Mid-Century Modern Furniture

Drexel Profile Dining Set: Repairing Damage

Question: When you find multiple pieces of the classic Drexel Profile dining set but there’s obvious damage, should you buy them? On the one hand, the Drexel Profile collection is rare and elegant — manufactured between 1955 and 1961. Not only that, a couple of pieces in this set included heavy travertine stone tops, something I’d never seen in person. On the other hand, refinishing wood and repairing travertine stone are investments when one plans to resell.

The deciding factor, as always: costs vs. profits. Could we afford to buy all the pieces, do the repairs, and recoup our costs with a bit of profit?

Sure, let’s go for it — because it’s a Drexel Profile dining set.

Amazingly, lightning struck twice this year. We found another Drexel Profile dining table and chairs set at an estate sale. And that’s not all. We encountered the matching buffet, cocktail table, and small cupboard. This time, the wood is light walnut:

Drexel Profile dining set

We sold our previous Drexel Profile dining table, chairs, and buffet to an appreciative buyer a few months ago. John van Koert designed the collection for Drexel , which is a wonderful example of the clean lines of Mid-Century Modern design.

Pick Up Thrills: Drexel Profile Dining Set

David and Michael set off to pick up the furniture on the final sale day. Unforeseen delays — unloading other pieces at our warehouse, traffic, a train, and the trip down to St. Augustine — disrupted a simple pickup.

The estate rep left me frantic messages but I couldn’t reach anyone: neither David, Michael, nor even the estate rep. Technology — it’s great, huh?

Totally unknown to me, another couple of potential buyers hovered around our Drexel Profile dining set at the sale. They wanted it, and the situation looked brighter for them with each passing second because my pick-up team was missing in action. The clock ticked. David and Michael screeched to a halt in front of the estate sale a mere 25 minutes before closing.

Chairs

The 6 chairs required the least amount of work. Of the three styles of chairs Drexel manufactured for the Profile collection, I love these spindle-back chairs the best.

Drexel Profile Dining Table and Chairs
The white vinyl is original. Usually we recover the seats, especially after 50+ years. but the material is in good shape. After a thorough cleaning, these chairs are ready for our booth.Drexel Profile Chair

Table

When we found the first Drexel Profile table that’s now sold, it was pristine, with very little cosmetic damage over the years. Not so with this beauty. Years of exposure to sunlight caused the original finish to lighten. It presented a sunbleached finish, accompanied by scrapes, rubs, and deep scratches. David usually handles our furniture repairs, but when he needs a consult, he pulls in our wood whisperer. They talked and the wood whisperer agreed to sand out what he could and restore the lacquer top coat.

Drexel Profile Dining Table

Look at this table with its 3 leaves. This baby goes on to infinity:

Drexel Profile Dining Table

Buffet

The buffet required the greatest amount of work. The wood needed refinishing. As with the table, the buffet suffered from sun bleaching. There were some minor veneer issues on the door edges and minor scrapes scratches on the cabinet. Our wood whisperer did a light 220-grit sand and sprayed several coats of lacquer to return the buffet to its original light walnut coloring.
Drexel Profilel Buffet

Alas, the travertine stone didn’t just have a crack. It came in two pieces. Visually, this was the worst problem.
Drexel Profile buffet travertine top

We’re speculating that someone — definitely not us — caused the break by trying to improperly lift the stone from the base. Most people will try to lift one end of the marble slab so another pair of hands can get a grip on the other end. But this method puts an incredible amount of stress on the unsupported center. Sometimes one gets away with doing that, but at some point this slab broke in the middle.

Public Service Announcement: Always lift stone tops from the center in order to evenly distribute the weight and the force exerted on the stone.

On the upside, the travertine comes from Italy:

Drexel Profile Travertine

David got an estimate for a new slab: $250 to $300, which would be fine if we planned to keep the buffet forever. But it want to resell it, so we needed another, cheaper option.

David talked to a countertop installer who could handle the repair. He’d make it strong enough to sustain future lifting — as long as movers did it properly. (See PSA above.) And with the repair, the buffet’s travertine would match that of the cocktail table.

The repair didn’t make the break totally invisible, but now one must look carefully to see it.
Drexel Profile repaired travertine top

This is the buffet, without travertine top, in the Drexel Profile 1960 catalog . . .

