Big lots: Sotheby's stages giganto Kluge estate sale
Even when Patricia Kluge downsizes, it's done on a grand scale. The former billionaire's wife is offloading the contents of her 23,538-square-foot Albemarle House, and it takes an army from Sotheby's to move the estimated $13 million worth of merch.
Approximately 80 Sotheby's employees are in town for what is that auction house's largest on-site sale in 20 years. In Europe, such sales are more common, but in the States, it's rare, say Sotheby's staffers.
"For most of them at Sotheby's, it's their first on-site sale," says Elaine Whitmire, who's heading up the June 8-9 event for the auction house.
The week-long preview from May 31-June 7 requires at least 45-50 employees in the 45-room house at all times, says Whitmire.
"It's a big house," says Whitmire. "We need a person in every room."
And besides experts on objets d'art, there are so many security men in suits with earpieces that one expects the President to pop around a corner. And more Sotheby's employees will arrive over the weekend, says Whitmire, flying in with individual clients to preview the goods.
For others, the $65 catalog will be the only purchase, as buying the catalog is the admission price to peek into Kluge's neo-Georgian mansion–- and lifestyle.
Early indicators suggest bidding could exceed the estimates. Some of Kluge's jewels have already gone up for auction, and went for more than anticipated. For example, a pair of almost 64-carat platinum-and-diamond drop earrings were priced in the $600K-$800K range, and sold in April for over $1 million.
An early 2nd-century A.D. bust of Helios, valued at between $200K-$300K, greets visitors in the entrance hall. To the left, the gun room holds a $600K Chippendale commode and $300,000 Florentine cabinet; to the right is the Asian-themed media room.
The furnishings Kluge amassed for Albemarle House in the 1980s are itemized in a sumptuously photographed 620-page, Sears catalog-sized book. Some of the 930 lots include multiple items. Others, however, indicate a change of heart.
For instance, lot 65–- a set of four shotguns presented by the King of Spain and valued at between $20,000 to $30,000–- has been withdrawn.
Nonetheless, interest in the sale has been "insane," says Kluge spokeswoman and stepdaughter Kristin Moses Murray. As much as Kluge enjoyed putting the house and its collections together, Murray points out that Kluge and third husband Bill Moses have become empty-nesters and grandparents.
“The house is too big,” says Moses, “and with grandchildren, there are too many things to break.”
Kluge has already taken items from her son John Jr.'s former nursery to her new house just down the road, says Murray, who, with two babies of her own, will find nursery furnishings handy when she comes to visit.
Hanging below charcoal drawings of Bill Moses and his daughter in the north gallery are "an important pair of George III giltwood and marble pier tables, circa 1775," valued at $300K-$500K. And no, the charcoals aren't part of the sale. "I asked her to leave them so there wouldn't be a blank space," explains the auction director.
Every 18th-century, $100,000-plus cabinet seems to have hidden compartments because there were no safes back then, says another Sotheby's expert. That raises the question: Does Albemarle House have secret rooms?
"If there are secret rooms, she's kept them from me," replies Michael Rankin, the agent for Sotheby's International Realty who originally listed the neo-Georgian mansion for $100 million, now down to $48 million.
In a host of items valued above the average household income, the biggest-ticket is a rare Chinese automaton clock, estimated to sell between $600K and $1 million.
In the master bedroom wing, Kluge's 1783 bed is from Hedingham Castle. It turns out that the Castle wants it back and has launched a save-the-bed campaign to raise the $30K-$50K necessary to bid it back. Major benefactors will get to sleep in the bed.
A fan blows in the master bedroom, a chamber that feels noticeably warm. Could there be a problem with the air conditioning?
"Mrs. Kluge liked her bedroom a little warm," says a Sotheby's person stationed in the room. And with all the people going in and out of the house, there's been a strain on the cool flow of a/c upstairs, he adds.
Except for the nursery, Kluge also is leaving the beds in Albemarle House's eight bedrooms in her move down the road to 6,600-square-foot "Glen Love," which has five bedrooms. She and Moses retrieved that property, a spec house built for their exclusive Vineyard Estates development, from a foreclosure auction March 1, and decided to live there.
"It kind of worked out that way," says Kristin Murray. "They could have built from scratch or moved to another house, but they liked the house." And it's even closer to Kluge Estate Winery, which keeps the couple busy, notes Murray.
Murray says she's still amazed at the interest in the auction and mansion sale. "People downsize every day," she says. Ultimately, she adds, "It's just stuff."
But the stuff of Patricia Kluge is altogether a world of different stuff.
The preview runs through noon Monday, June 7. Sotheby's signs dot the route to Albemarle House via Route 53. Catalogs may be purchased for $65 and a shuttle takes previewers to Albemarle House. No cameras, large purses, or bottled water allowed inside.
The auction itself takes takes place on the grounds about a mile from Albemarle House, and runs Tuesday-Wednesday, June 8-9, with four sessions that start at 10am and 2pm each day.
Bidders will see slides of the lots, and Sotheby's charges a sliding buyer's premium of 25 percent added to the hammer price up to $50,000, 20 percent up to $1 million, and 12 percent for prices over that.
And there are reserves on all the items, which means if nobody bids the tens of thousands minimum, don't expect to pick up that George II gaming table for $100.
Updated 4:05 with jewelry auction info.