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How Marine Hartogs Is Demystifying the Design World

— Marine Hartogs photographed by Jeff Henrikson

You’ve probably heard of art advisors — those powerful, stylish, in-the-know people whose job it is to tell you what to buy and where to buy it, and who, most importantly, can actually close the deal. But what about design advisors? After a long career working in the design departments at big auction houses like Phillips and Sotheby’s, Marine Hartogs, an independent consultant and historical and contemporary design expert, saw a “hole in the market,” as she describes it, and decided to go out on her own last year.

“Clients and friends were asking me, ‘What should I buy? When should I buy this? Can you help me find this?’ And I realized that they needed the knowledge of dealers and sources,” she says.

If you’re a new collector wondering why a Jean Prouvé table is selling for north of $1 million when another is going for about a quarter of that, Hartogs can help explain why. And if you’re a seasoned collector looking for an Eileen Grey chair that you missed at auction eight years ago, she can probably find the person who owns it and present them with an offer, too. She also does appraisals, works with interior designers, and sells her own collection of curated objects, many of which are available on her website.

A combination of factors, including months of lockdown and an out-of-control art market has more and more buyers turning toward design. Below, we spoke with Hartogs about where she thinks the market is headed and how she can help you navigate it.

When did you start to notice a shift in the design market and what triggered it?

I’d say prices started to go up tremendously starting around 2012 or 2013. Online auctions made [the market] more accessible to a lot of people. For so long, collectors relied on interior designers — they would have a Basquiat or a Rothko on their wall but their sofa would be designed by an interior designer. And I think they started seeing, especially in Europe, how collectors were living with not only great art on their walls but also great lighting and furniture by furniture designers that matched the historical importance and provenance of their art.

And how has the market evolved since then? Do prices just continue to get higher?

People definitely follow trends. When they see certain things at auctions starting to go for higher prices, they follow suit. Twenty years ago, [a piece by Claude] Lalanne, for example, would go for a couple of thousand dollars, but now you’re looking at hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. In general, I also think during COVID, people were sitting at home and wanting to buy furniture. They really started to appreciate it. I see it with my friends — it’s like they just woke up or something. They’re like, Wait, I want this beautiful chair by George Nakashima. It’s not even that much more expensive than a Restoration Hardware piece. So I think people are starting to understand that design is art, and should be regarded as such. But there are so many nuances within the design world, which is where someone like me comes in. I can help guide you through the buying process and the auction process. I can value your collection. It’s a service that has existed in the art world for so long, but not in design.

Was there anything happening simultaneously with the art market that perhaps turned people’s attention and budgets toward design?

Definitely. Art prices were getting so expensive at auction. With the rise of art fairs, pieces were being pre-sold before they even hit the booths. You have to buy three paintings from a gallery before you can actually get the one painting that you want. And there’s a waitlist for contemporary artists — not even ones at the highest level. So design became a nice entry point for a lot of newer collectors. It also maybe felt more justifiable; newer collectors could be like, Okay, this lamp cost $10,000 but it’s something I’m using every single day.

What made you want to go out on your own?

I saw the hole in the market. There are advisors for art, and that’s where everyone says the market is moving now — towards the advisory model. But there’s really not someone who is doing this purely for design, and the need is really there for it. So to me, it just seemed like a very organic shift. The auction world was such a good place for me to meet the biggest clients who are actively participating in the market. So I also know where all the really good collections and pieces are. If you’re looking for a really specific piece, I could probably figure out who has that and then go to that person with an offer.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your day-to-day?

One part of my business is appraisals. It’s kind of like what you see on Antique Roadshow. I’ll go to someone’s warehouse or house and I’ll appraise their collection and give them updated values on everything. Maybe they’ll want to have a conversation as to what they should sell and what they should keep. I also work alongside some interior designers who want to complement what they’re doing with a very high-end collectible coffee table or dining table or something. And then I also have my own collection, which I manage and sell to clients. I work with a lot of clients in the fashion industry.

I was just at Salone del Mobile, the annual design fair in Milan, and there seemed to be a bigger fashion presence than ever. Do you notice this crossover in your work as well?

There’s always been such synergy between fashion and design. We sold Marc Jacobs’ collection at Sotheby’s when I was there. Fashion designers obviously love design, and he was a huge collector. Karl Lagerfeld had one of the biggest design collections ever that was also sold at Sotheby’s. Azzedine Alaia was one of the very first to collect Eileen Gray and Jean Prouvé. Jeanne Lanvin, the founder of Lanvin, had Jeanne Dunand and Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and all these incredible designers from the ’30s. So there’s always been this incredible synergy.

Are there any specific names or trends you’re pushing your clients toward at the moment?

Before, people used to collect in one area. They’d be really focused on 1950s French designers, or Tiffany lamps, or something. I’ve encouraged my clients to collect more of a mix. It’s totally okay to mix an Italian piece with a contemporary designer like Max Lamb. When I’m buying, I’m also looking at provenance. If you buy a piece by Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, it was created for a specific house and a specific commission. That can add so much value and importance to a piece, and it’s just such a fun thing to be able to find out. So I really encourage my clients to look at provenance and find special things that will either retain or increase in value. Female designers are also definitely picking up in value.

How do you see the market evolving in the near future?

I think more design advisors are going to pop up. Hopefully, people will become more clued in on the design market, and more careful about what they’re buying. There are so many fakes and copies in the design world. As the value of design gets higher and higher, people are going to have to be much more diligent, and I can help make sure they’re getting the right things.

And what about prices? Will they keep going up?

I think for the most part, yes. But people also need to realize that in design, especially historical design, a lot of these things were made in large quantities because they were actually being made to be used — in universities, hospitals, etc. In America, for example, people will see a Prouvé chair and they’ll pay whatever for it, and then another one will pop up and another one will pop up. So yes, prices have gone up. But there will be a point when they will self-regulate for things that exist in large quantities, even though they seem very special. With someone like Carlo Molino, though, who only made, say, three of a certain chair, they’ll just keep getting more and more expensive and harder to find.

Source: W Magazine

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