Mid-Century American of Martinsville Dining Set

We recently revived a MCM American of Martinsville dining set. Manufactured in the 1960s, the table and chairs combine the beauty of Scandinavian lines, the warmth of walnut wood, and the sturdiness of American craftsmen.

American of Martinsville

When David and Michael brought the set home, a quick assessment revealed that everything needed work. The chairs: cleaning and recovering. The table: refinishing.

Mid-Century Modern Chairs

Chair seats became my responsibility, so let’s start there. A striped, canvas fabric covered the seat, very utilitarian but a bit casual for this set.

American of Martinsville

I began removing the staples and soon discovered the next layer. Someone previously ripped off the black dust cover, but the under fabric appeared to be a formal gold brocade.

American of Martinsville

Yikes! A stained gold brocade.

American of Martinsville

Undeterred, I kept popping those staples and encountered a new surprise — a third layer of fabric.

American of Martinsville

I had made it down to the original orange fabric. How perfect for these chairs, but the edges showed brittleness and staining was evident:American of Martinsville

The final step, uncovering the foam. It appeared to be 1960s polyurethane foam.

American of Martinsville

David went outside to pull the foam off the wooden boards and clean them up.

By the way, I generally buy my supplies from Joann.

  • 2″ high density foam from their online site. An employee once asked why I use 2″ instead of 1″. Because American bottoms appreciate 2″ foam.
  • Polyester batting
  • Fabric. I usually select a neutral color, preferably from the remnant section. For these chairs, however, I wanted something special. I tried to match the original fabric as closely as possible.

You can read my earlier post on recovering MCM dining chairs here: Recovering Dining Chair Seats: Mid-Century Modern

The narrow backs are cane over walnut, making it more durable than cane alone. An added bonus, the lumbar arch of each chair offers back support along with its graceful curve.

American of MartinsvilleAlthough we have 5 dining chairs, the captain’s chair did not go into our booth. Apparently odd-numbered chairs unnerve customers. They tend to say, “Hey, you’re missing a chair.” This way, if we offer 4, we have the ability to throw in a bonus chair should the buyers show interest.

MCM Dining Table

David took charge of the dining table. Sadly, there are no before or during photos.

The chair leg joints all needed tightening, so David removed the legs from the side rails (aka apron) and discovered a few of the dowel pins that align and strengthen the joints had broken off. Nothing is ever easy — or quick.

He drilled out the broken ends and created fresh holes for new dowel pins to be glued and inserted. Each leg required gluing and clamping, then the sides had to be joined to the legs. More gluing and clamping. Finally, he assembled the whole frame, trying to keep it level and square. Once more, gluing and clamping. He gave each of these individual sections a full 24 hours for the glue to set.

The refinishing process involved lightly sanding the old finish with 220-grit sandpaper and then applying 5 coats of spray lacquer.

Now the details really pop.

The wood grain pattern, with its dynamic, flowing arches, is called a cathedral design. A  woodworker achieves this effect, one of the most desirable patterns for tabletops, by sawing a log using a flat cut. Often only half of a table shows the cathedral effect, but — bonus — this table has matching cathedrals.

American of Martinsville

The original craftsman laid out and joined these 4 cathedral graining wood veneer panels in a Reverse Diamond Pattern. Abutting the ends of the patterns is tricky and requires careful cutting to make an exact match at the apex of each triangle. Reverse Matching Triangles give the face of the table the same matching pattern on all four sides. The result, as you clearly see, is one gorgeous tabletop.

Of course the x-shaped inserts, the hallmark of all American of Martinsville tables, appear at each table corner:

American of Martinsville

American of Martinsville’s Dania II

American of Martinsville is a storied American furniture maker, whose bold designs helped furnish homes throughout the 20th century. Our chairs definitely belong to the Dania II collection, as seen in this 1963 ad. I circled the chair in red:

American of MartinsvilleAt this point, I can’t verify the American of Martinsville furniture collection and time period of our table. Probably Dania or Dania II, but more research is necessary.

