November 28, 2023

Wellingtonians now have the chance to own their own chunk of the city’s history as a large collection of old library chairs go under the hammer.

A collection of 72 plywood chairs and 27 designer armchairs by New Zealand artist Carin Wilson are being auctioned off for charity as the library undergoes earthquake strengthening and a refit.

The armchairs were one of the original features of the Wellington City Library when it opened in 1991. Wilson says designing the chairs and collaborating with renowned architect Ian Athfield on the project was one of the highlights of his career.

“They were part of a bigger conversation about New Zealand identity, about expressions of place, expressing our own individual design aesthetic,” he said.

This was at a time when a lot of product for projects like this were coming into New Zealand, often selected out of a catalogue and then purchased, shipped into the country.

“We were trying to get away from that approach by generating something that was indigenous.”

Wilson says everything from the moulds to the steel frames for the chairs were made in Aotearoa, and they’ve stood the test of time.

“In general the life of an interior design project is 10 to 15 years and it’s already 30. For them to now go on to take another life, I think that’s magical for me.”

The chairs are being auctioned off by Dunbar Sloane, and a collection of 12 chairs and armchairs has already sold for $12,160. If upcoming auctions are equally successful, auctioneer James Parkinson says the total collection could go for $100,000 or more.

“Once we sold the first two pairs [of armchairs] we had lots of calls, people asking when the next ones were coming up. They’ve been on view for three days and have had lots of people looking. I would expect prices will be quite high.”

After 30 years of use, the chairs aren’t in perfect condition, but Parkinson says that doesn’t seem to have affected their popularity.

“The wear and tear on them is part of their history, part of their narrative. It does add to them… Normally, you wouldn’t find that many chairs by one designer so the fact there is about 30 is quite unusual.”

Wellington City Councillor Jill Day says it’s still being decided which lucky group will benefit from the sales.

“The proceeds of this sale will go to charity and we’re looking at whether it’s going to go to young people or whānau support… Hopefully, that’ll help people dig a bit deeper as well,” she said.

“It was a decision made by the staff and we know there’s a lot of need in the community. I don’t think anyone would question that it makes sense to donate it to community organisations.”

Wilson says he doesn’t mind how much money the pieces go for – it’s about where they end up.

“I’d like to see them end up in homes… There’s no greater tribute to the success of a design than that it can go on living.”

The next auction of 12 chairs will go ahead on Wednesday, with the rest of the collection to be sold in June.


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