Buying and Selling Mid-Century Modern Furniture

Buying Selling MCM Furniture

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.
Buying and selling mid-century modern furnitureAlso, the fabric has some wear at the armrests, and there’s a stain on one seat.
MCM Scandinavian upholstered chair
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.
Swedish end table damage
Swedish end table marks
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.Buying and selling mid-century modern furnitureManufactured 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.
Drexel Profile dining tableWe 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.
Picasso poster

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.
Caldwell Furniture, Lenoir NC

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.
MCM Blue Sofa

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.

Broyhill Sculptra Bedroom Set

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.

Broyhill Premier Sculptra Nightstands

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.

Kent Coffey Sequence Bedroom Set

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.

Mistakes

Sometimes we choose unwisely. Here are a couple examples:

1. Selig Sofa

MCM Selig blue white 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

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?

If you’re a small business owner, be sure to watch the Small Business Revolution videos sponsored by Deluxe Enterprise.

As the holidays approach, support your local small businesses. Small Business Saturday falls on November 25th, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

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Ann Marie and David

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Can You Name My White Fine Furniture Collection?

White Fine Furniture Collection

Can you name my White Fine Furniture collection? And what’s its value?

Since I started writing posts about White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, I’ve receive lots of questions about style numbers belonging to a White Fine Furniture collection, and estimated values.

I addressed strategies for determining the value in your local market here: http://www.irisabbey.com/the-market/much-white-fine-furniture-worth/

As for an individual White Fine Furniture Collection, I can now identify five — out of who knows how many? My understanding is that White Furniture destroyed their patterns when the company closed in 1993. But catalogs could be out there; I just need to track them down.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill houses the catalogs of the five collections presented here. For the price of copies, UNC sent me an electronic file. It’s a start..

Living With Tradition

This collection came in a choice of two finishes: Chantilly and Antique White.

Chantilly finished products had solid cherry drawers, posts, and rails. Its tops and end panels were made of “choicest walnut veneers.” (Living With Tradition Catalog, 1982)
White Fine Furniture of Megan

White Fine Furniture Mebane
Living With Tradition Bombé Chest, 225-34-11-F

The Antique White finish offered two handpainted artwork choices: Chinese landscape painting or Floral, shown above. The Floral design depended on the customer’s selection of color for the trim: yellow, blue, green, or gold. Raised Gesso Chinoiserie, seen on the Chantilly finish, provided another choice. Obviously, no two looked exactly alike.

Whiteleigh

To bring you furniture with a new feeling of grandeur and graciousness, the Whiteleigh combines the elegance of Empire with the classic grace of Regency. Both were the “modern” styles of their day. The rare and valuable pieces which have come down to us reflect a simplicity, quality, and vitality that blends perfectly with White’s own brilliant concepts of Contemporary styling.  (Whiteleigh catalog, White, the South’s Oldest Makers of Fine Furniture, Mebane, North Caroling, no date, p. 2).

White Furniture Company Mebane NC

White used two exotic woods to create Whiteleigh:

All solid parts are African Teak, one of the finest Mahogany-family cabinet woods, very light in color, and imported from the famous African Gold Coast. All veneered tops, drawer and door fronts are richly figured Prima Vera from Central America, are also light in color. Both woods have “open pores” as opposed to the “closed pores” of woods such as Cherry. (Whiteleigh catalog, White, the South’s Oldest Makers of Fine Furniture, Mebane, North Caroling, no date, p. 27).

The Lorraine French Provincial Collection

Three custom hand finishes . . . Old Spice, a rich fruitwood; Old Bisque, a delightful dominance of brown with gray shadings; and Old Bone, the ever loved and ever lovely white and gold.” (The Lorraine French Provincial Collection catalog, White, the South’s Oldest Makers of Fine Furniture, Mebane, North Caroling, no date, p. 3).


White Furniture of Mebane NC

Every fascinating facet of French Provincial charm scintillates in White Lorraine Collection . . . free hand carving, decorative brass grilles, dainty scroll feet, graceful cabriole legs, hooded pediments, parquetry inlay, delicate gold etching, sweeping escalloped curves and aprons, carved corner posts and end panels–a wealth of fine detailing and a beauty that never palls. Age can but enhance its charm and value. (Lorraine catalog, no date, p. 15).

Unfortunately, that last sentence — written decades ago — could not take into consideration a  future with mass production, cheaper furniture, and very little wood composition. Look how comfortable people have become with the idea of replacing sofas, chairs, dining sets every few years.

This next bedroom set image doesn’t come from a catalog. I found this Lorraine White Fine Furniture Collection advertisement online hereImportantly, this ad has a date: 1954.
White Fine Furniture Collection

Adaptique

In many ways this is a collector’s collection. No two pieces are identical. Each is a custom-designed Original. There is no rigid adherence to any one genre of design. But rather a general echoing of those Country English and traditional Mediterranean styles so compatible with today’s decorating trends. (Adaptique catalog, White, the South’s Oldest Makers of Fine Furniture, Mebane, North Caroling, no date, p. intro).

As best as I can determine, this collection offered multiple features within a piece and multiple choices of said piece. This buffet (Style 30-7, I believe), for instance, is primarily Early English but incorporates Mediterranean/Greek dentil molding, along with the Greek key motif on fronts of drawers and doors. But Tudor roses appear on the doors instead of a true Greek key.

