AN INTERVIEW WITH PETER LOUGHREY, DIRECTOR OF LOS ANGELES MODERN AUCTIONS
When architecturally significant houses change hands there is often much angst felt in the historic preservation community. New owners routinely alter original spaces, remove significant building fabric, sell-off integral furnishings or raze structures altogether to make way for often bigger and rarely better houses.
When the David and Gladys Wright residence came on the market in 2008, many Frank Lloyd Wright devotees nervously waited to see if new owners would act as responsible stewards of this important home. Emotions subsequently ran high when news broke a few months after the home's sale that one of its most famous furnishings, the brightly-colored living room rug designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, would be sold at Los Angeles Modern Auctions' (LAMA) Spring 2010 Auction. PrairieMod decided to interview LAMA's Director, Peter Loughrey, on the circumstances of the rug's sale and issues related to selling architecturally significant works.
Eric: Can you give a little background on how LAMA was chosen to represent the sale of the famous David and Gladys Wright house rug?
Peter: The owner of the rug contacted us and asked our opinion of market value.
Eric: Was there anything that surprised you about the rug once you received it?
Peter: The rug does have considerable wear. The amount of wear was a little surprising because one of the most recent references (Frank Lloyd Wright Companion) stated as recently as 1998 that the rug was in unusually good condition. However, I think they were writing about the color in the thread of the pattern and not the overall condition of the rug.
Eric: Many Wright fans were concerned to hear that this rug—which was designed specifically for its environment—was separated from it forever. Can you weigh-in on these concerns?
Peter: Forever is a very long time. If a future (or current) owner of the house is interested in reuniting the rug with the house, then we will have a record of where it is. We have successfully helped owners of important architectural properties track down original interiors or elements that have been lost.
Eric: Do you feel there's any validity to the argument that high-profile sales of important integrally-designed items encourages the piece-by-piece sell-off of historically significant architecture?
Peter: I am sure that this has been true in some cases, but high profile sales also encourage people not to discard or destroy these items. If you examine many Wright interiors, for example the Hollyhock House, for many years the original furniture, rugs, and interiors were not considered valuable, so they were given away, lost, re-purposed, and ultimately destroyed. Had there been a widely accepted view of their market value, they would not have been treated so carelessly.
Eric: Where would you personally like to see this rug end up?
Peter: Obviously back in the original house would be ideal, but if the current owner of the house does not see the value then any qualified owner who will act as a care taker is okay by me. In my opinion this type of object more often than not will outlast any individual buyer and will again be available in the future, maybe even several times, each time presenting a new opportunity for the current owner of the house to reacquire it.
Eric: What role do you feel auction houses such as LAMA play in historic preservation?
Peter: The role of the auction house is generally a passive one. Over the years original works of art by architects have increased in value in large partly because of an auction’s ability to create an atmosphere of competition. When a buyer invests large sums of money in an object it is very unlikely that they will mistreat it, therefore preservation becomes inherent.
Eric: Are there any other items of special interest in the Spring 2010 auction for architecture buffs to watch?
Peter: Other than a large assortment of architectural photographs, magazines, books, and furniture from A. Quincy Jones’ collection, we have two unique works associated with architecture, one is a Rene Lalique window sconce from the Oviatt Building, downtown Los Angeles, and the other is a frame of four molded glass panels retrieved from the Arizona Biltmore. pm
:: Los Angeles Modern Auctions website
:: David Wright Residence exterior images and info on ArchiThings
:: David Wright House listing info and images on LA Curbed
Rug Images copyright LAMA/in situ image via la.curbed.com
Eric O'Malley is a co-founder and contributor to PrairieMod.
He lives with his wife in the Little Red House, a Mid-Century Modern
ranch in suburban Chicago. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.