Business Talk

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.

Iris Abbey

Ann Marie and David

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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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Take Better Etsy Photos with an XPRO Light Tent

Take Better Etsy Photos XPRO Light Tent

We started our Etsy shop in July and immediately realized we needed to step up our photography game. In our quest for better Etsy photos, we ordered an XPRO light tent last week. The 36″ x 36″ model cost $69.99, with free shipping through Amazon Prime.
XPRO light tent 36" x 36"

With the light tent’s arrival, we began converting one of our rooms into a photography studio/office. The game plan is to free up one wall for styling furniture photos and use the window wall to take photos of smaller items in our new XPRO light tent.

Today, we tested out the light tent by setting it on a table underneath the window. David and our son, Michael, placed clip-on lights on either side. By placing the box against the window, we took advantage of natural backlighting.

They plan to attach a light above the tent on another day. Today’s efforts with a PVC pipe didn’t work out. It needs to be higher.
XPRO Photography Light Tent

Michael works at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. One of his assignments is photographing smaller items for ebay. That’s about to expand because Michael and Georgie had their office enlarged over the summer. It now contains a DIY photo studio for Avonlea’s online store. I say this to identify him as the professional photographer of the family.

Our 36″ x 36″ tent is large. We can easily fit items like this pair of mortar and pestle lamps:
XPRO light tent

Small items look dwarfed by the space.
XPRO light tent

The XPRO light tent comes with 5 backdrops: white, black, blue, red, and green — which need to be ironed before use. That was my contribution.
XPRO light tent

Here are examples of Michael’s work for our Etsy shop:
Shaker Style Wooden Box
Mortar and Pestle Lamps
Carved Trojan Horse Heads
The Pyrex Bowl Butterfly Gold, 1.5 pints, with blue background . . .
Etsy Photos

. . . and black background:
Etsy Photos

The XPRO light tent really does kick our photography up a notch.

I want to mention that Melanie Alexander of Lost and Found Decor recently posted How to Take Better Blog Photos Without Breaking the Bank. She offers excellent recommendations. Our next investments will be Adobe Creative Cloud for photo editing, and photographer Aniko Levai’s Master Package. It includes her ebook, The Ultimate Photography Book for Bloggers, videos, and lightroom presets.

I’m good at editing but I’d like to hone my photographic skills.

One last thing, while we immersed ourselves in today’s session of Etsy photos, we sold an item on Etsy.

Ann Marie and David

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Managing Small Business Workflow with Trello

While our blog usually revolves around furniture, this week I’d like to focus on something a little out of the ordinary. You see, I’ve been desperately searching for a way to catalog and organize our inventory.

Thanks to estate sales, private sellers, and Craigslist, not only are our home and garage overflowing with pieces, but so are our two modest storage units. A further complication: many of the pieces require a bit of work, so they get moved around in a desperate attempt to free up more space. It’s a giant game of Tetris.

Since we’ve been acquiring furniture for a while now, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remember the location of individual pieces and what work, if any, is needed. Finding a solution had me at wit’s end.

Luckily, I discovered Trello, a free App that assists us in managing our workflow. Trello is extraordinarily helpful and easy to use.

Our family business has emerged from its start-up phase. We’ve entered a growth dimension that is simultaneously exciting and frustrating. It felt like too many things were going on — we couldn’t keep track. Our inventory expanded but wasn’t properly recorded. Pieces were shifted around and forgotten about, future projects were buried, and tasks fell through the cracks.

I attempted to implement various organizational systems but nothing worked for the 3 of us. Our independent To-Do lists became impossible, mostly due to only one of us (A-hem) maintaining one. Projects were largely ad hoc, with little oversight or attention to deadlines. This may have worked in the past, but if we’re serious about taking Iris Abbey to the next step, organization had to be established.

We decided to start with an audit of our inventory. Trello made short work of the task. So far, so good.

I created boards unique to our organizational needs. Individual boards can be color coded. I’ve used Trello for less than 2 weeks and developed these categories:

Trello BoardsWithin the boards, I developed lists. Take a closer look at some of them:

Blog IdeasTrello Lists

Craigslist

Michael, our son, posts some of our items on Craigslist. I access the photos and write blurbs. This should help us coordinate our efforts.

Etsy

I coordinate our Etsy Shop. Now I have a list of what needs a photo or Etsy blurb.

Priority Work Projects

This category is critical to us! David, Michael, and I had too many communication lapses on the status of items. Now we update our Priority Work Projects weekly and follow it. Look, icons are available! I gave it a red background to connote urgency.Trello Priority Projects

Projects to Work On

Ready for Avonlea

Seasonal Items

I keep adding to our shop’s holiday lists, but here’s how they looked earlier this week:Trello Board

Stored Furniture

Our inventory list! Now we know where (almost) everything is as we maintain these lists. Another feature: you can drag and drop photos for quick identification. Trello Board

Upcoming Estate Sales

I’ll have to see how useful this proves to be. If there’s something especially interesting coming up, I can tag it here.