White Fine Furniture Collection
White Furniture Co. Adaptique Collection

Then we get into the various styles of Adaptique furniture: 3 choices of buffets and 3 of china tops, as shown here:
White Furniture Company Adaptique
Adaptique came in two finishes: Artisan, a warm, rich brown; and Florentine, a Venetian grey-green.

Promethean

The undated Promethean catalog claims this style mixes “Oriental glamour with Old World charm.” To my thinking, the Old World must refer to Scandinavia because this collection has a Mid-Century Modern sensibility.
White Furniture of Mebane Promethean
Here’s the catalog explanation of the woods’ drama:

This whole collection is marked by the use of pearly pink Maple Burl, the taupe richness of brown Walnut, and the tone-on-tone color of highly figured heart Walnut.

Thanks to everyone who sent me emails and comments about the pieces in their White Fine Furniture collection. If your collection isn’t featured here, just know that I’m on the trail and will share more when I uncover new information.

Ann Marie and David

Read my other White Furniture Company posts:

White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, Part 1

White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, Part 2

How Much is My White Fine Furniture Worth?

Clothes Press by White Furniture Company, Mebane, NC

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1930s Heywood-Wakefield Living Room Set

1930s Heywood-Wakefield

Romantic Acquisition

A man once posited that time is a flat circle. Against all odds, we rescued the one-of-a-kind 1930s Heywood-Wakefield living room set . . . again.

Two years ago, a woman invited David and me into her home to purchase her mother’s living room set. We wrote about that amazing acquisition here.

1930s Heywood-Wakefield
The seller informed us that her mother, the original owner, insisted it was 1930s Heywood-Wakefield. But the pieces are not listed in the official Hey-Way bibles, Heywood-Wakefield by Harris Gertz (2001); Heywood-Wakefield Modern Furniture by Steve Rouland & Roger Rouland (1995). Purists disagree with the original owner’s opinion, but more on that below.

The story of our seller’s parents’ acquisition of the set is a touching tale of love, longing and the power of retail therapy:

The Seller’s parents, as newlyweds in 1933, lived in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. A friend’s furniture store stood just down the street. One day Mother caught sight of this freshly arrived set of modern furniture. Enchantment pulled her closer. When her husband came home from work later that afternoon, Mother gushed to him about this magical apparition. They went window shopping that evening. Dad didn’t say anything.

The next day Mother, in the back of the house, heard noises out front. She opened the door to encounter furniture delivery men unloading her new living room set. Her husband made a huge, romantic gesture for their first anniversary.

The furniture stayed with the family all these decades. Actually, it has resided in the granddaughter’s home for the last several years, ever since Grandma’s death. As Buyers, we understood the emotional connection with the pieces. I don’t know how the Seller selected us, but they entrusted a part of their family it into our care.

Identity Confirmed

Fast forward to last week, as I scrolled through a multitude of estate sales online. Foolishly, I failed to recognize them, but had the presence of mind to show these photos to my son. Michael, who had bonded with the set while it languished in our booth (and whom I suspect schemed to keep them for himself) espied them. “That’s our furniture!” Sure enough, he was right.
Lloyds Mfg Pre Heywood Wakefield

Lloyd's Mfg Pre Heywood-Wakefield

Stewards of History

For the few months we had owned the set, we displayed it in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery, along with a statement that we would not break up the set. While we could make far more money selling the pieces individually, we felt an obligation to be good stewards. Maybe there’s a bit of romanticism in all of us.
1930s Heywood-Wakefield

But an unsettlingly undercurrent vibrated. The furniture spoke to Michael. Should he acquire them at a steep discount for his apartment?

The New Owner

Working at the Antique mall, Michael spent weeks eyeing the set. He claims the day he decided to keep the pieces, a woman strolled in and enthusiastically bought them. The next day she returned with a friend. They bought two glasses of wine at the in-house cafe, wandered over to our booth, sat on the new furniture, and toasted good fortune. Sorry, Michael.

Estate Sale Heartbreak . . .

Back to last week: After Michael confirmed the set’s identity I checked the details of the estate sale company selling it. A sign-up sheet would go up at 4 pm the day before the sale. David and I showed up ahead of time. A neighbor assured us the new owner loved her 1930s Heywood-Wakefield set, now in the sunroom. But she had moved and couldn’t take all her furniture with her.

At four o’clock I knocked on the door. The estate sale rep wrote our names on line #1. We’d return for the 9 am opening. That night we discussed our budget, knowing how much we spent the last time and how much the set sold for.

The next morning, the first to cross the threshold, we zoomed to the sunroom. We absolutely didn’t want to see the pieces priced individually. That scenario would drive a stake through our hearts because we took such care to ensure that the collection stayed together.

On the drive over, David told me of his dream the previous night. In mute horror, he walked into a room and saw the pieces priced individually. Buyers surged past, indifferent hands grabbing them piecemeal. In his dream he cried out in anguish.
Heywood-Wakefield Heywood-Wakefield
Sadly, our worst fears were confirmed. Each piece sported a price tag. The total price  exceeded our budget. Sure, they’d be discounted by 30% on Day 2, and a whopping 50% on Day 3. But we knew they wouldn’t remain a complete set very long.

