Nicholas Kilner

Maryanna Estomba

Get to know this 20th-century design expert with a penchant for mid-century Italian

Antiques were Nicholas Kilner’s entree into the world of collectible design. This Design Miami Vetting Committee member began his career at Mallett Antiques in London, before moving to New York when Mallett opened a gallery at 929 Madison. He subsequently became VP and Head of Sales in the 20th century design department at Christie’s New York, followed by Director of New York design gallery Sebastian + Barquet. Kilner opened his own eponymous gallery in New York in 2012, specializing in rare and important works of Italian 20th-century design—which may explain his fondness for Milan and penchant for the work of designer and architect Osvaldo Borsani. Scroll on to get to know this design specialist even more.

A vignette of works form Nicholas Kilner's collection, including the iconic Bazaar Sofa by Superstudio. Photo © Nicholas Kilner

What sparked your interest in design?

My years at Mallett Antiques in London—first at Bourdon House and then Bond Street—later on Madison in New York. Centuries of history, new technologies, materials and craftsmanship recorded in the most extraordinary collection of objects that for a short while I had the privilege to handle.

What inspires you in this moment?

The Superstudio Bazaar Seating System. It is a truly radical piece of design and utopian thought that remains as vital today as it was at its birth in 1969. Sitting in the Bazaar is an enveloping, wholly unique, and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Murano Glass Vase by Franco Deboni, 2016. Photo © Nicholas Kilner

What’s on your desk right now?

An iridescent cratered and mirrored Murano glass vase by Franco Deboni from 2016 and an 1890s silverplate lemon squeezer by Hukin & Heath.

Can you share more about your selection process? What makes one piece “special” or more interesting than another?

As a dealer, rarity obviously plays a large part in the selection process as in most cases does the price. There is also purity of form, originality, simplicity, and materiality. How does the object advance or fit within the wider history of design? On lesser days, it can simply be the satisfaction of what feels like an uncontrollable need.

Shelving System by Osvaldo Borsani with Integrated Bar by Adriano di Spilimbergo, c. 1950; Rare Early Egg Chair by Ico Parisi, 1951. Photos © Nicholas Kilner

Do you collect design? If so, what and why?

All sorts of things, but one notable constant is the work of Italian designer and architect Osvaldo Borsani.

Favorite piece of 20th-century design:

The diminutive Arteluce Model No. 610 Table Lamp by Antonio Pio Macchi Cassia—pure elemental forms applied with the utmost simplicity to achieve maximum effect, both functionally and aesthetically.

Fischer Chair (Monofilo Series) by Luciano Grassi, Sergio Conti & Marisa Forlani, 1958; 610 Table Lamp by Antonio Pio Macchi Cassia, 1973. Photos © Nicholas Kilner

What is your preferred design destination?

Always Milan.

If you were new to collecting design, where would you start?

I’d start at the bottom, or rather with something the wider market wasn’t currently concerned with. Right now, consider pre-war Italian design, or for a longer view, good English furniture.

If you could visit any designer (historic or contemporary) in their studio, who would you choose and why?

Ico and Luisa Parisi at Studio La Ruota in Como. Their contribution to the history of Italian design remains largely undervalued. The studio was a forum for the great artists and designers of the period, including Lucio Fontana, Fausto Melotti, Bruno Munari, and Francesco Somaini.

Interior Rendering by Ico & Luisa Parisi, 1953. Photo © Nicholas Kilner

Notable memory from Design Miami:

The breadth of knowledge and expertise amongst the exhibitors at Design Miami is always exceptional. A recent stand out for me was Converso’s recreation of the Akston house in Palm Beach by Osvaldo and Valeria Borsani.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received:

Sit before you buy—though I rarely follow it.