Finding Mid-Century Modern
We’re still novices in the business of buying and selling Mid-Century Modern furniture. A lot of steps, consequently, go into our deliberation process. First of all, we have to locate a worthy MCM piece. Our son, Michael, possesses the superpower of finding interesting pieces. Sometimes they’re conveniently local, other times a journey is required.
The condition of the pieces is important, but not always a deal breaker. We evaluate the finishes, the structural integrity of pieces, the lines, and the historical significance. If missing any hardware, or in too rough shape, the piece gets rejected immediately.
David always has final say about buying wood furniture because he’s the one who must weave his magic spell to bring it back to life. We consider how much work is needed, and how much we hope to make, and, therefore, how much we can offer to pay. Of course, this isn’t done in a vacuum. We’re in a competitive market with other interested dealers and eager collectors waiting to pounce.
Our largest source for mid-century modern furniture, by far, comes from regional estate sales. Occasionally we locate pieces on Craigslist and we once bought a designer sofa off the Swip Swap group.
Buy It, Repair It, Hope for the Best
We’ve learned a few things about buying and selling Mid-Century Modern furniture over the last 3 years. Most of our purchases need work. This is a given, and the amount and type of work must be weighed against the potential to make money. It’s always a gamble.
A few items are currently in our queue. We bought them and believe we can offer them — once refurbished — to discerning buyers.
1. Pair of MCM Chairs
We purchased these original Scandinavian chairs for a good price and the knowledge that the latex foam is deteriorating. It hardens and becomes crunchy when that happens.
Also, the fabric has some wear at the armrests, and there’s a stain on one seat.
We’ll take these chairs to the upholstery shop for a repair estimate. Their bones are great and, if the price is right, the upholsterer will to strip the fabric and latex before reconstructing again. Our final decision: what can we sell them for — and make money?
Wait, are you wondering why I don’t handle this myself? After all, didn’t I sew custom Halloween costumes for my son each year? Yes, and that was the only time I brought out my grandmother’s old sewing machine. I’m great at costumes. These chairs hover way above my skill level. Especially if we hope to sell them.
2. Two Swedish Teak End Tables
These came from the same house as the chairs. Designed by Yngvar Sandstrom, A.B. Seffle Møbelfabrik manufactured them in the 1960s. They had annoying residue from tape and paint specks.
Those issues turned out to be an easy fix. David cleaned these up with teak oil and put them in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.
3. Drexel Profile Dining Table and Six Chairs
We chose to invest in this set. That means we bought it in the first minutes of the first day of the estate sale. And paid the asking price. Only 4 chairs are in the photo below, but it comes with 6 magnificent chairs.Manufactured by Drexel in 1956 and designed by John Van Koert, this represents a rare, important set. All pieces, including 6 chairs and 3 leaves, appeared in excellent condition. For comparison, the pricey 1stdibs website lists a set like ours for the aspirational price of $13,500, with an extra $2,200 for shipping.
We think the chairs are covered in original fabric; they just had a couple of spots that cleaned right up. David applied lemon oil to all the wood and placed the set prominently in our booth.
4. Picasso Museum Poster
This Picasso poster came out of home filled with unusual art. I wish I were better at identifying types of art like giclée, lithograph, serigraph, and such. This piece, a portrait of Picasso’s muse and lover Dora Maar, came from the 1982 – 1983 exhibit at Museo de Tamayo, Mexico. I envision a gold mat and a sleek black frame will enhance the lovely Dora.
Risky but Good Choices
It’s common to second guess our purchases. Will they ever sell? Will they sell at a price that allows us to make a profit? These next photos show furniture we bought, repaired, and actually sold. Basing success on sales alone, these were excellent choices.
1. Caldwell Table & Chairs
This Caldwell dining table and chairs needed work, We sent the table to our wood whisperer who transformed it so the walnut gleams like tiger stripes. David and I reupholstered the chairs. A delightful couple from Tallahassee bought the set.
2. Blue Bridgewater Sofa
This sofa had great features — low back, tufting, comfort — but the previous owner had hacked the front part of its skirt off. We needed to painstakingly rip out the staples and stiches to remove the remainder of the skirt. It sold pretty quickly.
3. Broyhill Sculptra Bedroom Set
We bought the dresser, chest, nightstand, and headboard as a set; they didn’t require much work. The King sized headboard offered an attractive feature. With its Sculptra line, Broyhill introduced a King sized headboard.
One of the drawer slides on the chest stuck because the glide on the side of the drawer had a dent. This proved a simple mechanical repair. David then applied Watco Light Walnut Danish Oil to all the pieces and put the set on display in our booth.
Then we had the opportunity to buy a second nightstand from downstate, sight unseen, and shipped up to us. It made sense to offer two nightstands — it could mean a quicker sale. That second nightstand, however, started David’s nightmare because it was stained cherry, not light walnut. He stripped the cherry and after countless mixture attempts and multiple re-strippings, he finally hit on the correct blend of light walnut and golden oak stains to achieve the perfect match.
4. Kent-Coffey Sequence Bedroom Set
Before we bought these pieces, David’s close evaluation revealed that the chest’s three drawers had no center bottom slide pieces. Additionally, some drawers required re-gluing the dovetail joints because the original adhesive had deteriorated. But none of the veneer or case structure needed work. David had the knowledge and expertise to make repairs.
He glued and clamped the drawers. Using a wood slide as a template, he fabricated the missing pieces. A couple coats of Watco Danish Oil on the dull finish and thin topcoat made it ready for the showroom.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, David is instrumental in bringing wood back to life. He makes our buying and selling Mid-Century Modern furniture possible. By saving the furniture, he upcycles them into other families’ lives.
Sometimes we choose unwisely. Here are a couple examples:
1. Selig Sofa
The decision to buy this piece was based on my gut. I loved this beauty, a long and low MCM Selig sofa. We spent more money than we should have. Because two ladies had taken up residence on the couch during the sale, we didn’t realize that some of latex foam had hardened and turned a bit crunchy. Latex foam composition breaks down over the years and becomes hard and brittle. Crunchy.
Our upholsterer gave us an estimate that was well out of our price range. We’d never recoup our costs. We put it in our booth hoping that a discerning buyer would purchase it and reupholster it to his or her taste. That didn’t happen and we couldn’t keep it on the floor indefinitely. We ended up donating it to the Salvation Army.
2. Rust and Orange Chair and Ottoman
We acquired this chair and ottoman for a song on the last day of an estate sale. I wasn’t enthusiastic, but Michael saw potential. The chair’s shockingly low price was a conciliatory offering by the estate sale rep after another dealer nabbed a gorgeous Mid Century console table — even though we had pulled its sales tag.
Although sturdy, the chair had stain issues and the accursed crunchy foam. Our original idea was to clean the stains and replace the bottom Latex cushion. The cost for a foam replacement cushion wouldn’t prevent the rehab. However, the stains on the seat back fabric wouldn’t come out and concerted cleaning efforts left a faded area around the stain. We considered reupholstering the chair and ottoman but decided it wouldn’t be a financially sound choice. I momentarily tossed around the idea of painting the fabric, but with our warehouse hitting capacity, it became another Salvation Army donation.
Buying and Selling Mid-Century Modern Furniture
So, that’s our process. We make decisions on buying and selling Mid-Century Modern furniture, take risks based on numerous factors, and always hope for the best. Don’t all small business owner rely on boundless hope?
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As the holidays approach, support your local small businesses. Small Business Saturday falls on November 25th, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Ann Marie and David
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