designed by Lucienne Day, which sold for £380 hammer at Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury's 20th Century Design sale on September 21 last year.TV antiques pundit Mark Hill has recently written Michael Harris: Mdina Glass & Isle of Wight Studio Glass, and new books or landmark exhibitions tend to heighten interest in collecting fields.
Former Royal College of Art tutor Michael Harris set up his Mdina factory making art glass in Malta in 1969 but moved it to the Isle of Wight in 1973. Colourful, decorative and stunning, the extensive ranges offer some large statement pieces.
John Ward and Geoffrey SwindellTwo contemporary ceramicists, both exhibiting since around 1970. Both bestride the classical and contemporary divide with the sheer artistry of their designs, shapes and use of colour.
Above: This John Ward vase sold for £350 hammer at Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury's 20th Century Design sale on March 7.Above: This 4in (10cm) high Glaze Dolomite work with Rutile colouring by Geoffrey Swindell is made in porcelain on a potter's wheel. It is priced at around £220 and is available through Contemporary Ceramics of 63 Great Russell Street, London.
See other works by the artist at: www.geoffreyswindellceramics.co.ukErcol furnitureItalian Lucian Ercolani moved with his family to London in the 1890s, making his first piece of furniture in 1907. He later worked with design teams that would create G-Plan and Parker Knoll furniture before founding ercol in 1920. His chic modernist designs from the 1950s seem underpriced at the moment – pieces like his sculptural elm chairs with their clean lines can be had for a few pounds. It's the vintage pieces you want as collectables, not the retro reissues.
live online auction platform hosting sales for hundreds of auctioneers in the UK and abroad.
CHRISTIE'S SOUTH KENSINGTON
hold Interiors sales dedicated to home furnishings three times a month.
London-based design fairs, held twice a year, in early and late spring.
the leading reclamation and salvage fair, where you can acquire pieces in original, unrestored condition. The website is also a portal for information on salvage yards and reclamation businesses.
Alfie's Antique Market, Church Street, Marylebone. Owned by Jeff Salmon of Channel Four's Four Rooms, this vast gallery is packed with classics in the higher price range. Also a great place for European and South American retro design.
Spitalfields has become an enclave of MidCentury and Modern design wares. Try Elemental at 67 Brushfield Street, Old Spitalfields.
London-based specialist in post-war designer furniture, lighting and art.
IN MY ROOM
Brighton-based dealers in MidCentury Modern design classics.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author,
and do not necessarily reflect the views of M&S Bank.