We approached the estate sale rep and offered our story, explaining how hard we tried to keep the set together. Then David had an inspired thought. Could the rep telephone the owner and explain that the people she bought the set from wanted to buy it back? And we made an offer — it was a very long shot. We would hear the answer later in the day.

. . . and Joy

She agreed!

Once David and Michael loaded the set in our trailer, I asked if we should drop it off at our booth immediately.

Silence.

Michael regards this as an intervention. What are the odds that we’d acquire this set — twice? Maybe this time he will keep it.

1930s Heywood-Wakefield or Lloyd?

When I researched the furniture two years ago, I noted that the Lloyd Manufacturing Company of Michigan, acquired by Heywood-Wakefield in 1921, made the set.

Here’s what we know:

  • In the 1920s Heywood-Wakefield was known as the country’s largest chair manufacturer and baby carriage builder.
  • Toward the end of the decade, Hey-Way wanted and needed to diversify. Well made, affordable, mass-produced furniture seemed a good bet.
  • Heywood-Wakefield hired Gilbert Rohde and assigned the task of designing a modern line. Hey-Way introduced Rohde Contemporary Furniture in 1931. The set below looks like a precursor to the more recognizable Heywood-Wakefield furniture.
Heywood-Wakefield Gilbert Rohde
“A group of Gilbert Rohde’s designs for Heywood-Wakefield in 1931”, Heywood-Wakefield Modern Furniture by Steve Rouland & Roger Rouland, 1995, p. 19.
  • Heywood-Wakefield debuted their modern line at Chicago’s Century of Progress in 1933-34
  • The 2 Heywood-Wakefield bibles, mentioned above, both identify the solid blond maple and birch furniture manufactured from 1936 to 1966.

Conclusion

That means there’s a gap in identifying 1930s Heywood-Wakefield furniture produced during 1931 and 1936. Could this set come from that period? After all my effort, I’m going to vote yes.

As for Michael winding up with the set, well, check back soon and see what happens.

Ann Marie and David

For another post on our trip to oblivion to pick up a Heywood-Wakefield bedroom set, now  in storage, go here.

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Painted Upholstered Chair: Graphite, Old White

Painted Upholstered Chair

Amy Howard inspired my painted upholstered chair project. Safe to say, I wouldn’t have done it had I not viewed this photo on her Facebook page. She transformed this sofa at Lucketts Spring Market. I love the gold leaf accent band.
Amy Howard Lucketts Demo 2017

My upholstered chair languished in our climate-controlled warehouse unit — I had forgotten about it. The fabric didn’t speak to me when we bought it, but the chair was structurally sound. I especially liked its cabriole legs with detailed wood carvings and the hairy-paw feet.

I decided to replicate Amy Howard’s project by painting the fabric and wood, and highlighting the carvings with dark wax and touches of gold leaf. As the pièce de résistance, that magnificent blaze of gold.
Upholstered chair unpainted
Overall, the fabric was in excellent condition. I simply vacuumed it.The embroidered fabric would create an interesting pattern once painted. This sun-dappled closeup shows the embroidery.
Upholstery embroidery fabric painting
Screech! Stop! Fling that plan out the door.

I talked to our son, Michael, and his girlfriend Raven. Both work Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. They quickly quashed my gold-leaf enthusiasm. Shiny doesn’t sell well in Jacksonville, they advised. No gold leaf, not even to highlight the wood carvings. Also, stay away from colors. Stick with black or white if you want to sell this.

Unknowingly, they snatched away the sole reason I wanted this project.

Nonetheless, full speed ahead with the revised, more sedate, version of a painted upholstered chair.

Although Amy Howard inspired me, I had Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Graphite on hand.

Here’s my technique for painting fabric with ASCP:

  1. Add approximately 20% water to your paint and stir
  2. Spray water on the section you’re working on
  3. Use a rounded brush — I used one of Annie Sloan’s — to push the paint into the material. A circular motion works well. You don’t want to simply brush the paint onto the top of the fabric
  4. Apply about 2-1/2 coats
  5. Sand lightly with 320-grit sandpaper and wipe off paint dust with a damp cloth
  6. Apply a coat of Clear Wax

This photo shows me starting out. I’ve already spritzed a section of fabric and begun to paint. You can see how important it is to push the paint through the fabric and the embroidery. The pattern will remain visible — and look good.
Painted Upholstered Chair

After 2-1/2 coats of paint, light sanding, and waxing, I achieved this look shown below. Just so you know, David and I carried the chair outside because — like every afternoon — it looked cloudy with a high chance of rain. Perfect for a quick photo session. Alas, once we started taking photos, the sun came out and created weird bright and shadowy spots.

Painted upholstered chair
Back to the project. After I finished painting the fabric, I moved on to the wood. I tried Paris Grey but it failed to create the sharp contrast I sought. Not to be deterred, I repainted the wood in Old White. Much better, and the Paris Grey served as an excellent primer. I applied the paint thickly to create texture.