This next ad, also from 1963, doesn’t feature our table and chairs but offers a description of Dania II:

Why The Bride Set Her Cap for Dania II Too! She knew it would lead the life they love — casual, easy-going, impromptu. She wanted to begin it right — flair without frills — simplicity with just a touch of sophistication — and unbelievable storage space. She was delighted at so much Dania II to choose from. Smart component wall units with numerous shelves, drawers and trays. Occasional tables for every conceivable purpose. Inviting chairs and sofas, smartly upholstered. Even a spacious cabinet for their growing record collection. And all in warm walnut with a durable matte lacquer finish. Now the three of them are set for a long and happy life — new bride, new groom, new Dania II. One of the many contemporary designs for living, dining and bedroom by American of Martinsville for young people who want authoritative design, quality craftsmanship.
American of Martinsville

On Display

American of Martinsville

We moved this gorgeous Mid-Century Modern American of Martinsville dining set into our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Interiors. I want to give a special shout out to our son, Michael, the Avonlea photographer, for his beautiful photos.

On Avonlea Antiques’ new website, customers can make online purchases. It’s worth checking out, and items are added each week. This dining set isn’t on the Avonlea website yet, but stay tuned. It’s coming soon!

Ann Marie and David

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Dressing Downton at the Lightner Museum

We spent an afternoon with our old friends the Crawley Family of Downton Abbey. That is to say, we visited the Dressing Downton exhibit during its final days. Our earlier plans kept getting thwarted, so I’m delighted we managed a visit before they turned out the lights.

The Lightner Museum of St. Augustine hosted Dressing Downton, Changing Fashions for Changing Times. The museum spent two years curating their stored pieces to create period vignettes highlighting 36 costumes from the Downton Abbey series.

Museum staff did a fabulous job creating eras that spanned pre-WWI to the Roaring 20s. My phone photos don’t do justice to the elegant displays.

Cora Crawley, Lady Grantham

American by birth — and stylish — Cora donned this stylish Edwardian silk day dress, complete with black frogging in Season 1. Her broadbrim hat delicately froths with ribbon, netting and flowers. Lord Grantham, meanwhile, sports a white linen suit appropriate for warm weather.
Dressing DowntownMoving into the 1920s, Cora remains chic despite her conservative apparel. The  seamstresses of the television series built this silk evening dress around the front panel laden with beads and jewels. The pannier sides deliberately exaggerate the hips. What woman doesn’t want that?
Dressing Downton

Astonishingly, the jacket below was originally sewn from an embroidered tablecloth dating from the 1920s. Lady Grantham wore the outfit to Edith’s wedding.
Dressing Downtown

Violet, The Dowager Countess

Violet’s two-piece day dress reflects Edwardian fashion. She would have worn an S-bend corset to accentuate her chest and push out her bottom. The purple color signals she’s emerging from black mourning clothes following the death of relations on the Titanic.
Dressing Downton

Lady Mary Crawley

Lady Mary modeled sensational outfits throughout the series. Obviously, I didn’t take this photo of her in the dramatic red silk evening dress that conveys Mary’s confidence. My photo doesn’t do the dress justice. She wore this gown in Season One (1913), at dinner with the Turkish diplomat.

Lady Mary evening dress
Source

Mary, dressed in this riding habit, arrived on her steed when she first met Matthew at Crawley House. Way to intimidate!

Lady Mary riding habits

Another frock from Season 1, when Lady Mary wore this green silk evening dress with black net overlay and black and silver starbursts. She chose it for Matthew’s first dinner with the family. In the background, center, stands maid Anna’s functional black cotton dress with white lace trim, covered by a white cotton apron.

