Five For Friday: Exploring Luxury Interior Design with Stair Galleries’ Muffie Cunningham

Rebekah Kaufman
Published on
Drawing of Muffie Cunningham, Director, Decorative Arts at Stair Galleries. Photo courtesy of Stair.
Drawing of Muffie Cunningham, Director, Decorative Arts at Stair Galleries. Photo courtesy of Stair.

Ever look at a breathtaking apartment building and wonder who lives there… and how? Stair Galleries is offering collectors the opportunity to vicariously experience the living space and lifestyle of a legendary New York City power couple famous for their business and societal achievements. Stair’s Selected Property From The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Gutfreund event will be held on October 8th, 2020, in their Hudson, NY facilities. Auction Daily spoke with Muffie Cunningham, Director, Decorative Arts at Stair Galleries, to learn more about this sale.

Auction Daily: Tell us about the consigners in this auction, the Gutfreund family, and their home where these auction temptations were displayed and used.

Muffie Cunningham: John and Susan Gutfreund lived in an iconic duplex apartment at 834 Fifth Avenue, NYC, one of the most exclusive buildings in Manhattan. The apartment was decorated by Henri Samuel, one of the 20th century’s greatest designers, who worked for European royalty and high society. 

The late John Gutfreund was CEO of Salomon Brothers, Inc., and Susan is an interior designer and a well-regarded society hostess. Their collections were displayed throughout their 7,500 sq. ft. apartment, and many items in this sale came from their famous pantry, as they were known for their elaborate and glamorous dinner parties.

Lot #54: Louis XVI Style White Painted and Parcel-Gilt Console. Photo courtesy of Stair Galleries.
Lot #54: Louis XVI Style White Painted and Parcel-Gilt Console. Photo courtesy of Stair Galleries.

Some of the pieces in this auction come from Hubert Givenchy and the Gutfreund’s Paris home, for instance, lot #2, 52, & 54. Manhattan was their main residence. They also had homes in Paris, Nantucket, and Villanova, PA. We auctioned the furnishings of the Villanova home in 2019 to great success.

AD: Give us the scoop on the top lot in the sale, #10, Josef Frank’s ‘Flora’ Printed Paper and Mahogany Cabinet.

Cunningham: This is the third Josef Frank piece from the Gutfreund collection to be auctioned through us. The first two pieces were sold in the 2019 auction; they all came from a beautifully designed floral guest room. This particular cabinet was chosen by the Cleveland Museum of Art for their exhibition Color and Comfort: Swedish Modern Design, February 17, 2019 – February 2, 2020. Mrs. Gutfreund purchased the cabinet from Bukowski’s, a well-known auction house in Stockholm, as a vintage piece from 1940. 

Josef Frank emigrated to Stockholm during WWII with his Swedish wife. He was a notable architect in Vienna but turned his eye to decorative arts at Svenskt Tenn, a Swedish design firm. He preferred rooms that one could breathe in with a focus on comfort and included nature with its vast wealth of color. He designed 2,000 pieces of furniture and 160 textile prints. His impact on Swedish Modernism is staggering. We are hoping that this piece will fare as well as the other two pieces.

Lot #10: Josef Frank (1885-1967): 'Flora' Printed Paper and Mahogany Cabinet. Photo courtesy of Stair Galleries.
Lot #10: Josef Frank (1885-1967): ‘Flora’ Printed Paper and Mahogany Cabinet. Photo courtesy of Stair Galleries.

AD: This sale offers over 40 lots of fine ceramics, including functional and decorative items. Of these, which are the most important from a collector’s perspective?

Cunningham: We feel that our clientele will enjoy buying a piece of NY society history from an exemplary society hostess. The dinners at the Gutfreund’s homes were legendary in the 80s through the new millennium. Lot #70, Limoges copies of the private service for Empress Elizabeth of Russia, and lot #31, a fine group of Sèvres porcelain, offer the quintessential style of a great hostess.

Lot #70: Twenty-Nine Haviland Limoges Porcelain Soup Plates in the 'Private Service for Empress Elizabeth of Russia' Pattern. Photo courtesy of Stair Galleries.
Lot #70: Twenty-Nine Haviland Limoges Porcelain Soup Plates in the ‘Private Service for Empress Elizabeth of Russia’ Pattern. Photo courtesy of Stair Galleries.

Lot #97, the Paris porcelain gold ground coffee service, comes with a fitted box. It was purchased from one of London’s best antique dealers, Jeremy, Ltd., and given to the Gutfreunds by Jayne Wrightsman, the legendary Francophile and donor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The quality and provenance speak for themselves.

AD: Also on offer is a full range of silver and silver-plated objects. Which ones catch your eye?

Cunningham: Lot #24, a Tiffany silver-gilt pagoda, is eye-catching and whimsical. Chinoiserie elements played a part throughout the NY apartment. Lot #61, the Italian silver faux bois wine cooler and bucket, is an ode to Susan’s love of nature and flowers. Finally, I’d highlight lot #353, a rare pair of Russian silver-gilt and niello bottle coasters. There are a number of Russian niello pieces in the sale, which added to the more exotic and unique tablescapes at the Gutfreund dinners.

Lot #24: Tiffany & Co. Silver-Gilt Pagoda Form Table Decoration. Photo courtesy of Stair Galleries.
Lot #24: Tiffany & Co. Silver-Gilt Pagoda Form Table Decoration. Photo courtesy of Stair Galleries.

AD:  And finally, this sale presents a number of bolts and samples of eye-catching fabric. What are their connections to the consignors?

Cunningham: Susan learned a great deal from her decorator Henri Samuel in the early 1980s. She also learned from her friend Hubert de Givenchy while decorating her apartment in the famous Hotel Particulier on Rue de Grenelle, Paris. She had an insider’s look at all of the finest dealers, upholsterers, painters, and fabric houses. She chose the House of Georges Le Menach as her favorite for unusual, exotic, and charming patterns. Pierre Frey bought the firm in 2014. The various bolts in our auction are material that Susan used in her various homes and for her high-end clients.

Lot #46: Bolt of Georges Le Manach Cotton Blue Toile Fabric, French. Photo courtesy of Stair Galleries.
Lot #46: Bolt of Georges Le Manach Cotton Blue Toile Fabric, French. Photo courtesy of Stair Galleries.

For more information on Stair’s Selected Property From The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Gutfreund auction, please see their website.