The Best Things to Buy at Auction – Here’s the Lowdown . . .

In Monday’s post I shared some of the tips I’ve learned from years of going to auctions. In Skint’s opinion you just can’t beat the auction room as a place to kit out a stylish home on a shoestring. That post got me thinking about my favourite auction buys:

Mirrors: If you buy just one thing at auction, make it a mirror. Department stores sell expensive ‘vintage style’ mirrors but the real thing can be found tumbling out of

antique mirror

This was part of a job lot of three

auction rooms for a song up and down the country. Vintage mirrors come in all shapes: super-sized ornate ones for the mantlepiece, little art deco numbers for the bathroom job lots of odd-sized ones which make a great feature hung together in the hall. So resolve here and now never to buy a mirror in a proper shop again – unless it’s one of those magnifying light up one for plucking your eyebrows. For everything else, go vintage.

Wardrobes:My favourite auction buy is an Art Nouveau wardrobe, the centre panel a gorgeous swirl of carved wood flowers and trees. Inside, it’s got dinky little compartments for gloves and scarves as well as plenty of hanging space and solid

art nouveau wardrobe

Ikea flatpacks just can’t compare

drawers in the bottom, deep enough to sleep a toddler. It’s a piece of master craftsmanship and cost £150. Auctions are terrific for bedroom furniture: not just wardrobes but dressing tables, bedside cabinets and heavy wooden beds. If you’re lucky you’ll bag a whole suite of matching furniture for a couple of hundred pounds.

Desks: As with wardrobes, the auction room is the best place to find quality, sturdy desks that will beat those modern, sheet-glass affairs on both style and functionality. People did more writing back-in-the-day I suppose, or took it more seriously. You’ll find that older desks come with loads of in-built extras, from drawers to hold your pens, to flip-up compartments for storing correspondence. Expect to pay around £60 for a good quality desk in an auction room. I know, I can hardly believe it either: what are you waiting for?

Art: I snapped up this Warhol cow print about six years ago and it takes pride of place not only in my kitchen but my heart, goddam it. I don’t know why I love her so but I’d pass over a lot of other stuff to save her in a fire. Many auction houses host picture sales once a month, with prices varying from £30 (my cow print) right up to silly money.

What’s your best-ever home bargain? Do tell. The cow would want to know. . .

2 thoughts on “The Best Things to Buy at Auction – Here’s the Lowdown . . .

  1. Gerry

    Years ago I used to work in a small auction in Glasgow so used to see lots as they were delivered for sale.
    The benefits of this job (to outweigh the tiny salary) were an opportunity to learn about the ground floor of the antique and art trade.
    One day I spotted an interesting-looking little side table and decided it had to be mine. I told the boss I needed a bedside tble and asked if I could have a look before the auction was opened for public viewing.
    I assumed he had also spotted the little Glasgow-style table and was expecting him to laugh when I asked him how much he wanted for the table but to my delight he simply muttered: “A fiver”.
    I slapped down the fiver and raced back home with my unexpected purchase. That weekend I spent hours in the Mitchell Library going through style books and old photographs to try and identify the table before deciding it looked most like the work of Herbert MacNair, a contemporary of Rennie Mackintosh.
    Excited I raced around to confer with Glasgow-style expert Roger Billcliff at his gallery and was told that, although the top had been replaced, the legs were likely to have been designed by MacNair.
    I was delighted because there were less than 50 surviving pieces of MacNair furniture known. Between house moves I loaned the table to Glasgow Museums for research and that’s where I should have left it because I was so impressed with myself for uncovering such a rare item that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and it was small enough for somebody to sneak away with it about a decade ago.
    So it was a great find, a great bargain and a great loss (but I am still keeping an eye out for it popping up at auction again).

    (Great blog BTW)

    • What a scunner! The story makes for a great post though Gerry – thanks! That’s what I love about auctions, there’s a story with every item.Hoping you stumble across that table some day again, and that it still just costs a fiver.

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