Monday, January 09, 2017

How Not to Buy Two Desks in an On-line Auction

How not to buy two desks in an on-line auction? 

It is incredibly difficult.

I've already tracked down the missing bale pull.

Only bid on one.

I did not and wound up with two very nice desks in one day.

My recent auction experience is both amusing and educational so why not share it and some relevant design history to boot? 

Who doesn't love a good story about someone else's foibles? 

And everyone loves design history.

Yes, you do.

For the record, I did not wake up one morning and announce "I will bid on two desks today."

Come on, I'm far more disciplined and purposeful than that! No, a desk was part of a larger plan formulated last summer when I decided it was time to redo our daughter's 25 going on 26-year-old little girl bedroom, aka

The Shrine
The Time Capsule
The Pink Room

Our daughter's rescue dog, Pumpkin, on bed.
Toy dog, about to be pounced on, on floor.

and transform it into an elegant and sophisticated office/guest room. My heart was set on fabrics I previously proposed to a client.

Wow. I might be on trend.
I think the greens are close to Greenery, Pantone's 2017 COTY.
I love the dove-colored Greek Key cut velvet.
l-r: Elizabeth from Schumacher, Lawrence Plaid and Meander Velvet from Anna French

And this sisal wallpaper.

Cholla Sisal, color Smoke, from Anna French.

A desk is the key element that makes an office an office. I did not have one but knew what I wanted.

Elegant. Sophisticated. Gorgeous. Black.
Like this. Exactly like this.
Nothing else would do.

Design by Alexa Hampton.
Photo by Linda Pakravan.

An antique Directoire-style ebonized demilune desk by Maison Jansen. French.

Love, want and need all happily aligned. Sigh.

Small catch. Phenomenally expensive. Drat.

Drat is a good word to use in public. I learned it from my ladylike neighbor and good friend. Actually, I uttered far worse but I was alone in my office where occasional swearing is not frowned upon.

Dismayed but not despondent, I consoled myself with my next favorite French fantasy, daydreaming that Cary Grant and I were strolling the Seine.

Red is not my color but I would definitely look good with Cary.

Which was an excellent reminder that the French are not the only curvy desk makers. The Carlton House Desk in Highclere Castle's Library.

Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey.

Robert and Isis hard at work at the Carlton House desk in Downton Abbey's library.

Why is it called a Carlton House desk instead of a Highclere Castle, Downton Abbey's real-life location, desk? The short version:

In the late 1700s, the Prince of Wales lived in London's Carlton House. While in residence, he ordered a desk similar to the one Hugh Bonneville used in Downton Abbey. Did the Prince have it made for his personal use? Was it a gift for a member of his entourage? The answer to these fascinating questions? Lost to time.

The Prince of Wales, future George IV
The Prince was promoted in 1811 to Prince Regent
and hit the glass ceiling upon his final promotion to George IV in 1820.

But to this very day, a desk with a rounded back and a writing surface encircled by cubbies and drawers is known as a Carlton House desk.


More interesting history. Parliament was not amused by the Prince's vastly over budget reno of Carlton House, which entailed lavish furnishings and exquisite furniture, including desks. Proof positive of the following key points:
  1. Budget overruns are not an American invention.
  2. Renovations always cost more than originally planned.
Number 3 is specific to me: 

     3. There are far more Carlton House desks than ebonized Jansen demilunes so the law of supply and demand should work in my favor.

The supply part of Number three is true because an online search for an ebony (or black lacquer, I'm not totally picky) Carlton House desk took all of two nanoseconds.

Nice. I can work with this, sans the chair.

Holy Cow! Listed for $10,500 
a Maitland-Smith Carlton House Desk 
but includes chair, on 1stdibs 
So much for the law of supply and demand.
Hate it when I'm so, so wrong.

Local auction houses were next in the quest for a black, curvy but not ten grand desk.

Sourcing locally is admirable but I'd be lying if I claimed that was my intent. No, shipping cross country or across the pond

I like this painting, it has a somewhat primitive feel. Love the blue. I didn't bid on it.

significantly diminishes the buying power of my desired investment level (I dislike the word budget).

August melted by as I trolled local auctions. Finally, Luck. A Carlton House desk in a Skinner online auction. Also a Maitland-Smith, same maker as 1stDibs' $10,000 including chair black lacquer desk.

You noticed the catch. Always a catch. Desk is neither ebony nor black lacquer. It is ivory. In fact, ivory leather. Tooled ivory leather.

Ebony, not IVORY, living happily in my office/guest room... was not the song playing in my head.

Library of Congress

At this point, it is fair to point out that I was not my client that day. If I had been I would have handcuffed client/self to the kitchen table, far away from her laptop, when I saw client/self dwelling overly long with lustful eyes at the ivory desk. And would have reminded client/self that it is not possible to give ivory leather an ebonized finish.

One of my daughter's fears: her mother is becoming a crazy orchid lady.

I did not have the advantage of being my client that day and surprisingly, my modest bid (which I thought would surely be outbid) was the high bid. As was another modest bid on desk #2 whose story will appear in its own post.

Bidding only on the one item of your heart's desire is good auction strategy.

It is, however, exceptionally easy to get carried away, or have a crazy thought like "I will certainly be outbid" as did the author. In that case, it is always good to have your designer or good friend on hand to advocate for sanity.

An important part of a Designers job is to be objective, and good at the numbers. How so? Let's say there's a desk you covet/love in an upcoming auction. You've allocated $600 total including taxes, shipping, buyers premium. Your designer will work that number backwards to arrive at your high bid and hold you to it.

But I do love desk #1. We put it in our living room.

The drawers and cubbies are fun.

As the Keno Brothers always say, you can't fake this patina.

And nicely lined with marbleized paper.

I wonder how long it will take Mr. P to fill them with batteries and pens. Mr. P is a summa cum laude grad of the You Can Never Have Too Many Batteries or Pens School.

Any fun auction experiences you'd be willing to share?

Thanks for reading,
Linda Pakravan

This post was entirely unsponsored.


  1. Great post, Linda. I remember you sharing your fabric before and I fell in love! The sisal wallpaper is stunning. And the desk is gorgeous! I can't wait to see the finished product! Pumpkin is positively precious. Looking forward to Thursday!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Pumpkin is a little dear. I'll see you Thursday. Can't wait!

  2. Beautiful. Meant to be yours.

    1. Thanks so much! Have a great weekend.

  3. Well, I always say if you like something, get two! '-)
    Popping over from Katie's blog. Happy to meet you! I appreciated the design history. All new to me, and now I'll be thinking about a Carlton House desk.
    Love your cute little Pumpkin, and also the fabrics and grass cloth. Great colors! We want to redo our living room. Perhaps these colors will be a springboard for us.
    I'm your newest follower and look forward to more visits.

    1. Sarah, so glad those colors are an inspiration! Thanks so much for following!


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