Building a 21st century auction house

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Bonhams chairman, Robert Brooks, gives an insight into his vision for a 21st century auction house.

"My brief to the architects was very clear: I wanted a building that would give our clients and customers the things we know they value most and I wanted to do it in a really high quality way.

Our previous building – in reality, six separate premises stitched together – lacked natural light, particularly in the public areas. A high priority therefore was to create an atmosphere of light, space and air.

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From the moment visitors walk through the front door they now experience the light pouring down through the windows of the newly restored façade on New Bond Street – previously obscured by redundant storage space but now completely opened up.

That initial feeling of space sets the tone. As you walk down the corridors the light floods in from Haunch of Venison Yard and on further into the salerooms themselves. Two of the salerooms are three times the height of an average room, not only maintaining the theme of space but crucially giving us the flexibility we need to display the very wide range of objects we offer from Old Masters to monumental contemporary sculpture.

The third, by contrast, with its lower ceiling and adaptable spaces enables us to create the intimate atmosphere more suited to selling smaller items such as jewellery.

Air conditioning and fresh air circulation was another major issue with our previous premises. Very hot summer days, in particular, could be difficult for bidders and auctioneers alike. We now have one of the most sophisticated air and heating control systems anywhere, giving us the ability to react instantly to changes in the temperature – and crucially, supplying multiple changes of air every hour.

This determination to provide a great experience for the customer extends to other innovative aspects of the building. The lighting system can be used to create the right mood for whatever objects we are offering. During the recent Asian Art Week, for instance, we suffused our main saleroom with a deep blue light and used spots to pick out the objects on their stands. The effect was stunning.

We have placed a lot of emphasis on technology. People lead so much of their lives online now that, quite naturally, they want to be able to bid online and do it from wherever they are in the world. The service has to be seamless and the systems we’ve installed linked to our own proprietary software make sure that it is just that.

At the other end of the scale, plenty of customers and clients like coming to sales in person and that’s why we’ve given such weight to providing a saleroom that is a real pleasure to be in and to making the experience of a live auction as good as it can be. The rooms are also of course great places for pre-sale viewing.

It doesn’t matter if you’re spending a few thousand pounds or several millions, most people want to see what they’re buying in the best light and the most comfortable surroundings. We are now totally confident we can offer a better, more enjoyable environment than any of our rivals.

I asked for an auction house for the 21st century and I believe that’s precisely what we’ve got."

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