Lady Mary evening dress

World War I ushered in utilitarian fashion for the ladies and military uniforms for the gentlemen. Lady Mary’s outfit below includes a crepe skirt and satin scoop-neck blouse. The blouse’s front panel and cuffs incorporate original floral chiffon fabric.
Lady Mary WWI

Yet even during wartime, Lady Mary proved resourceful. She wore this dusty-pink silk evening dress with black net overlay for Sir Richard Carlisle’s first dinner at Downton Abbey. It drips with beads and sensuality.

Lady Mary evening dress 2

Lady Sybil Crawley

Lady Sybil’s velvet maternity dress appeared  in a nursery setting. The neutral velvet, at times grayish green, is enhanced by gold embroidered borders.
Sybil maternity dressI learned that this formal cradle would be used to present baby to guests in the parlor rooms. I expect the nanny would hover and whisk baby away when the viewing ended.

Lightner Museum bassinet

Dressing Downton No More

Dressing Downton at the Lightner Museum has closed. In fact, St. Augustine marked the final leg of its American travels. Enthusiasts shouldn’t despair because the new Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, now in New York City, will travel to other cities. Have a look:

Thanks for stopping by.

Ann Marie & David

 

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Drexel Profile Dining Set: Back to the Future

Autumn offered the perfect time to move the Drexel Profile dining set into our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. Families planning a holiday gathering may discover they need a larger, more stylish table. And this is quite the set.
Drexel Profile Dining Table 1956

Estate Sale Acquisition

While scouring ads for our next lead, David and I stumbled across a promising find. An estate sale company had posted photos promoting their upcoming sale, and it looked right up our alley. This dining set had two things going for it: it was manufactured by Drexel and  is an impeccable example of Mid-Century Modern in design. The upholstery on the handsome spindle-back chairs appeared to be in excellent condition — and better still, possibly original.

Here’s a photo of the set at the estate sale. In person, the dining set proved even more impressive than hoped. I was floored (and more than a bit miffed) to see this heavy metal container on the bare wood!
Drexel Profile dining set

Estate sale prices are highest on the first day, yet David and I ventured out expressly for that dining set. While I flipped a few of the chairs over, David got down on his back and wriggled under the table to confirm its Drexel heritage. We bought the table, 6 chairs, and 3 leaves. A bit pricy, but what a fabulous design!

When David and our son Michael drove back to pick up the set, David decided to purchase the matching Drexel Profile buffet. Altogether, we made a significant investment in these pieces.

Designer John van Koert (1912 – 1998)

Stymied by my research efforts, I asked librarians in Florida and North Carolina for help with the elusive van Koert. We kept returning to his New York Times obituary, the most informative. During his career, Van Koert designed jewelry for Harry Winston, flatware for Towle Silversmiths, furniture for Drexel and later, Serried Ltd. in North Carolina. He died at the age of 86 in 1998.

Post-World War II modernist design, especially Scandinavian, appealed to van Koert. He served as director of the “Design in Scandinavia” exhibition that traveled through the U.S. and Canada between 1954-57. Brimming with more than 700 objects used daily, the exhibit featured items by Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish designers.

Design in Scandinavia exhibition
By Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn Museum) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
The show promoted Scandinavian design, a term synonymous with

beautiful, simple, clean designs, inspired by nature and the northern climate, accessible and available to all, with an emphasis on enjoying the domestic environment. Source

Towle Contour

A few years earlier, the president of Towle Silversmiths, looking to branch out into this new, modern direction, hired van Koert as head designer about 1949. Under van Koert’s leadership, Robert J. King designed the Contour pattern for American sophisticates appreciative of the contemporary aesthetic. The flatware debuted in 1951, with beverage service appearing in December 1953.

Towle Contour Flatware
Towle Contour Sterling Silver Flatware. Source
Towle Contour beverage set
Towle Silversmiths
Newburyport, MA, active 1882 – present
Robert J. King, American, born 1917
John Van Koert, American, 1912 – 1998
Contour beverage set, 1953 (designed 1951-52)
Silver and polystyrene
Source

The Drexel Profile collection marked van Koert’s first foray into furniture design and Drexel touted his experience in modern design.

