The Friezing art of selling

Upmarket developers have long been aware that to leave a house undressed is as risky as, well, leaving the house undressed. Carefully chosen furniture and fittings encourage prospective buyers to imagine living in a property and evoke a certain lifestyle. This idea is being pushed to the nth degree in London’s super-prime market where purchasers are being lured not simply with chandeliers and antique furniture, but by some of the finest examples of contemporary art.

Next week, art collectors will travel to London’s Regent’s Park to trawl the exhibition halls of the Frieze Art Fair where they can buy works from more than 170 contemporary art galleries as well as at the private exhibitions that coincide with the fair. At one such event, The House of the Nobleman exhibition [14-23 October], not only can collectors buy art by Gerhard Richter, Edgar Degas, David LaChapelle, Claude Monet and Anish Kapoor; but more unusually, they will also be able to pick up the house it is displayed in – a £50m Nash-designed Regency mansion on Cornwall Terrace overlooking the park, which is due to come onto the market next year.

The organisers held a similar exhibition during Frieze week last year, which coincided with the launch of the Cornwall Terrace development – eight Grade I-listed mansions with views of the Regent’s Park rowing lake, priced from £30m to £50m. The art benefits from 15,000 sq ft of space and the natural light provided by huge dual aspect reception rooms. The developers, Oakmayne Bespoke, claim that the relationship has helped market the properties: “The association with the high end of art helped people understand the value of the houses,” says Beth Dean, director of sales and marketing. Just a month after last year’s exhibition, one house was reserved and two more have since sold – reason enough to hold a second exhibition in Boswall House, the biggest house in the development, this year.

The union of fine art and high-end property is an increasingly popular marketing tool in the capital, including the former home of the Royal Entomological Society – a Grade II*-listed house on Queen’s Gate, near Kensington Gardens, on the market for £27.5m with Hamptons International. Its 12 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms have been filled with not just Murano glass chandeliers, Persian rugs and antiques, but also an extensive art collection. In the hallways hang old masters loaned by the Colnaghi gallery, including a large oil painting by French artist Jean-Baptiste Huet, worth more than £140,000. Contemporary glass sculptures reflect light into the pool and a long gallery wall houses an Annie Morris tapestry.

The art is all available for purchase. Isobel Czarska, the interior designer and developer, says that she mixed old masters, modern art, antique furniture and contemporary pieces so that it should look like “a real home in which a family had lived for some time and several generations.”

The idea of buying a house full of art that bears no relation to the lives of the future inhabitants may seem odd or unimaginative. Mandy Craig, director at Hamptons, explains: “Some people do not have the know-how to go and find something that is appropriate for the walls. When they are busy gathering their fortunes, they are not going to art galleries. They made their money in oil or gas or metal or whatever they do. They are the first ones to admit that they haven’t got a clue about furnishing a house ... therefore they want to buy that professionalism.”

Craig says that judicious selection of furnishings and art will allow developers to achieve a higher value. However, she says it has taken developers time to learn what kind of art will prove the most lucrative: “Things have moved on by leaps and bounds from the early days of development. People are being more discerning about what they put on their walls. The quality has to be so good and people have a very critical eye. More and more [developers] are realising that if they are going to sell these things, they can’t just put a lot of cheap tat in there.”

Daniel Firman’s ‘Butterfly’ at the 2010 Frieze Fair

Another property, Walpole Mayfair, is being dressed with art loaned and purchased from local galleries Shizaru and the Halcyon Gallery. The Georgian house, located on Arlington Street opposite the Ritz, is the former home of Britain’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Developers Oliver Burns are in the process of creating five “state” apartments, due to complete in February next year.

The developers chose to work with two galleries in order to strike the right balance between classical and contemporary art. The Halcyon will provide pieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Joan Miró, Robert Heindel, and Lorenzo Quinn as well as Eve Arnold photographs of a sleeping Marilyn Monroe – hung above the bed in the first finished apartment. These are offset by the quirkier pieces supplied by Shizaru, which include a 2-metre sculpture of a goddess by Mark Humphrey, worth around £60,000.

Developer Joe Burns says that to leave the art out of the apartment is “like not putting wallpaper on the wall. Without the artwork it just doesn’t appear finished. It is one of the most important parts of our final dressing, if not the most important part.” He stresses that names matter, and a well-known artist is likely to achieve a better result.

When the development launches, Burns will be looking for offers in excess of £3,000 per sq ft, resulting in an end price of £9m-£11m per apartment. He is hoping to sell the artwork with the apartments and says his previous experience is that seven out of 10 buyers want to purchase the art, which is priced separately from the apartment and the furnishing package. Burns estimates that the art in the first apartment will cost between £200,000 and £250,000, although he says that he tries to take the figures out of the equation when it comes to dressing the apartments.

“You do learn to think like they [the potential purchasers] do. You have to not think about the cost of the items but how they work, how they look, is it right for the apartment,” he says. “You have to become less price aware and really appreciate the quality of what you are putting in.”


The House of the Nobleman exhibition runs from October 10-23.


Isabel Czarska


Oliver Burns


Oakmayne Bespoke

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