Every object has a story at the Design Exchange’s 2016 auction

Discover some of the most knocked-off designers of our time: items by Eames, Paul Smith and Kelly Wearstler are up for grabs


In the Prologue of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera, a fictional opera house in Paris holds a public auction to sell off its old theatrical props. Among the items offered is a giant chandelier, one with a mysterious history that, once uncovered, reveals the building’s haunted past. The scene is theatrical and suspensful, and is the inspiration for the Design Exchange’s second-annual Design Auction on June 14.

“I wanted our auction to have a feeling like that, where you walk into this room and suddenly you’re faced with all these stories. The event comes with a heightened sense of drama,” says Mark Challen, the Design Auction’s creative director. “Once you know the backstory of something, you have an intimate connection to it, so with that spirit, we’re actually creating an entire night of storytelling.”

The Design Auction is a fundraiser for the Design Exchange, a Toronto-based non-profit that fosters and supports design in Canada. Over 100 objects will be up for grabs, ranging in price from $100 to $7,000.

All of the items, including home décor, furniture and vintage jewellery, are originals, and many of them were designed by well-known names, such as Zaha Hadid, Kelly Wearstler, Charles and Ray Eames, Paul Smith and Eero Saarinen. The auction provides an opportunity for Toronto residents to check out many of these originals and one-of-a-kind pieces up close.

“In this day and age where everyone buys knockoffs, we really wanted to try and prioritize original design and original designers. Those are the people that fuel the market,” Challen says.

Blow-Away-Vase-by-Front-for-Moooi.jpg

Moooi, designer of the Blow Away Vase, also designed the well-known Horse Lamp.


To that extent, auction attendees will be given the backstory to every piece for sale, such as the Blow Away Vase by Front for Moooi. The vase made from Dutch Delftware appears to be blown over, which Challen explains, is meant to be a commentary on the Dutch spirit. “The idea is that it can never be kept down. You may blow it, but it’s resistant to any kind of change,” he says.

Another item, the Warren Platner Lounge Chair by Knoll is considered an iconic mid-century modern design. Valued at around $6,000, the chair features a bright magenta seat and a stand made up of thin metal strands that form a moiré pattern.

“It feels more like sculpture than a piece of furniture, and is kind of like the convergence of all eras of design in this one very clean and modern chair,” Challen explains. “In a way, the chair is very emblematic of our sale in the sense that it changes the notion of what furniture could be.”

To help buyers understand the histories and stories behind the designs, all of the items will be categorized into three colour-coded collections, and each colour is tied to a mood: blue for energetic, red for passionate and green for soulfulness. Musical duo Scarlett Jane will perform a song that Challen says, “best represents the vibe of that colour,” to add another theatrical aspect to the event. About 140 of the objects are reserved for silent auction and the rest will be sold during a live auction.

“For each collection, we’re also going to do a mystery item,” Challen says. “We’ve chosen three incredible mysterious items that all have insanely good pedigrees, and people will have a chance to bid blindly on these things as we start to ply them with clues.”

Tickets to the Design Auction are $115 and can be purchased online in advance or at the door. 

Preview all the auction items here. For more details, see listing.

michelled@nowtoronto.com | @michdas

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