Sworders to offer items from the estate of architect and interior designer Max Clendinning
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Sworders to offer items from the estate of architect and interior designer Max Clendinning
Max Clendinning (1924-2020), Cabinet, 1975. Estimate: £800-1,200. Photo: Sworders.

LONDON.- Sworders brings to market items from the estate of architect and interior designer Max Clendinning (1924-2020) and theatre designer Ralph Adron (1939-2023). The 106 lots, due to be sold on July 9, comprise items from the couple’s extraordinary homes in Islington, London and Umbria, Italy.

The pair first met in 1960 when Max was already an established name in British design and Ralph a student at the Slade. Both had a passion for collecting.

Ralph had bought Victorian design objects and furniture since the 1950s, his first purchase being William de Morgan tiles from a market stall in Croydon for which he paid sixpence each. He held a particular fondness for the Aesthetic movement, including ebonised mantel clocks designed by Lewis Foreman Day (1845-1910).

However, it is the extraordinary mixture of furnishings from different eras - described by one newspaper reporter as ‘miximalism’ - that provides the collection with its ‘wow’ factor and the reason the Clendinning-Adron home featured regularly in journals such as Vogue Living (in 1967), World of Interiors (1996), the New York Times (2003) and the Financial Times (2022). Some rooms were recreated for the retrospective exhibition ‘Max Clendinning: A Life in Design’ at the Ulster Museum in 2006.

A studied blend of styles and periods predominated - always playful, whimsical and colourful – with few surfaces left undecorated. Morris & Co furnishings were displayed alongside Picasso and Cocteau editions and an array of pieces by the Memphis Milano group.

Italian Modernism and post-Modernism were a key source of inspiration. Max first visited Italy in 1953 on a British Council scholarship and Italian design - vernacular, historic and modern - had enormous impact on both his own design work and his collecting impulses.

The writings of Ettore Sottsass galvanized his thinking, and the couple displayed his works in almost every room in their homes in Italy and Islington. This cross-section of works includes objects designed for Vistosi Murano in the 1970s and others designed as part of the Memphis Group in the 1980s. Max discovered the three white Yantra vases outside a local shop in Umbria - he bought two for next to nothing and, years later, returned to find the third (which he had regretted not buying) still there being used as a doorstop.

Completing the sale is a series of works designed by Max Clendinning himself - bespoke pieces created for his own home. These include a pair of powder blue sofa frames plus a black lacquered cabinet with marble top that was specifically designed to accommodate a large Picasso stoneware landscape charger bought in 1976 from a shop on Chalk Farm Road.

Max’s great-niece explained that such objects were frequently subject to revision. “Everyone is shocked to hear it now, but Max was seldom precious about the things he created. He would quite often make new furniture and call the council to arrange a skip to throw away the old pieces that he was finished with.”

Another story concerns a Duncan Grant landscape discovered by Max in a shop on the Fulham Road in 1974. It says much about the man that, while it was one of a pair being sold rather cheaply, he felt it would be greedy to buy both. Instead, he left the other for someone else to share in his good fortune.

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