Joel Chen in one of his LA showrooms. Photography Credit: © Yoshihiro Makino. Courtesy of Christie’s Images LTD. 2017.

Recognized for his exquisite eye and design sense, Joel Chen, owner of JF Chen in Los Angeles, has long been the resource for those seeking furnishings for their homes, offices, and museums. In business for forty years, Chen’s clientele includes leading interior designers, filmmakers and set designers, curators, and celebrities (from the late Gene Kelly to Kanye West), to the general-interest client seeking to acquire quality furniture, lighting, and accessories reflecting time periods from ancient to contemporary and from around the globe. J.F. Chen’s is truly a remarkable shopping experience.

A selection of chairs offered in the February 13, 2018 auction at Christie’s New York. Photography credit: © Mitch Marmorstein. Courtesy of Christie’s Images LTD. 2017.

Joel Chen’s reputation is renowned as a tastemaker, connoisseur, and “curator” of the decorative world; he does not disappoint. His three storefronts comprise more than 65,000-square feet, where everything he’s acquired is artfully displayed on the floor and reflects his eclectic taste. Clients know they’ll find unusual and special objects within his galleries, the result of Chen’s buying mindset. A compulsive buyer by admission, Chen is continuously on the hunt and acquiring, particularly if he finds a rare or unusual object. As he notes, “I may never see a similar object again, so I buy what I like when I see it.” He adds, “A lot of things may not be immediately saleable because they’re not in vogue, but my philosophy is that it all comes back.” Says Chen, “The pieces I select are of quality, have craftsmanship, history, and must be pleasing to eye; aesthetics are very important.”

Chen’s passion for fine design is being shared and made available through both an online and live auction hosted by Christie’s in New York; More than 300 lots will be sold within the combined sales. The JF CHEN COLLECTION auctions will be held from February 7-14th (online auction) and at Christie’s New York location, on February 13th. The idea of auctioning some of Chen’s material came about through a casual conversation with a friend who once worked in Christie’s Asian department in California. After some discussions, specialists from New York and London, led by Victoria Tudor, New York’s specialist and head of sale for this auction, spent three days with Chen, deciding what would be offered. Says Chen, “I was very pleasantly surprised and elated. I love the idea of downsizing because I acquire so much material.” About the auction, Chen adds with a smile, “But it hasn’t left a dent.”

Ettore Sottsass (1917–2007), Dbang-Bum, from the Capricci Series, Cenedese, Italy, 1998. The JF Chen collection, February 13, 2018. Courtesy of Christie’s Images LTD. 2017.

Dan Johnson (1918–1879), A “Gazelle” Dining Table. The JF Chen collection, February 13, 2018. Courtesy of Christie’s Images LTD. 2017.

Chen’s passion for fine design was ignited as a young man. While working at his father’s jewelry store in L.A., he noticed an antiques store on Melrose and stopped to knock on the door. Upset after being denied entry by the owner, this encounter resulted in the determined entrepreneur borrowing $6,000 and heading to Hong Kong. He returned with a container of ceramics and furnishings and opened a store directly behind the offending dealer. When an interest in Asian material waned, Chen says, “I switched to painted Italian furniture, then to English Regency and then slowly branched out to Bauhaus, gathering material from Eastern Bloc countries, particularly Germany and Austria.” With the introduction of the internet, Chen’s buying trips have decreased in number, instead purchasing online or what is offered to him at his shops. Notes Chen, “Branching out comes naturally. As I know more, that material becomes more prolific.”  This is true as well with the work of contemporary and emerging artists, which Chen actively cultivates. His interests in supporting the arts expands beyond his galleries to include his lending objects to museum exhibitions, first to LACMA in 2006 for a retrospective on Ettore Sottsass; he’s also lent to the LACMA's California design exhibition for their Pacific Standard Time program, which was one of the highest attended exhibitions in the museum’s history. Chen has also collaborated with the Eames Office and created a comprehensive catalogue raisonné of iconic pieces from his own Eames furniture collection, among other collaborations. 

Studio Simon, A Pair of “Omaggio a Andy Warhol” stools, from the Ultramobile series, circa 1973. The JF Chen collection | online, February 7-14, 2018. Courtesy of Christie’s Images LTD. 2017.

Sam Maloof, A Rocking Chair, designed 1969. The JF Chen collection | online, February 7-14, 2018. Courtesy of Christie’s Images LTD. 2017.

Among the objects included in the Christie’s sale are iconic pieces by mid-century and contemporary designers including Dan Johnson,Georges JouveFinn Juhl, Carlo Mollino, Ettore SottsassHans Wegner, and emerging artist Michael Wilson, interspersed with traditional Asian art, spanning 18th-to-19th-century Chinese furniture, bronzes, hardstone carvings, porcelains, and ceramics, as well as Japanese screens, inlaid objects, and bronzes. 

Notes Christie’s Victoria Tudor, “We are delighted to present the JF CHEN COLLECTION at Christie’s. This sale is truly a collaboration and conversation between Christie’s and Joel Chen. It was a creative partnership and dialogue in forming the sale as we worked together on everything from selecting items to building the catalog and exhibition. Speaking to Joel about his collecting history and seeing his gallery spaces inspired this collaboration as his collection spans many of the traditional categories offered already at Christie’s, but presented in a unique and creative way.” Adds Tudor, “The selection included in this sale is representative of Joel’s unique style and discerning eye. It is also the first-time Christie’s has had a dedicated sale offering this juxtaposition of categories, which is exciting for us as we have been able to share across our global client base in dynamic and fresh way. The sale includes masterpieces of design with pieces by iconic names such as Hans Wegner and Carlo Mollino, to fine Asian works of art, and decorative objects with estimates ranging from under $1,000 to $75,000.”

Chen and Christie’s collaborated with New York interior designer Steven Gambrel of S.R. Gambrel, who has curated three vignettes at Christie’s showroom. Each “set” is comprised of furniture and accessories from Chen’s collection, which will be part of the public exhibition starting February 8th. Says Chen, “We work with his firm frequently and he was quick to respond to the request,” adding, “I respect his taste and style.” Gambrel will be speaking at a special event associated with the auction on February 12th, where he’ll discuss the selections and arrangements he made for the vignettes.

Illustrated here are a number of highlights from the online and on-site sales. As for any favorites of Chen’s coming up for auction, the dealer says, I wouldn’t pinpoint anything. I am not here to judge; there is a value in each piece; they all sit next to each other.” 

Chen remains active in the business; he can’t help himself. His interest in design extends to his daughter Bianca, who joined the firm a number of years ago after pursuing another career. Notes Chen, “She has followed me for many years and is longing to be a generalist like I am.” He then stops to reflect, saying “I have no regrets and have enjoyed every minute.” He adds, laughing, “I haven’t stopped buying. It’s a disease.”

The upcoming sales at Christie’s are as follows:

JF CHEN COLLECTION | online: February 7-14.

JF CHEN COLLECTION: February 13, 2018, 10 am, 20 Rockefeller Center, New York.

Click here for information and preview times.

For information on JF Chen or to see inventory available at his galleries, visit Incollect and JF Chen’s locations in Los Angeles, California:

1000 North Highland Avenue

Los Angeles, CA


6666 Lexington Avenue

Los Angeles, CA