Founded in 1793, Bonhams is one of the world’s largest and most renowned auctioneers of fine art and antiques, motor cars and jewellery. The key challenge in the design of its new auction house, the first in the UK since WWII, was to provide a series of versatile spaces for the exhibition of a wide variety of objects, which could quickly change to host auctions, public events and parties.
Our team worked closely with Bonhams’ experts on new concepts for hanging, lighting and auctioneering, which resulted in a place full of drama, where the auctioneering process leads you through the building. Passing through the narrow entrance on 101 New Bond Street, visitors are first treated to a light-filled atrium, which rises to the entire 18.5-metre height of the existing building and features fluted lightboxes set at intervals, hinting at the four storeys of inaccessible rooms that were removed to create the space.
From this entrance, it is a short walk along a glazed-roof passage to a dramatic reception area, where a huge, sliding glass wall reveals Bonhams’ main saleroom, a double-height space of 235 sqm. Two further salerooms are arranged above as a vertical stack of generously proportioned, fully-flexible spaces with excellent acoustics for both auction and exhibition. Each saleroom is day-lit by borrowed light from the glazed lift shafts and internal windows. This natural light is augmented by a fully turnable lighting system recessed into the softly vaulted soffit, whose warmth and colour can be tuned to suit the items on display. We worked with Bonhams’ porters to develop lighting and access for quickly changing the salesrooms from exhibitions to auctions and events, which involved trials with different fittings and equipment.
The building’s three passenger lifts rise in glazed shafts that double up as the west-facing exterior windows of the building, each protected from solar gain by distinctive terracotta brise-soleils, a material reference to the other two retained historic façades. A helical staircase of oak and midnight blue steel provides further access between the three public levels of the building, and in Haunch of Venison Yard, the elegant façade encloses a new Michelin-starred restaurant also designed by us, which gives out onto a new landscaped courtyard.
Opened in 2013, the highlight of the first Old Master Painting sale in the new main saleroom was Fragonard’s portrait of Francois-Henri, 5th Duc d’Harcourt, which achieved £17,106,500, setting a world record price for the artist at auction; a fitting start to what we hope is the latest, successful chapter in Bonhams’ long and illustrious history.