The distinctive style of Profile reflects John Van Koert’s work in the silver industry. “Contour,” the notable sterling flatware pattern designed for the Towle Silversmiths, has much the same sculptural feeling in its modeling. Contour met with instantaneous success and in a very few years has become the classic among modern flatware patterns in the United States. Drexel Profile catalog, c. 1956, p. 7.

Drexel Profile: Age, Style and Wood

Drexel manufactured the Profile collection between 1955 and 1961. Our set dates from  1956. Profile information comes from its catalog with this cover, which I’m estimating around 1956:
Drexel Profile catalog c 1956 cover

There are no abrupt angles in Profile. Tapered legs curve gracefully into the tops of tables and backs of chairs. The sculptured look is emphasized in case pieces by a gentle curve that joins the case at the top, the latter extending slightly outward both in the front and back.  Drexel Profile Catalog, c. 1956

Walnut and pecan wood form the basis of Drexel’s Profile collection. The catalog claims Drexel used the “finest walnut” on the larger pieces, such as the table and buffet. The chairs are a combination of pecan wood with walnut veneer.

Drexel produced three styles of Profile dining chairs: the spindle back, a panel back, and an upholstered back. I’ve been told the spindle back is the most desirable.
Drexel Profile Dining Chair

This page from the catalog shows our dining table and chairs:Drexel Profile catalog c. 1956

The dining table conveys an aerodynamic sensibility, very typical of an era celebrating fast cars and jets. I love the flared legs stretching out from table and chairs — very dramatic. Also, the tabletop’s two outer lines visually lengthen it. Once the 3 leaves are added, this table goes on to infinity.
Drexel Profile dining table

Drexel Profile Buffet

Although the Drexel Profile buffet’s shorter legs attempt to replicate the flare, its silver hardware and swooping lines pack the real punch. Here’s a photo on the day David and Michael retrieved the set:
Drexel Profile Buffet

A better view, I think, of the swooping lines of the upper buffet. The swoops appear not only in the front, but in a modified version at the back as well.
Drexel Profile Dining Set

As for the hardware, the Drexel Profile catalog (c. 1956) reads:

The flowing silver plated hardware, as elegant as fine sterling, especially reflects Van Koert’s work in silver design.

Drexel Profile dining setDrexel Profile dining set

All in all, this is a gorgeous set. When we first brought it into the booth, a customer asked if we would sell him the table only. We declined. Let’s try to keep this set together a bit longer.

Ann Marie and David

 

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Repaired Heywood-Wakefield Bedroom Set

This post, a continuation of the previous one, focuses on David’s heroic efforts that resulted in a repaired Heywood-Wakefield Bedroom Set. To the purist, the finish in this Miami Bedroom set is darker than traditional Hey-Way colors, but faced with the prospect of stripping the chest, vanity, nightstand, and bed frame, David opted to keep the finish and make cosmetic and structural improvements.
Heywood-Wakefield Miami vanity

Paint and Wood Scratches
Heywood-Wakefield damage

Some of the scratches had resulted from a painted piece being dragged across the chest and foot/headboard. Other scratches, non-paint, came from years of use. David’s process:

  • Apply Watco Danish Oil and let it sit on the piece for 5-10 minutes.
  • Coat a small piece of 0000 steel wool with the oil and rub lightly. That helped remove the paint scratches from the surface. The non-paint scratches were light enough that they disappeared with the oil treatment. It’s important not to rub too hard with the steel wool because you risk rubbing through the top coat.
  • Use a Minwax Wood Finish Stain Marker to blend light scratches into the rest of the finish. The scratch is still there but adding color to it reduces its visibility.

Hardened Nail Polish

Although we didn’t get a photo, David dealt with droplets of old nail polish stuck to the bottom of the vanity drawers. Using a razor blade and 100-grit sandpaper, he removed most of the unsightly mess. the 100-grit also removed the old finish and whatever discolorations had appeared over the years. He finished with a 220-grit finish sandpaper to smooth the wood in preparation for shellacking the interior drawers.

