In addition to being the world’s favorite auction house for subversive and self-destructing artworks, Sotheby’s is also becoming a major force in design. This week the famed institution launched Sotheby’s Home, an online consignment marketplace that further indulges our insatiable reflex for shopping for furniture, rugs, decor, and art in bed past midnight on weeknights. It also offers the very promising prospect of profiting from your good taste.
The company’s latest e-commerce venture is in league with other high-end design platforms like 1stdibs and Decaso, which offer vetted goods with provenance to a design-hungry public. The range of styles, time periods, and purveyors is broad. A scan of the site shows everything from a colorful Cappellini acrylic resin chair to a rare 1940s modernist René André Coulon glass desk. Asked how the company will distinguish itself in a crowded space (after all, even eBay is in on the curated game), Sotheby’s Home CEO Elizabeth Brown points to inventory and access.
“Sotheby’s Home is the only e-commerce platform with showroom and gallery pieces from a range of partners—including Artemide, Dessin Fournir, Ralph Lauren, Donzella Ltd., Magen H Gallery, and more—listed alongside private consignments from individual owners across antique, vintage, and contemporary design, including from Sotheby’s collectors, offering one-of-a-kind access to unique pieces that previously would not be available online.”
That private consignment aspect is no minor footnote. While most respected online marketplaces enjoy a steady trade business—Brown says currently 25 percent of the site’s clients are professional interior designers—consumers represent a vital piece of the action. And because design lovers are an obsessive, tireless sort, they will shop alongside their designers (sometimes with better results) or independently in search of the next decorative score.
As the desire for unique and unexpected pieces continues to surge, clients turn to vintage antique pieces as well as independent sellers to realize their ideal interiors. Consigned pieces fulfill that wish, and procuring them dovetails with one of Sotheby’s historically excellent signature services: appraisals. Those looking to consign can submit pieces for review, and if the items are approved, they can make an appointment with a consignment specialist, says Brown. Once both parties reach an agreement, Sotheby’s Home handles the cataloging, documenting, listing, and logistics.
“Our goal is to make selling furniture art and home decor online as easy as possible by taking the hassle out of consignment,” Brown tells us. “Through our network of skilled consignment liaisons across the country, we are able to take care of every step of the consignment process, from photography and pricing to coordinating pickup and delivery to the buyers.” Consignors can earn up to 60 percent of the resale price depending on the number of pieces consigned, she says.
Unlike a traditional auction, which has its share of bidding surprises, Sotheby’s Home is structured like a fixed-price retail environment—an attractive premise for private clients who also want to sell sooner rather than wait for an auction. The concept represents a new retail channel for the 247-year-old company, whose portfolio includes its well-established live and online auctions and niche services like Sotheby’s Wine.
The branded debut is the next phase in Sotheby’s February purchase of Viyet, a digital platform that served as a destination for consigned art, antiques, furniture, furnishings, and accessories. Since the acquisition, traffic to Viyet has jumped more than 200 percent, doubling monthly revenue, according to the company—sunny tea leaves for any business.
“We see this cross-platform marketing as a huge opportunity,” says Brown. “As an example, we have a large sale happening from the Hyder Estate in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 24. There are select items in the collection that will be part of an online auction at sothebys.com and hundreds of decorative-arts items that will be part of a featured sale on Sotheby’s Home.”
Ultimately, the act of scrolling through gorgeous design in search of inspiration or escape is its own fantastic voyage. As for what’s going to be hot and likely very clickable in the marketplace, Brown says the company predicts growth potential “in the decorative-arts space [antiques, ceramics, silver], 20th-century design, and in art [prints, photographs, sculptures, paintings].” Time to take stock.