Collecting Green: The Sustainability of Buying at Auction

How purchasing at auction can help reduce your carbon footprint

What’s the difference between furnishing your home at IKEA versus buying at auction? It’s not just about style or quality—it also comes down to sustainability. Here’s how.

12/12/2022     Latest News, News and Film, 20th Century and Contemporary Design

richard koga chairs

Lot 77 I Richard Koga Pair of Chinese Style Oversize Armchairs or Benches I Estimate: $4,000-6,000


From a pair of wooden armchairs handcrafted in Ming dynasty China to a rare signer’s copy of the Declaration of Independence, it’s well established that the objects offered at Freeman’s often present extraordinarily rare or even one-of-a-kind collecting opportunities not found anywhere else. What’s less well known is the fact that choosing to purchase at auction is a far more ecologically sustainable path than any number of other available outlets: a way to build your collection and decrease your carbon footprint at the same time.

The sustainability factor of purchasing at auction is perhaps most evident in the realms of furniture and design. In a consumer environment dominated by mass-produced, flat-pack furniture, objects offered at auction stand apart in a number of ways—whether produced by an important designer, uniquely handcrafted, or arriving at auction with impressive provenance.


friedman eclipse end tables

Lot 127 I Stanley Jay Friedman for Brueton "Macao" and "Eclipse" End Tables, circa 1980 I Estimate: $1,200-1,800


Most of all, though, the consignment and purchase of such pieces is an important contribution to the circular economy, where the life cycle of an object is extended through reuse, rather than used and discarded. (Provenance research is a way of celebrating this life cycle—understanding how something has been used and presented in the past and cataloguing it in advance of future collection!)

Though circular economies are used for a wide range of different materials, they’re especially pertinent in the context of buying furniture and design at auction because of the sturdy, artisanal craftsmanship on display in earlier designs. Freeman’s September 29 Art and Design auction features several sleek pieces—from end tables to recliners—that deliver on not only style, but sustainability.


zanotta quadritondo table

Lot 142 I Zanotta "Quadritondo" Dining Table, Model No. 2550, Italy, 2003 I Estimate: $1,000-1,500


A pair of Chinese style oversized armchairs or benches by Richard Koga (Lot 77; estimate: $4,000-6,000) is an excellent example of the type of unique work auction buying offers. Carefully constructed in durable, handsome rosewood in a design that combines American craftsmanship with Chinese flourish, these chairs are timelessly stylish—and built to last. In excellent condition, these chairs—constructed more than sixty years ago—are durable and stately additions to any interior space.

Collectors are increasingly turning to auction as a buying route not only as a matter of aesthetics, but ethics. In contrast to the output of major retailers like IKEA or Wayfair—whose products are designed with convenience and trendiness in mind—pieces like Koga’s are built to last. Buying at auction is one way collectors can resist the rapid “buy-use-discard” life cycle built into the production models of large retailers that produces so much global waste—and bring home a coveted item in the process.


Dodo recliner

Lot 146 I Toshiyuki Kita "Dodo" Recliner, Cassina, Italy I Estimate: $1,000-1,500


Beyond the sustainability of participating in the circular economy, purchasing furniture and design at auction also means adding an object to your home that’s striking, unique, and much less common than ubiquitous mass-produced designs. From a “Quadritondo” dining table by Zanotta (Lot 142; estimate: $1,000-1,500) to Toshiyuki Kita’s “Dodo” recliner (Lot 146; estimate: $1,000-1,500) to a pair of sleek chromed steel “Macao” and “Eclipse” end tables by Stanley Jay Friedman for Brueton (Lot 127; estimate: $1,200-1,800), Freeman’s upcoming Art and Design auction offers plenty of opportunities to collect stylishly and sustainably.



View the rest of our September 29 Art and Design auction.



Have something similar? Get in touch with our 20th Century and Contemporary Design department to request a complimentary auction estimate.