Smoothing the Drawer Slides

Using 600-grit sandpaper on each drawer’s underside, David smoothed out the edged surfaces that affected how well the drawers slid in and out. He then turned to the inside of the piece where the drawers reside. He sanded the center channel slide and center drawer guide, along with the bottom edges of the drawers. More sanding on the drawer edge slide and the bottom openings of each drawer front to reduce friction. David sometimes adds wax for smoother sliding, but it wasn’t necessary for this project.
Repaired Heywood-Wakefield bedroom set
Because of excessive wear dating back to the early 1940s, David inserted tack slides to prevent the drawer from catching or sticking on the initial movement in or out of the opening.
Repaired Heywood-Wakefield bedroom set

Realigning the Worn Drawers

The grooves worn into the drawers’ bottom rails threw off the vertical alignment. That resulted in an upper sitting — scraping — the top of the drawer beneath. Years of constant scraping had worn away finish.

Heywood Wakefield used solid wood for the drawer fronts and the side walls. The drawers are heavy. Add the weight of the contents and you can understand how deeply grooved the bottom rails became over 75 years of daily use. Refer to the photo above to see how deeply those side grooves cut into the wood. That’s why David added those tack glides.
Repaired Heywood-Wakefield bedroom set

Repaired Heywood-Wakefield Bedroom Set

And there we have David’s process. We moved the set into our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. Here are the nightstand and the full bed frame, which can be converted to fit a queen-sized mattress.

Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom setAnd the chest:

Heywood-Wakefield Miami Chest

What Can You Do?

You may not need a repaired Heywood-Wakefield Bedroom Set right now. But you can take steps to help your older furniture. If you have sticky drawers — hard to open or close —  pull them out  and take a look at the sliding path. Sometimes sanding the bottom edges with high-grit sandpaper and rubbing wax on the sliding areas will make them much smoother to use.

If your drawer sticks underneath, add tack glides to realign. Problem solved.

Happy Woodworking!

Ann Marie and David

 

Heywood-Wakefield Miami Bedroom Set

We didn’t know with certainty that Michael had found a Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom set on Craigslist. Even when David and I examined it, we suspected but couldn’t confirm that Heywood-Wakefield manufactured it. No labels or logos — except for the refinisher.
Furness's Refinishing label
And the wood didn’t have an authentic Heywood-Wakefield finish:
Heywood-Wakefield Miami nightstand
We bought the set from a television production assistant who acquires props for television shows. Is that cool or what? I don’t know where or if this set appeared on TV, but  we found it sitting in his garage. We toted off the vanity, chest, nightstand, headboard and footboard. And a vanity seat that doesn’t match.

When we arrived home, David pulled out his Heywood-Wakefield books and verified the heritage. The original pieces came in Champagne or Wheat finishes but our refinished bedroom set appears to sport a medium-to-dark walnut finish. However, there are areas where the original birch’s golden hue bleeds through the darker walnut color.

Heywood-Wakefield Miami Bedroom Set

Heywood-Wakefield manufactured the Miami bedroom collection for a very short period, between 1941-42, as part of their Streamline Modern furniture line. This popular series became notable for the curved front design.

The Niagara collection, which we do not posses, shows an more extreme example of the bowed front and curved drawers, achieved by steaming and bending solid wood. Leo Jiranek designed both the Niagara and Miami collections.

Heywood-Wakefield Niagara Vanity
Source

Jiranek’s Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom set presents a boxier shape than the curvy, sexy Niagara. Yet the gently curved edges convey graceful lines, pleasing proportions, and high utility.

This next photo shows a Miami vanity with an original finish. The matching seat is authentic Heywood-Wakefield. Alas, we own neither this vanity nor stool. I want that stool. Our vanity matches the vanity shape but has a darker brown color. Isn’t that mirror fabulous? Bakelite clips hold the mirror in place.

