Buyers ready, willing for Abeles

Sundorne, the former mansion of Sir Peter Abeles and his first wife, Claire Dan, sold for $15.5 million in May, making it Sydney's third-most-expensive property at auction. The contents are being sold this Sunday and should attract just as much interest.

Sundorne, the former mansion of Sir Peter Abeles and his first wife, Claire Dan, sold for $15.5 million in May, making it Sydney's third-most-expensive property at auction. The contents are being sold this Sunday and should attract just as much interest.

The house is at 23 Victoria Street, Bellevue Hill. Its proximity to Cranbrook, the exclusive private school where the Packers, among others, were educated, gave rise to speculation that the school had bought the property and would transform it into a music centre.

Transport magnate Peter Abeles bought the house in 1958 and handed it to his wife when they separated in 1970. Dan died in October 2012 and indications are that nothing much has been changed inside since the early '60s.

Andrew Shapiro, from Shapiro Auctioneers, compares the interior to a set from Mad Men.

Ashtrays are everywhere, as is leopard skin. This pattern was used for furniture as well as Dan's own wardrobe. Her favourite leopard-skin coat and matching hat is included in the sale, with estimates of $500 to $800.

Shapiro has kept estimates low to stimulate bidding, and everything is available without reserve. There are 350 to 400 lots, with bargains literally in the basement - two 1954 bottles of Hardy's Reserve Bin Show Port ($50 to $100) were in the wine cellar. Much of the time-capsule interior is back in vogue.

Shapiro suspects celebrated designer Marion Hall Best decorated the house about 1962. There's an emphasis on Scandinavian wood panelling and wicker furniture, plus some Italian design, which includes a Fornasetti waste-paper bin ($200 to $300) and an Aldo Tura glazed decanter ($100 to $200).

The overall effect is eclectic. There are also some personal touches.

Abeles was a friend and supporter of prime minister Bob Hawke and there's a reminder of this association in a hand-carved table lamp ($1000 to $1500) with Hawke portrayed as if after a long night.

"He was my closest friend, really," Hawke told the ABC's PM radio program shortly after Abeles died in 1999. He was one of the last to see him before he passed away. Abeles was not conscious, so he said goodbye by kissing him on the forehead.

Dan was a patron of the arts and her baby grand piano - made by Steinway & Sons, New York (numbered 89119) - is also for sale ($2000 to $3000). A feature of the sale is the extensive private collection of Judy Cassab paintings, including some portraits of Dan.

She and Abeles were strong supporters of Cassab throughout her career. Shapiro has noted that prices for her work have started to rise in the past year. There are about 30 examples throughout the house, with estimates from $500 to about $5000, plus sketches by Charles Blackman and illustrations by family friend George Molnar.

Lovers of vintage fashion will be attracted by Dan's couture collection of Chanel, Chloe, YSL, Valentino, Jean Patou and Karl Lagerfeld, mainly bought in Europe. Most are estimated at about $300 to $500.

Celebrity auctions are usually very successful. Shapiro has chosen to stage the auction in situ, which attracts lots of stickybeaks, but encourages spontaneous bids from those who suddenly decide they want a piece of Eastern Suburbs history.

The estate of Sydney interior designer Leslie Walford was sold by Mossgreen last November and brought impressive results, with 97 per cent of the lots sold. Viewing was available at Walford's penthouse apartment in Woollahra, which attracted "an exceptional number of people". Most of them also turned up at the auction at the Tim Olsen Gallery, which saw a $541,429 (including buyer's premium) total, almost double the pre-sale estimates.

Expect the same on Sunday.

To see a gallery of images from the sale go to theage.com.au/money. The auction will take place at 23 Victoria Road, Bellevue Hill. Viewing is on Friday (10am to 5pm), Saturday (10am to 5pm), and Sunday (9am to 11am). The auction starts at midday, shapiro.com.au.

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