A teacup, towels and bit of ‘twee’

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

THIS weekend, MTV reality stars the Osbournes -- heavy metal icon Ozzy Osbourne, wife and manager Sharon, daughter Kelly and son Jack -- will engage in that most Southern Californian tradition: the estate sale. Of course, this family has approached the sale more like a multimedia event: A public exhibition of more than 500 lots organized by Julien’s Auctions and staged at the Gibson Guitar showroom in Beverly Hills ends today, followed by a sale Friday and Saturday, webcast live on Proceeds will benefit the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Sharon Osbourne phoned from London to discuss her family’s decorating predilections and the empty-nesters’ task of downsizing:

What made you decide to auction off your family heirlooms?

Well, the kids have left, and we have a new house with completely different décor. As you get older, your tastes change. We’ve definitely gone through the Goth phase. Now, Ozzy and I have gone more contemporary, more streamlined, stark modern and light. No more black furniture. We’re moving into simplicity, and I am trying to educate myself that less is more. I’m a hoarder by nature, but having five storage rooms on two continents is a complete nightmare.

Was letting go an emotional process?

Not to me. Everyone else was like, “No, Mum, don’t. I remember when we got this.” So the kids have taken what they really loved and we’ve moved on with the understanding that people are the only things that cannot be replaced. It’s very unhealthy to be too attached to possessions. When I was younger and had loads of stuff around, it made me feel safe, but then it just drags you down.

The first auction session will feature furniture from your English manor in Buckinghamshire. Is it a historical residence?

Yes, it is a listed building, so we can’t alter the structure. It’s about 23 miles from the center of London and was built in the 1890s for Benjamin Disraeli, the first prime minister of Jewish descent in England. But you’ll never guess who sold it to us: George Lucas. He never actually lived in it, but when they were filming “Star Wars” in England, he had designers staying there because there are eight bedrooms and there was so much land that they had room to test out things for the movie.

How did you decorate it?

A lot of the walls are stone, and there is wood paneling in most of the rooms, so I wanted the furniture to be from the same century as when the house was built. Most of the furniture is English in style, but the Empire mahogany salon suite with gold leafing came from Russia. There are a lot of Victorian and Georgian period pieces as well. As for which King George that was, don’t ask me -- I left school at 12.

The auction catalog describes a pair of Venetian gilt wood mirrors that were cracked in a fire. What happened?

That was probably caused by a bronze lamp, which had a beautiful glass shade that shattered. So that thing is in the sale. The mirrors are from an antique auction that they have every year outside of Birmingham, where Ozzy is from. I bought them about 30 years ago and they are so gorgeous, I don’t know why I even put them in the auction.

The items from your Malibu home show a distinct taste for the Shabby Chic look. That’s not very rock ‘n’ roll, is it?

It was a bit much. Too twee. I got a lot of the furniture from a store on Abbot Kinney in Venice. One day when I was shopping, I spotted this old mannequin -- a seamstress’ dummy, actually, for fitting clothes -- and I had them turn it into a lamp for me.

So you’re a lighting designer?

I don’t like to call myself a designer. I’m more of an old tart, I would think [laughs]. It’s a real pain decorating a home.

You’re selling a couple of telescopes. Are you amateur astronomers?

Being at the beach, we like to look at the sea life and the stars, but actually, I think we’re just nosy neighbors.

Lot 122 is his-and-hers hand towels? Do they have Osbourne DNA?

Oh, behave! They are unused. We did a charity event for somebody and they had these towels made for us as gift, but we don’t actually like things with our name on it.

How do you explain the description of Lot 175: one chair lightly incised with “Jack” on the right arm?

He scratched his name on the chair. It’s not a destructive thing. We wouldn’t do it on anyone else’s furniture, just our own. Most of our kitchen tables, we have carved our names on. It’s kind of a family tradition that I started because it’s interesting. It provides a record of who is there. When you think about it, old tables are so interesting, you wonder, my God, who sat here? At our new house, everyone who sits at the table signs it -- with a knife.