Heywood-Wakefield Miami Vanity
Heywood-Wakefield Miami Collection Vanity, 1942-41. Source
David’s Woodworking Heroics

In generally good condition, the Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom set still needed work. David conducted an inventory of what he had to do. Our next blog post will detail how he improved the worn finish and sticky drawers.

  1. Remove random paint splotches — a cautionary tale to those who paint near furniture. 
    Heywood-Wakefield damge2. 
     Remove top surface paint and blend scratches.
    Heywood-Wakefield damage

    3. Sand all the drawer interiors to remove crud. Here’s an aerial view of the bottom of the nightstand’s top drawer. We’re looking at cigarette burns and unknown spills.
    Heywood-Wakefield damage
    To repeat, David sanded all the drawers. This next photo shows the nightstand’s bottom drawer space. Did a family of dirty pixies live in there? Anyway, once David  finished his sanding, I applied shellac.
    Heywood-Wakefield damage4. Adjust drawers for smooth sliding.
    Heywood-Wakefield damage
    Heywood-Wakefield damage

Finished Products

David staged this photo of the full/queen bed frame on the front lawn right after he finished it,
Heywood-Wakefield Miami Full Bedrameand the nightstand with the lower drawer that drops down. That bottom drawer, once filthy and inhabited by pixies, reveals a much improved interior:
Heywood-Wakefield Miami nightstand
David and Michael moved the Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom set — the chest, vanity, full/queen bed frame, and nightstand — into our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.
Heywood-Wakefield Miami Chest
Heywood-Wakefield Miami vanity
Heywood-Wakefield Miami bedroom set

Heywood-Wakefield and WWII

The U.S. entrance into World War II in 1941 reshaped Heywood-Wakefield’s production and ended the Miami line. In 1943 the company published a brochure to explain its wartime effort of “a grim, strange cargo” at the expense of “complete and harmoniously designed furniture packages,” Source for this and following quotes, p. 29.

Taking a patriotic stance, Heywood-Wakefield explained their conversion to their customers: “like ourselves . . . [our customers] wish we could serve them better; but they prefer that Heywood-Wakefield ‘serve our country best.'”

Instead of furniture, their Gardner, MA, factory shifted into producing bomb nose fuzes, ack-ack projectiles, gun stocks, saw and pickaxe handles, and barracks chairs. Ready Room chairs, a combo of Heywood-Wakefield’s reclining bus seat, a school room writing desk, and a personal locker, were churned out for U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. Practice shells helped train soldiers on five-inch guns, and field hospital stretchers carried the wounded.

Heywood-Wakefield US military bunk beds WWII
U.S. Military Bunk Beds, WWII. Made by Heywood-Wakefield. Source

With steel tubing unavailable for beds, Heywood-Wakefield converted its bentwood into ambulance beds. Their brochure states:

Yes, we can make wood ambulance beds in a furniture factory with comparative ease . . . but, please God, grant that we or any other manufacturer may be called upon to produce as few as possible for our boys and those of our allies. p. 30.

Leo “Jerry” Jiranek

A quick word about the designer, Princeton-educated Jerry Jiranek. He began his association with Heywood-Wakefield around 1935 as a freelancer. For 67 years he designed for companies Bassett, Broyhill, Ethan Allen, Heywood-Wakefield, Garrison, Kroehler, Lane, Thomasville, Along the way he acquired the title “Dean of Furniture Designers.” In the mid-1960s he established the Jiranek School of Furniture Design and Technology in NYC to educate people in the furniture industry.

Heywood-Wakefield — A Timeless Love

A woman visited our booth today, looked at the set, and said, “That’s Heywood-Wakefield, isn’t it?” As a young college graduate many years earlier, she had fallen in love with the design. She’s now a grandmother getting ready to downsize, but she still loves Heywood-Wakefield. Always beautiful, always timeless.

Come back for our next post to see how David worked his magic.

Ann Marie and David

Read details on how David repaired this bedroom set.

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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-Wake 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-Wake 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-Wake 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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