On went Clear Wax and I decided to test out Annie Sloan’s Black Wax. Since I couldn’t incorporate the drama of gold leaf, I wanted to highlight those beautiful carvings:
Black wax on Old White
Annie Sloan Black Wax Oldl WhiteThe hairy-paw foot is so defined and striking:

painted upholstered chair
Here’s the final product. A black-and-white-painted upholstered chair, as Michael and Raven recommended. No gold leaf band, no touches of gold. Let’s hope their advice translates into an appreciative shopper.

Painted upholstered chair graphite old white

This chair, I must say, turned out much better than the previous one I painted. That one  sustained rain damage and never fully recovered: Removing Water Stains from Painted Upholstery.

Thanks for stopping by, see you next time!

Ann Marie and David

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Tiptoe Through Tulips: Eero Saarinen Pedestal Collection

Knoll Ad Pedestal Collection Saarinen

A listing for this tulip table and chairs appeared on Craigslist. Our son, Michael, discovered it and arranged acquisition. I can safely say that it’s an Eero Saarinen design, but I can’t verify Knoll as the manufacturer. If only I could do that.
Saarinen Pedestal Table ChairsThe white pearlized chairs match the table base. The pearlization process gives them a high sheen — elegant and modern. The aluminum bases suggest the set was manufactured before plastic polymers became strong enough to support a person’s weight.
Tulip Chairs
While the table top looks like pale pink granite, it’s actually a synthetic product — perhaps corian.
Saarinen Tulip Table top

Saarinen’s Tulip Table and Chairs

The undercarriage of chairs and tables in a typical interior makes an ugly, confusing, unrestful world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs. I wanted to make the chair all one thing again.  — Eero Saarinen

That conundrum — the slum of legs — led Saarinen to design his Tulip Tables and Chairs, aka Pedestal Collection, in the mid-1950s. Described as part flower, part stemmed wineglass, the single pedestal of each piece perfectly represented the Space Age. Check out this Knoll ad by graphic designer Herbert Matter:
Knoll Ad Tulip Chair Saarinen
Saarinen, however, couldn’t achieve his “one piece, one material” goal. Although each table or chair appears made from a single material, the aluminum stem — covered with fused plastic — supports the fiberglass seat shell and, ultimately, a person.

As late as 1958, three years before his death, Saarinen mused, “I look forward to the day when the plastic industry has advanced to the point where the chair will be one material, as designed.”

Saarinen Tulip Tables
Saarinen’s revolutionary Pedestal Collection debuted in 1958. Source

Cranbrook Educational Community

Eero grew up among elite designers. In 1923, thirteen-year-old Eero emigrated to the United States from Finland with his mother and sister to join his father. Architect Eliel Saarinen already possessed an impressive portfolio.

Invited to design the Cranbrook Educational Community outside of Detroit, Eliel went on to serve as Cranbrook’s first resident architect and first president. An educational, research, and museum complex, Cranbrook was to be to be the American equivalent of The Bauhaus. Read about Bauhaus and the Wassily Chair here.

Among the many Cranbrook buildings Eliel designed, he actually lived in the Saarinen House, a harmonious composition that combines the Arts and Crafts Movement with Art Deco. Here’s a peek at the Dining Room:

Saarinen House
Dining Room, Saarinen House at Cranbrook. Photos: Balthazar Korab, © Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives. Source

Loja Saarinen, Eliel’s wife and Eero’s mother, founded and directed the Department of Weaving and Textile Design at Cranbrook. She designed and wove the textiles in their Living Room:

Eliel Saarinen House
Living Room, Saarinen House at Cranbrook. Photos: Balthazar Korab, © Balthazar Korab/Cranbrook Archives. Source

While Eliel taught and administered at Cranbrook, Eero formalized his studies in architecture and sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris and Yale University.

Returning to Michigan, Eero taught at Cranbrook Academy and worked in his father’s architectural practice. The Saarinen family became close to many of Cranbrook’s students, specifically Florence Schust (later Florence Knoll), Ray Kaiser (later Ray Eames) and Charles Eames.

Organic Chair

As an instructor, Eero collaborated with Cranbrook student Charles Eames to create modern, multifunctional furniture. They wanted to bring contemporary designs to the working class. Quite simply, their furniture had to be functional and affordable. They experimented with molded plywood chairs. That is to say, in a pre-plastics world, they painstakingly molded plywood to create a chair with comfort and strength.

Charles Eames Eero Saarinen
Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen with a lightweight tensile structure designed for the 1939 faculty exhibition at the Cranbrook Academy of Art Architecture Studio. Cranbrook Academy Archives. Photograph: Richard G. Askew. Source

Their entry won first place in MoMA’s Organic Design in Home Furnishings in 1940. Despite their vision of bringing this chair into middle-class homes across the U.S., the Organic Chair couldn’t be mass-produced because the technology didn’t yet exist. This failure shaped the subsequent work of Charles Eames.

Today German furniture manufacturer Vitra produces the Eames-Saarinen Organic Chair.

Organic Chair Vitra
Organic Chair designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. Source

Florence Knoll

Remember Florence Schust from Cranbrook? She honed her design skills by studying under architectural stars of the 20th century: Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Florence moved to NYC, where she met and married Hans Knoll, who was developing a fledgling furniture company.