Conclusion

I’m thrilled that Trello works for us at this stage in our business. It’s a work in progress, but I love being organized. Has anyone else tried it? How do you manage your workflow?

Ann Marie and David

 

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A Year in an Antique Mall: Lessons Learned

Next month marks our first anniversary at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. We struggled with the decision to move into Avonlea because we are newbies in this business. The longer we waited, however, the more furniture kept piling up in our home. We needed to take action. Our pieces needed visibility, and we wanted to be able to walk through our house.

Avonlea not only is the largest antiques and interiors mall in northeast Florida, but it’s in the process of creating a unique online store for its vendors. That all sounded very attractive and, I’ve got to say, we’re quite pleased with our decision.

Here’s our space today — we’ve just upgraded to a larger booth.

Iris Abbey June 2015

A year ago we moved into a very small space because we wanted to evaluate our decision in the most economical way possible. Our booth measured 9′ x 5′ and didn’t offer much room to turn around.

Our First Booth

Color: Our first space came with neutral gray walls. Our excitement about moving in blinded us to an important element: color. Gray turned out to be a poor choice since our gray painted pieces blended into the wall. It looked like a big, boring yawn.

Layering: We added a bamboo rug, a bushy, holiday poinsettia and began acquiring small items to sell. That’s another lesson learned: one can’t get by selling only furniture. Smalls are essential. By December our space looked fuller and we laid out a Shop Small welcome mat to greet holiday shoppers.

Iris Abbey Christmas Booth

Size: Unfortunately, most people bypassed our booth without really seeing it. Very few people actually walked into our small space. A big factor was our neighbor across the street — she displayed two rooms crammed with amazing things. Her rooms served as a magnet that caused shoppers’ heads to snap their attention to her displays and completely ignore ours.  Our neighbor offered us advice early on: get out of that small space and into a larger one so people will take us seriously.

Color Revisited: Since we weren’t completely sold on the idea of a larger booth we decided to spice things up with a new coat of paint. Good-bye gray walls and hello Aubergine. I loved how vibrant and regal it looked. The Saturday after we painted, a customer almost bought that huge mirror. He didn’t, but we were encouraged that the aubergine made our merchandise  pop.

Iris Abbey Booth March 2015

We barely had a chance to test out our newly painted booth because a bigger space became available. Our son Michael helped talk us into the new space to display pieces from his ever growing Mid-Century Modern collection.

Space Revisited: Not only is the new space larger (10′ x 10′) but it’s across from a row of windows. Natural light floods in. Of course, we needed another can of Aubergine paint. I wasn’t giving up that gorgeous color. This time the mall staff painted our walls, no mean feat since the previous color (a hideous yellow) somehow managed to bleed through even after two coats of Aubergine.

We assigned Michael a wall for his pieces and he decided to feature this gorgeous china cabinet.

MCM China Cabinet Iris Abbey

In this next photo the cabinet doors are open. I’m very grateful for the extra storage space.
The chair in front of the cabinet is sturdy, Mid-Century Modern and — surprise — it folds up. To the right you can just see a hint of one of a pair of our Hollywood Regency chairs.

MCM China Cabinet

Michael’s Mid-Century Modern teak cabinet — made in Denmark — is topped off by a period lamp with a lucite base. It’s a great combination.

MCM Danish Cabinet

While we’re on this tour, let’s look around. The back wall features a magnificent mirror flanked by artwork. Those lamps are made from genuine mortar and pestles and would be perfect for a young scientist’s room.

Mirror and Artwork Iris Abbey

We have images from the ruins of Pompeii, a deer’s skull and antlers, an antique painted mirror, a designer’s lamp, and a unique Lady of the House print by Andrew Wyeth. In 1992 the Andrew Wyeth exhibit came to town and I required all my students at Jacksonville University to view his works and write papers. Lady of the House was only printed for that 1992 exhibit, so it’s rare.

Iris Abbey Booth

On the other wall stands our gold and silver dresser, which I love. Mighty Leo the Lion, atop it,  gives visitors a friendly roar.

Booth 76 Iris Abbey

The gray serpentine chest offers a perch for this authentic Osceola turkey, which stands next to a beautiful oval framed photo of a early 1900 family.

Iris Abbey

Here’s a better shot of the Serpentine Chest:

Iris Abbey

A breezy coastal table with hand-painted swans sits front and center in our booth.

Iris Abbey

Just beyond the coastal table stands the hand painted antique desk and chair.

Iris Abbey Desk

Online Presence: It’s essential to market merchandise online. Right now we’re only using Craigslist. Michael posts photos and blurbs on our Avonlea pieces along with ones we have at home (because they don’t yet fit in our booth). Avonlea’s next step is their online store, which should happen any day. We’re hoping that really takes off.

Thanks for visiting! Be sure and leave a comment — we love them.

Ann Marie and David

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