3 Most Valuable Furniture Pieces Sold—Including A $36M Armoire

These three antique furniture pieces make a statement in more ways than one with their meticulous craftsmanship and prices from $24.3 million to $36.7 million. 

Furniture pieces are what add character to any abode, be it big or small. However, there are a number of items that go above and beyond the usual staples found in stores—even the most boutique ones. We’re referring to one-of-a-kind antique furniture whose level of craftsmanship remains unparalleled even by today’s standards. As such, these pieces fetch far more than the standard figures—think eight-digit amounts per item. 

Three particular furniture pieces come to mind when high prices are involved. Read more below to learn about these objects, which have fetched for millions of dollars due to their rarity, historical value, craftsmanship, and providence: 

Badminton Cabinet ($36.7 million)

Christie’s sold the Badminton Cabinet in 2004 for a jaw-dropping $36.7 million. To this day, no other furniture piece has topped the record, with Times including it in its list of “Top 10 Most Expensive Auction Items.” Why pay so much for an armoire? Well, the reason is likely the intricate wardrobe’s long and prestigious past.

Badminton Armoire Cabinet
The Badminton Cabinet/Photo from the Liechtenstein Collections website

The piece dates back to the 18th century, with experts attributing it to the Grand Ducal Workshops (Galleria Dei Lavori) in Florence, Italy. Artisans created the ebony piece with inlaid semi-precious stones, according to the Los Angeles Times. Colorful birds and blooms decorate the large wardrobe, along with shining columns and gold embellishments. 

Given its creation period and origins, experts assume that its previous owners were incredibly wealthy and powerful. Similarly commissioned decorative objects were usually status symbols for families like the Medicis. 

Badminton Armoire Cabinet
A close-up of the Badminton Cabinet and its semi-precious stone inlays/Photo from the Liechtenstein Collections website

The armoire was in Badminton, England for more than 200 years—hence the name. It actually broke records during its first sale in 1990. Back then, Christie’s had sold it for $16.5 million to billionaire Barbara Piasecka Johnson (heiress of the Johnson & Johnson fortune). 

Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein in 2013
Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein in 2013/Photo by GuentherZ via Wikimedia Commons

This wasn’t the end of the piece’s wealthy providence, however. Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein was its most recent buyer, breaking records by purchasing it for $36.7 million. The royal didn’t keep it to himself though; instead, he donated it to the Liechtenstein Museum in Austria for public viewing. 

The Dragons’ Armchair ($28 million)

Small but mighty, the “‘Dragons’ Armchair” (fauteuil aux dragons) made headlines after it sold for $28 million during a 2009 Yves Saint Laurent auction hosted by Christie’s. The auction world now knows it as the most expensive piece of 20th century decor ever sold.

The "Dragon" Armchair
The “Dragon” Armchair created by Eileen Gray/Photo from the Christie’s website

As one might guess, Yves Saint Laurent himself owned the armchair—a special piece made by Irish designer, Eileen Gray. The artist was a visionary, and responsible for pioneering the use of lacquer in the creation of new furniture during the 1900s. At the time, the substance was only used to restore objects, rather than make new ones, as per an article by Barneby’s

Eileen Gray in 1910
Eileen Gray in 1910/Photo via Wikimedia Commons

In 1917—by then, Gray already had 15 years of experience in using lacquer for furniture making—socialite Madame Juliette Mathieu-Levy commissioned the artist to decorate her Parisian apartment. Gray created custom, Art Deco-style furniture pieces specifically for the project, which included the Dragons Armchair. 

The newly decorated apartment appeared in a 1920 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, which lauded Gray for her seamless integration of the modern and traditional. The designer had polished and lacquered the armchair by hand, and created “dragon tails” that wrapped around the piece’s arms. Symbolically, the choice was apt one given the dragon’s association with power and fortune in Chinese culture.

Parisian apartment of Madame Juliette Mathieu-Levy
The Parisian apartment of Madame Juliette Mathieu-Levy featured in a 1920 Harper’s Bazaar issue (the Dragon Armchair can be seen in the far left corner)/Photo via Wikimedia Commons

“The armchair distills all that was so personal and so magical in the first, intimately expressive phase of Miss Gray’s career—surprising, imaginative, subtly sculpted and crafted, it is a masterpiece of invention and execution,” wrote Christie’s official lot description

Florentine Pietra Dura, Ebony and Ormolu Cabinet ($24.3 million)

The Florentine Pietra Dura, Ebony and Ormolu Cabinet is the third most expensive furniture piece with its price of $24.3 million. Christie’s sold it back in 2004, stating that it dates back to somewhere around 1720 to 1732. 

The third Duke of Beaufort—an English aristocrat—commissioned the exquisite cabinet during a trip to Italy (though experts suggest that he started conceptualizing the piece even before that). The Grand Ducal Workshops in Italy also created the intricate piece, which is reportedly the largest one the workshops have ever produced. 

Ebonised Wood Pietra Dura armoire
Another Ebony, Ebonised Wood Pietra Dura Cabinet sold in 2016/Photo from the Christie’s website

It possesses three sections with “crisply profiled stepped moldings that hold ten cedar-lined drawers surrounding a central door,” according to its Christie’s lot description. Similar to the Badminton Cabinet, the piece is embellished with semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli. Its design also consists of different flowers and birds perched atop branches, with added satyr masks and the Beaufort coat of arms. 

The process of creating pietra dura cabinets is a complex one. According to Leonard Joel Auctions, artisans must cut fine pieces of semi-precious stones and use them to compose the ornate images on a furniture piece. 

“Pictorial pietra dura panels also often incorporated pietra paesina, a rare type of stone mined in the Arno area of Italy for its natural color and graining,” wrote the auction house in an Instagram post

Banner photo from the Liechtenstein Collections website.

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