Florence Knoll became a dynamic force in designing mid-century corporate interiors. Here’s an example of her work:

Florence Knoll interior
Cowles Publication interior, designed by Florence Knoll. Image from the Knoll Archive. Source

Womb Chair

At Knoll, Florence pulled in her designer friends. She asked Saarinen for “a chair that was like a basket full of pillows – something she could really curl up in.” His innovative Womb Chair answered Florence’s request.

Eero Saarinen
Womb Chair designed by Eero Saarinen for Knoll, 1948. Source

Knoll still manufactures Saarinen’s classics: the womb chair, and the pedestal table with  tulip chairs.

Here’s a last look at our pedestal table with 4 tulip chairs patiently waiting in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. It’s gorgeous, but I’m still pained to say that I can’t verify that Knoll manufactured it.
Tulip Table Chairs

Read 5 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Furniture here.

Let us know what you think of Saarinen’s tulip tables and chairs.

Ann Marie and David

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Use African Tribal Decor To Enhance MCM Style

African Tribal Decor

Ethnic cultural furnishings, particularly African tribal decor, complement the clean lines of Mid-Century Modern style. Handmade objects made of metal, carved wood, and hand-woven textiles provide rich texture. Pieces like the ones discussed below will add an inherent sense of exoticism to any room.

I’ll focus on Africa because we acquired several remarkable pieces recently at an estate sale. The homeowner lived and worked in Zimbabwe as an electrical engineer for several years. His African tribal decor collection went far beyond mere tourist souvenirs.

West African Cast Brass Mask

I sought out — and paid for — an appraisal of this metal mask. Look at the detail: a bird, with a long, curved beak perches on the face. Its defined eyes appear on the side of the head, and a comb sits atop the bird’s head and wattle hangs from neck. I’m not even guessing at the type of bird.

The face shows masculine features; the wide eye openings have decorative edges. Decorative scarification runs from below the eyes down to the chin, as well as exaggerating the eyebrows. The delicate loops frame the entire face remind me of antique lace trim.

The appraiser told me this piece dates from the second half of the 20th century. It appears to borrow features from Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. Never intended for tribal use, the craftsman made it for the art market.
African tribal decorAfrican tribal decor

Zamble Guro African Tribal Mask

For these next masks, I did my own research. If I’m wrong, I’d appreciate your input. I believe this mask represents the mythical male Zamble of the Guro tribe of Ivory Coast. Zamble integrates animals into his features. This mask presents his antelope horns, crocodile mouth, leopard eyes.
African tribal decor
At one time, bright paint highlighted the mask. Very little remains, but his painted red tongue endures.
Zamble Guro Mask

Kpelie Mask, Senufo People

A more delicately carved mask, this one presents the female Kpelie, appreciated for beauty and fertility. Senufo men of the Ivory Coast and Mali, however, wore this type of mask during boys’ initiation ceremonies, harvest festivals and funeral rituals. The horns represent male characteristics. Scarification appears on the cheeks.
Kpelie Senufo Mask Africa

African mask – origin unknown

This elongated mask, propped up against a bookend, offers bright color and clean design. It’s carved from a single tree branch, and I adore the narrow eyes, long nose and colorful cheeks.
Elongated African Mask
All of the wooden masks we bought are hand carved:
Elongated African mask

Copper and Brass Metal Wall Art

When we first came across photos of this piece, it appeared to be a shield. On closer examination, it may be a massive bowl. We’re using it as wall art in our booth. Made of copper and brass pieces, hand riveted, it makes a terrific dramatic statement.
Africa display

1626 Map of Africa

I’m sure the above map is a reproduction, but Englishman John Speed created the original in 1626. Highly decorative and wonderfully speculative, it gives us mountains, lakes, and rivers that don’t really exist. But for the early 1700s, it’s great. The Aethiopian Ocean appears in place of the Atlantic Ocean. Drawings of traditionally clad natives border the map’s sides, while the top border presents 8 African cities. Our map’s connection to African craftsmen comes through its framing story. Mahogany wood frames the piece, done in Harare, Zimbabwe.

African Mud Cloth

I’ll take this occasion to mention our mud cloth, probably from Mali, and acquired at a previous sale. Also called bogolan, these are fabulous, unique textiles. David created a mud cloth canopy in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery to draw attention to our Africa display.
Africa display mud cloth
Hand-woven cotton forms the basis of our mud cloth. Narrow strips were stitched together to form the whole piece. Tree bark and branches were used to develop the dyes. The artist painted cowry shells and designs with paint made from fermented river mud, aged up to one year. Because of the process and artist, each cloth is unique. I like the idea of using textiles for a contemporary home’s African tribal decor. Instant pillow, tablecloth, or bed covering.

If you are interested in more information on the making of mud cloth, here’s a video:

Thanks for stopping by for a look at our African tribal decor. We’d love to hear about ethnic items you’ve picked up during your travels or at sales.

Ann Marie and David

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Harvey Probber: MCM Rosewood Dresser

Harvey Probber Rosewood Dresser

Design has a fourth dimension; the intangible quality of aging gracefully. — Harvey Probber

I’d never heard of Harvey Probber before we acquired his dresser. But the moment David and I laid eyes on its sleek lines, dark, sumptuous rosewood veneer, and perfectly matched grain, we wanted it.

