x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Put a keen design sense to work turning furniture into an investment

Design Days Dubai offers a chance to consider how design pieces might appreciate in value. The curator, gallery owner and adviser Rabih Hage offers these tips.

Rabih Hage's London gallery, including a Johnny Swing Nickel Chair. The Nickel Couch, which Hage acquired in 2001 when Swing was relatively unknown,
Rabih Hage's London gallery, including a Johnny Swing Nickel Chair. The Nickel Couch, which Hage acquired in 2001 when Swing was relatively unknown, "is the best piece of design that I have invested in", he says. Photo by Jonathan Root

In 2001, Rabih Hage acquired the Nickel Couch by Johnny Swing - a then relatively unknown designer - for $15,000. In 2003, he sold the same piece for $37,500. Today, he says, it would fetch over $150,000 at auction.

"That's the best piece of design that I have invested in, not only because of its increase in value but also because of the joy of possessing it. I still hold a few pieces by Johnny Swing that I am very emotionally attached to. If the Nickel Couch comes out again in auction, I will certainly be one of the bidders. Collecting design is about buying emotional assets."

Rabih Hage is in the business of buying, selling, showcasing and creating design. The architect, interior designer, design curator and collector was born in Beirut, grew up in Paris and graduated from Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1991. He moved to London in 2001 and established his eponymous design studio and gallery on Chelsea's Sloane Avenue.

His portfolio now includes the acclaimed Rough Luxe hotel, a series of residential projects in some of London's swankiest neighbourhoods, and objects ranging from chairs and tables to light fixtures.

Hage also offers an advisory service for design collectors, and founded DeTnk, an online platform for collecting, trading and researching design, in 2008. The site was born out of "passion and also the fact that there was no reliable resource and information platform gathering such an important amount of information in one single location", he explains.

For Hage, www.detnk.com represents the research and development department that he always wished he had in his own design studio, and that he can now share with the world.

As part of its offering, DeTnk compiles the annual Collectable Design Market Report, a comprehensive study of this emerging asset class, which has reportedly grown by more than 350 per cent since 2005. "We have analysed the vast amount of data collected over the years and used this to gain an insight into the development, growth and movement of the market."

For those interested in investing in design, Hage says that there is really only one starting point. "You love a piece of design because you are attracted to it without rational thinking. That's a good start."

Beyond that, he recommends that you look at the pedigree of the designer in question. Check out their background, schooling, and past and present work. And try to answer the following questions: Which gallery do they show with? How long have they been designing? How long is it likely that they will continue to design? Is there a formula to their work or are they constantly evolving? Is the proposed price reasonable considering the designer's longevity and reputation in the industry? Have they sold at auction and, if so, what are comparable items sold for?

"The latter is one of the truly rational ways of comparison and justification of investment," says Hage. "But if this information is not available, which is the case with young designers, then it can be very exciting to take the risk of making a purchase based on how much you like the piece and how much you trust your instinct. This was my experience with Johnny Swing."

Most importantly, don't be put off by failure if your first purchase doesn't go to plan. "One should be courageous enough to buy again," says Hage. "Of course, to avoid early failures, one can adopt a mainstream purchasing habit, which means buying reputable names from established galleries. But this comes at a price; one will have to buy high. Even here one should be critical regarding the true value of the object."

Hage will present a seminar titled The Design Market: Discovering, Collecting and Investing, during Design Days Dubai. The seminar will offer insight into prices and trends, as well as the behaviour of designers and collectors, and will attempt to answer the million-dollar question: Is design a promising asset class worthy of investment?

According to Hage, awareness of design as a viable investment opportunity has been on the rise for the best part of a decade. When it comes to the advisory side of his business, the profile of Hage's average client varies widely, from the bona fide connoisseur to the curious, design-minded amateur. He often receives requests from new collectors and buyers who are looking for a valuation or are interested in acquiring a specific piece of design.

In the Middle East, the collectable design market may be a little more nascent, but there is still growing interest in, and recognition of, design as an investment in its own right, says Hage. "Design is more accessible - figurative without the figures, sculptural without the intellectual pressure. A chair is a chair, but if it can tell you a story, it's like One Thousand and One Nights. It's the tip of the iceberg."

Hage is convinced that design as a whole is set become more prevalent in this region. "Today, there are embryos of design hubs in the Middle East: in Beirut, Istanbul and various Gulf cities. The amount of good design coming out of these small hubs is in fact very impressive and encouraging," says Hage, whose definition of good design is something that combines functionality with a unique aesthetic and is able to induce emotions.

But is there enough of it coming out of this part of the world? "There is never enough good design in general, whether in the Middle East or even in Europe or America. But you have many factors that will ensure that good design is developed in the region."

These include education programmes, where design and design criticism occur in parallel, and the growth of both the consumer and the collectable design market through fairs and galleries.

"In this sense, Design Days Dubai is leading the way. It is the 'traceability' of good design that will contribute to the discipline's success. Educating the future creators and consumers of design is the real challenge. This will come from forming open minded students and researchers, with a self-confident critical vision, who will become the region's design curators and critics."

Rabih Hage will conduct a seminar titled The Design Market: Discovering, Collecting and Investing, at 7.30pm on Monday, March 19, at the Design Days Dubai Education tent. Access is free but registration is required. Visit www.designdaysdubai.ae


Investing tips

Follow your instincts Your first reaction to a piece should be emotional rather than rational.

Research the designer Find out about their body of work, their background and what gallery they are associated with.

Consider the price Is the proposal reasonable? Find out whether the designer in question has sold other pieces at auction and how much these went for.

Take risks Don't be afraid to take a chance and trust your instincts.

Be persistent Do not be put off if your first purchase doesn't go as planned. Be brave and try again.

Know the options If you want to play it safe, buy items by well-known designers sold by established galleries. However, be aware that these pieces will invariably come with a higher price tag.