In your Beverly Hills house, you had a toilet-seat cover made from an antique cane-back chair. Discuss.

I don’t like looking at the toilet. I think it’s really ugly. You’re not going to believe this, but when I first moved to L.A. in the 1970s, I had an old chair that I used to put over the toilet in the guest powder room. So all you do is lift the seat of this fancy chair when you want to sit on the toilet seat. I let it go with that apartment, but I took photos of it and I had a copy made for the Beverly Hills house. We sold the house to Christina Aguilera, so she’s got her skinny little bum on it now.

Your bedroom had a lot of ornate European furniture. Was it comfortable?

We prefer antiques, but we’ve had some repro, like the Ralph Lauren chest that was nicely made but I don’t like anymore. In the bedroom we had a custom Renaissance-style black wood bed built to fit the size of the room and had these old Hollywood cut-velvet chairs made to match. When I had cancer, Ozzy and the kids lived in those chairs because they were on either side of my bed, and then they were on the set of my talk show. So many people have sat in these chairs. Every piece has a memory, but there’s only so much that you can keep.

Your then-teenage daughter Kelly went through a few décor phases, didn’t she?

Yes, she had a more Marie Antoinette bedroom and then moved into a mod look with a pink and black custom round bed and a color scheme and wall mural that was an homage to Hello Kitty and Louis Vuitton.

You had a designer dog bed described as a “tester bed.” What is that?

That’s British for four-poster bed. Elton John gave it to me for Minnie, my Pomeranian, but she didn’t take to it and never slept in it.

How do you explain Lot 318, a print of Norman Rockwell’s “Saturday People”?

We love Norman Rockwell. I got Jack a Rockwell called “Day in Life of a Boy” and now it’s hanging in his bathroom. We bought “Saturday People” some 30 years ago because of all the people in it. There’s Ringo Starr, Queen Elizabeth, Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” in it, and the nun is a comedian dressed in drag. It’s very cute.

Your art includes car horns on museum mounts, vintage French advertising posters, folk art figurines and paintings of pigs. Where do you find it all?

I got the car horns at an auction for Ozzy, because one of his first jobs was testing car horns in a factory. I’ve collected Charles Kiffer posters because I like his style very much. I got these three at Weidman Gallery on La Cienega, but I always go to poster stores when I travel.

I love cows and pigs. They make me laugh. I don’t like things that look pristine. The more bashed up they are, the better I like them. When Ozzy is on tour across America, we always go flea marketing.

The Prince of Darkness, out in the daylight?

He absolutely loves it. There’s a great one near New Orleans where I got a monkey and a rustic twig rocking chair. He’s made from old stockings and does look kind of gangsterish in that hat.

At the same sale I bought the killer dolls, which is described as a “contemporary assemblage sculpture” in the auction catalog. I send someone else to do my haggling, though. It wouldn’t be ladylike to do that myself.

Have you ever had buyer’s remorse?

Did you see that floral lamp? I kept that in the cupboard. I never had it out, actually. I bought it in a momentary lapse of taste. God only knows why I brought it home.

What else is in your wall unit of shame?

Years ago, before we bought a house in L.A., we rented from Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith when they were still together. This was like 20-plus years ago, and they had all this MacKenzie-Childs colored pottery and kitchen stuff. I was having dreams about it and decided that I wanted everything they had and everything to be MacKenzie-Childs. Then I decided I hated it.

How did Lot 360, that oversized Mary Rose Young teacup and saucer, escape?

Ozzy doesn’t like pretty things, really, but it was huge and at the time, when we were doing “The Osbournes,” he was drinking coffee all day like a caffeine freak. It was one of the things that MTV picked up on, and a lot of the ad campaigns for the show had Ozzy drinking coffee out of this huge flowered cup. I guess they thought that was cute.


Find information on hours, location and registration for the Osbourne sale at