A little research: Probber emerged as a leading designer when American modernism flourished in the mid-20th century.

Harvey Probber is part of that unsung second wave of mid-century modernists. Though he hasn’t achieved the ‘label’ recognition of Eames or Noguchi, I think he’ll become considerably important on the secondary market over the next few years. — James Zemaitis, former director of 20th-century design at Sotheby’s. Source

MCM American furniture designer
Harvey Probber, Source

Acquisition

Our son Michael fielded the initial inquiry. A woman wished to sell her father’s Harvey Probber dresser. A quick look at the outlandishly inflated prices on 1stdibs led to two discoveries: original Harvey Probber pieces are rare and expensive.

I set up a time for us to meet the client at her dad’s retirement community. David and I discussed the highest amount we could offer, stopped by the bank, and hoped for the best.

The dad had acquired the piece in the 1960s and loved it. His room in the nursing facility provided just enough space for a single piece of furniture beyond his bed and nightstand. This was what he kept. But alas, he faced a move to a smaller room. The seven-foot credenza with original glass top couldn’t join him. Because of her father’s health issues, the daughter served as negotiator.

We told her the amount of cash we could offer and her face fell. I found myself apologizing  and explaining that we’d have to cover the costs of transporting and cleaning it — and it needed a lot of cleaning. Beyond that, we’d pay rental costs to display it until we sold it to someone proud to own a Harvey Probber.

She had to discuss our offer with her two sisters. Sure, that’s fine. And she’d get back to us, one way or the other. But as we left, David speculated that we’d never hear back. I reassured him that we did what we set out to do. We made a reasonable offer, up front with no gimmicks. What more could we do?

A few days later she phoned and agreed to our offer. I’ve got to tell you, we were amazed.

Harvey’s Dresser

Probber used exotic woods for his cabinets and tables. This dresser, with finely crafted details, is rosewood:

Harvey Probber Dresser

We immediately dropped it off at our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. The legs  showed damage from a senior citizen’s walker, a constant presence in the dad’s life. Mop buckets could have caused the nicks, too.

David used Timbermate Woodfiller on the legs, filling in and evening out the corner edges. He applied ebony stain over all 8 legs. When dry, he sprayed a clear semigloss lacquer and topcoat on the legs.

Next came Howard’s Restor-a-finish on the wood surface. David carefully hand rubbed until the finish shone. The dresser had a few scratches, but the Howard’s minimized them. And David polished obsessively. His reward was a luxurious finish.

Have a look: This generous top middle drawer holds jewelry.

Harvey Probber DresserThe maker’s label:
Harvey Probber label
David achieved this brilliant sheen:
Harvey Probber Dresser
Harvey Probber Dresser

Harvey Probber (1922-2003)

So, who was Harvey Probber? While in high school, Harvey took a job at a used-furniture store and soon began to sketch his ideas for furniture. At 16, he sold his first sofa design for the glorious sum of $10. After high school, his formal training was limited to a few evening classes at the Pratt Institute. He learned furniture production on the job at Trade Upholstery in NYC.

The key to salvation was in bits and pieces of plane geometry . . . they were meaningless alone, but when fused to conventional shapes, profoundly altered their character. — Harvey Probber

After World War II, he started his own business, Harvey Probber, Inc., in 1945, and spent the next four decades designing furniture.

His greatest contribution came from developing modular furniture in the late 1940s. That is to say, he developed upholstered unit furniture — 19 pieces — that could be juggled into endless configurations. He named this the Sert Group in homage to architect and city planner Jose Lluís Sert. Expanding on that concept, he developed Nuclear Furniture, which included various shaped occasional tables with interchangeable pedestals.

Imagine rearranging your living room with these quadrants, half-circles, corner sections, and wedges. Oh, it would be magical. Check out the examples provided:

Probber Modular Systems Concept
Probber Modular Systems Concept 1945, Source

Production Continues

In 2012, licensed by the Probber estate, M2L began manufacturing selected authentic reproductions from Harvey Probber’s collection.

Probber ‘s designs won awards. The Museum of Modern Arts, for instance, selected his  Elastic Sling Chair and Upholstered Nuclear groups for their 1951 exhibition.

Harvey Probber
Harvey Probber Sling Chair, ca. 1948. Source
Harvey Probber sectional
Harvey Probber Nuclear | Sert Sectional, designed 1946. Source

Starting in the 1970s Probber focused exclusively on contract design. He always maintained his interest in modular seating, urethane foam and luxe upholstery fabric. It’s a delight to review his eclectic designs:

Harvey Probber Cubo Cluster
Harvey Probber Cubo Cluster, designed 1972, Source
Harvey Probber Deep Tuft
Harvey Probber Deep Tuft Sofa, designed 1972. Source
Reproduced by M2L
Harvey Probber Mayan Sofa, designed 1983. Source

Thanks for your interest in Harvey Probber and our absolutely gorgeous rosewood dresser. Until next time!

Ann Marie and David
DIY Vintage Chic

Brand: Reasons to Paint and Style Your Mall Space

Brand Reasons to paint and style your mall spaceReasons to Paint and Style

If you rent space in an antique/vintage mall, you’re conveying a statement about yourself and your goods. Beyond the immediate goal of selling items, carefully consider how to paint and style your space because these activities achieve intangible results. Painting and styling strengthen your brand, visually communicate your products, and encourage clients to enter the space.

Strengthen Your Brand

We want people to recognize our business as a source for curated Mid-Century Modern furnishings. One of the ways to enhance our brand lies in the presentation of our space in Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. Toward that end, we advise you to spend time considering wall paint colors.

Shoppers often tell us that we present a stylish booth filled with engaging items. That’s flattering to hear, but we really work at making our space sophisticated and attractive. If we sell something big, we’ve already identified a replacement piece that is quickly moved in from our warehouse.

Until last month, here’s how our booth looked:

Brand: Reasons to Paint and Style Your Vintage Mall Space

We originally chose orange for the back wall because it’s a strong color representative of the Mid-Century Modern style. Its vibrancy stopped shoppers and encouraged them to look around. A pale gray covered our two side walls because full-on orange would overpower. These colors served us well. Unfortunately, we’d hammered a few too many nails in the sheet rock. Since the orange back wall sits in front of a store window, beams of sunlight flashed through our booth. Change is vital, so we seized the opportunity to reimagine our space.

We selected a neutral backdrop to showcase the colors of our furnishings. The unanimous winner: Steamed Milk by Sherwin-Williams.Sherwin Williams Steamed Milk

Here’s Phil rolling paint on one of our gray walls. Already, the booth looks brighter.
Brand: Reasons to Paint and Style Your Vintage Mall Space

Visually Communicate Your Products

Looking to shake things up, we pulled out a few pieces that hadn’t sold and brought in furniture new to the booth. Pictures and mirrors went up on the walls. A word of caution:  deciding on the arrangements, especially hanging a gallery of pictures, takes time.

Creating vignettes is important to us. Within our space we attempt to show a living room area (the yellow sofa sold quickly), a dining table and chairs, bedroom and kitchen furniture, and a bar area.
Iris Abbey Booth

Those of you with an eye for detail will notice that we swapped out dining tables. White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, manufactured this exquisite dining set below. The Caldwell MCM table in the photo above will go onto a Craigslist listing, and perhaps our Etsy site.
White Furniture Co. Dining Table

The cushy slipper chairs in this next photo come under the Mrs. Howard label, an upscale local designer. The saucy wench in on the framed canvas is Claudine, painted by her husband Marcel Dy, a prolific artist. At the age of 54, Dyf married the nineteen year-old Claudine and set to work painting her in a multitude of poses for the remainder of his life.

Iris Abbey Booth

We like to stock lamps because they warm the space. Take a look, above, at the variety of our floor lamps. Also, I think the carved wooden statue of the three women would be a terrific gift for a girlfriend to celebrate friendships, or a grandmother to recognize the importance of intergenerational relationships. I painted and waxed the carving and can’t believe it hasn’t sold yet.

After the gold sofa sold, we slipped a black sleeper sofa in.Black Sleeper Sofa

Encourage Clients To Enter

Although it’s a challenge, we recommend you leave space for clients to move freely. If it becomes difficult to look at even one single item, you may lose a potential sale.

Offer a variety of textures and colors so that clients want to touch. This tulip table, with pearlized table base and chairs, is newly acquired, as is the black lotus floor lamp. Michael, our son, found both those items.
White Furniture Co of Mebane dining table Iris Abbey Booth April 2, 2017

Everything you do reflects your brand, so take your time before making decisions. Think  things through for bigger results.

We’re glad you stopped by. Catch you later.

Ann Marie and David

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4 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

MCM Dining Table Sets

After several barren weeks of estate sales devoid of bargains and success, our luck finally changed. We bought 2 Mid-Century Modern dining table sets in one weekend (along with several additional pieces), to add to the 3 dining sets we have distributed between our booth and warehouse.

This seems a good an opportunity to discuss what characteristics we look for.

  1. Clean Lines

    Mid-Century Modern dining table sets should convey a sense of lightness, sleekness. The shape should capture your attention. As a rule, MCM tables and chairs are more compact and, therefore, perfect for smaller spaces. Once you begin studying tables and chairs, their differences become evident.

  2. Manufacturer

    We always check the name of the manufacturer before buying Mid-Century Modern dining table sets. That means one of us is slithering around under the table and tipping over a chair. If we find a name like Drexel or White Furniture, we’ll stop our investigation right there. An unknown manufacturer, however, isn’t dismissed; we just double our efforts to make sure the pieces structurally sound and aesthetically appealing.

  3. Wood Grain

    Although MCM designers experimented with other materials such as plastic, glass, vinyl and shaped plywood, the tables we buy are made of wood. Tabletops are covered with good, wood veneer, which is a thin slice of actual wood. This process changed in the 1970s when furniture companies began to incorporate particle board and MDF to save money.

  4. Condition

    How much work will the pieces require? Our biggest expense is outsourcing a table for sanding and refinishing. Are the pieces sturdy? If any legs are wobbly, can we easily fix them? We hope for good padding and original fabric on the seats. Both of these, if problematic, can be remedied. All these elements, however, add to costs that can lower our profit margin

Now that we’ve covered the characteristics we consider when evaluating MCM dining table sets, let’s look at our sets.

  1. Drexel Profile

This dining set belongs to Drexel’s Profile Collection, designed by John Van Koert. Drexel manufactured Profile between 1955 – 1961. This set dates from 1956 and includes table, 6 chairs, and 3 leaves.

Mid-Century Modern dining table sets

First, look at its shape: tapered legs, gentle curves, borders on the table top, and chair spindles. It’s Drexel made, so the quality is excellent. Rich brown color, made of pecan and walnut woods. When we encountered this piece at an estate sale, I froze in horror seeing  that heavy metal container on the bare wood.

The chairs look great. I made sure to dust between every one of those exquisite spindles. One chair has a small stain on the fabric, but I think we can clean and avoid the recovering process.

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

2. Caldwell Furniture Company

Caldwell Furniture of Lenoir, NC, manufactured this table and chair set in 1961. My research hasn’t led me to any rich details on Caldwell’s. The company started in 1906 and Thomasville bought it in 1968. Despite knowing very little about the manufacturer, this is a well-designed table.  I like the way each side gently bows. Caldwell Furniture, Lenoir NC

The tabletop had sustained topcoat damage. Davis stripped the top and outsourced the table and its 2 leaves for refinishing. The final result reveals a highly grained walnut with contrasting light and dark grains.

Here are 3 of the 4 recovered chairs. The backs remind me of bow ties. We recovered, and seriously upgraded, the 4 dining chairs seats, which we wrote about in a previous post. At present this MCM dining set sits in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.

MCM Dining Table Sets

3. White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC

White Furniture, known for high quality, manufactured this set, probably in the late 1970s. It came with 6 chairs and 2 leaves.White Furniture MCM Dining Table & Chairs
The chair spindles gently curve, the legs taper. The oval top contrasts with the square and rectangles of the chair and there’s an Asian sensibility to these chairs.  David believes the wood is walnut but we haven’t studied it enough to identify the finish. As for the condition, the table needs refinishing.

The square cushions are in great shape, generously padded and covered in a white vinyl. I’m not a fan of vinyl, but it can be useful if children are anywhere near food. Here’s a chair detail:

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

4. B. F. Huntley of Winston-Salem, NC

My research hasn’t led to any unusual discoveries. A small business, Huntley’s started in 1906, sold to Simmons in 1929, burned in 1935 and reemerged as Huntley once again before Thomasville bought it in 1961. Although the table has a series of stenciled numbers on the bottom, each company had its own system of identification. I can’t say definitively when Huntley made this set without a code to decipher the numbers.

This drop leaf table came with 6 chairs and 1 leaf. Ironically, a previous owner had the table refinished but neglected/forgot the leaf. As a result, the leaf doesn’t match the table’s newer finish. David claims the table needs work, and Michael tells me the seats need recovering.

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

When David and Michael picked up the set from the estate sale, they — and the sales rep — realized it was a drop leaf. The rep claimed, had she realized that when pricing, she’d have marked it higher.

What I appreciate about the chair design is the “H” back, and the upper back slat reminds me of a surfboard. At a glance the padding and fabric looked OK to me but I haven’t studied it. I know at least one of the chairs wobbles.

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

5. Drexel Today’s Living

Milo Baughman designed Drexel’s Today’s Living Collection, Our set was manufactured in 1952. The shape of the table holds interest because its thickness narrows down from the center.  I wrote about our struggle to acquire these pieces at an estate sale.

Milo Baughman Drexel 1952

The woods are elm and beech; the finish is beech. Between its wood color and the matching orange fabric, there’s a sense of lightness. Happily, we kept the chair seats as is.

Lastly, our son Michael will choose one of these Mid-Century Modern dining table sets for his personal use. He narrowed his selection down to two sets (#1 and #5), both manufactured by Drexel, Michael’s considering either the Drexel Profile set by John Van Koert (4 chairs, 3 leaves) or the Drexel Today’s Living set designed by Milo Baughman (6 chairs, 2 leaves).

If Mid-Century Modern dining table sets appeal to you, which would you choose?

Ann Marie and David

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Pause and Revitalize #27: Let the Ladies Reassure

How are you doing? It feels like I’ve put in a lot of effort lately without much to show. Just spinning my wheels with nothing tangible to hold in my hands. Today I talked with my college friend, who always cheers me, despite her dealing with a horrible cold.

So, as Barb did for me, I want these encouraging words to make you feel better. Today’s messages all come from women. Let the ladies reassure us, now and always.

I wholeheartedly ascribe to their calls for more enthusiasm, risk-taking, and imagination.

Colette, French novelist nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. 1873 – 1954
You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm

You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm. — Colette

Erica Jong, American novelist and poet. 1942 –
motivational quotes

And the trouble is if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more. Erica Jong

Lauren Bacall, American actress and singer. 1924 – 2014
inspirational quote
Imagination is the highest kite one can fly. Lauren Bacall

Thanks for stopping by,

Ann Marie

A sampling of more Pause and Revitalize posts, which I try to post on Wednesdays. They get me through the mid-week hurdles.

William James quote
Pause and Revitalize #26
Yo-Yo Ma quote
Pause and Revitalize #24
Encouraging Words
Pause and Revitalize #20
Langston Hughes quote
Pause and Revitalize #14

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