Drexel Profile Buffet

. . . and glowing in our booth at Avonlea Antiques & Interiors:

Drexel Profile Buffet

Cocktail Table

That’s what the catalog calls it: cocktail table, not coffee table, with travertine top. It just required a cleaning and some mild restoration to the finish. David used Watco Dark Walnut Danish Oil to darken its finish.
Drexel Profile Coffee Table

Drexel Profile Cocktail Table

Cupboard

Just look at this cutie, the final piece of our Drexel Profile dining set. It had a large piece of veneer missing on the left side at the lower edge of the cabinet. Our wood whisperer cut in a new piece of veneer, then sanded and sprayed on a new top coat. It’s back to the original coloring and looks brand new. Here’s my quick photo under fluorescent lighting, . . .
Drexel Profilel Cabinet
. . . compared with the Avonlea Antiques and Interiors official photo on its Market page:

Drexel Profile Cupboard

Finally, the 1960 Drexel Profile catalog’s image of the cupboard:

Drexel Profile Cupboard 1960 catalog

Conclusion

Unfortunately without limitless funds, we’re always running up against costs vs. potential profits. Sometimes we roll the dice and gamble, but this wasn’t one of those times. We knew we’d have to invest in these pieces to get them ready for interested buyers. With the buffet, I’m hoping we can break even. But this is a fabulous set that deserved to be brought back to life.

We’ve decided to sell the pieces to this Drexel Profile dining set separately. The likelihood of finding a buyer who wants to purchase all the pieces is slim. So far, everything is in our booth except for the dining table and chairs. I can’t wait to see everything together. It’s really a glorious set.

Thanks for stopping by.

Ann Marie and David

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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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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

 

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

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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Recovering Dining Chair Seats: Mid-Century Modern

Recovering dining chair seats, perhaps the easiest upholstery project, still requires organization.

Recovering Dining Chair Seats

Peeling Away the Years

I always love seeing the layers of history. The photo below shows the jaunty floral fabric wrapped around the original batting and wooden seat. It’s 90’s and awful, I know. The staples are already out, so let’s see what’s underneath.

Recovering Dining Chair

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a plump seat. Instead, imagine a pancake. One layer down and we’re at the dirty, original, yellow fabric stapled securely in place.
MCM Yellow Stripe Fabric

How about delving down more layers? Here we are at the thin, sad interior batting:
Dining Chair Old Batting

Foam and Batting

Luckily, Joann’s offered a 50% discount on their $59.99 high-density foam the day I ordered online. After seeing it in person, I absolutely recommend the high density. A roll of 2″ x 18″ x 82″ is perfect for covering 4 dining chair seats.2" high density foam
I traced the wooden chair seat onto the 2″ foam with a thick black marker. David grabbed the electric knife and cut out four pieces of foam.
Dining Chair Foam CutThe foam will provide a far more comfortable cushion. Below, there’s the wood seat, 2″ foam, batting, and the ivory microfiber upholstery fabric. By the way, we found the fabric in Joann’s remnant fabric bin. Four dining chairs require 1.5 yards of fabric, which we purchased for $9.
Recovering Dining Chairs

The Process for Recovering Dining Chair Seats

  1. Spray glue on the wooden seat and the pre-cut foam. Let both sit and get tacky before adhering together. NOTE: David prefers using 3M General Purpose 45 Spray Adhesive. After he unsuccessfully used the spray pictured, he went out and bought the 3M spray and tried again.Recovering Dining Chair
  2. If rounded edges are desired, spray the glue on each raw edge of the foam and compress. We used a punch awl to help with the fold.Recovering Dining ChairRecovering Dining Chairs
  3. Cover with batting and staple down.Trim excess. Recovering dining chair
  4. Cover with upholstery fabric; use hands to smooth the fabric, and staple. Cut excess.Recovering Dining ChairRecovering Dining ChairRecovering Dining Chairs
  5. Fold the corners neatly, making sure to cut excess fabric to eliminate bulges of batting and fabric.
  6. Fold corners and trim excess material before stapling.Recovering dining chair seats
  7. Optional but simple, this next step involves stapling a cambric dust cover to the seat’s underside. It finishes off the piece by hiding all your fabric edges and staples.Recovered Dining Chair Seats
  8. And a quick photo of the recovered chair seats:Recovered Chair Seats

Sure, the hands-on experience proved more challenging, but we saved a lot of money and, really, that’s all there is to recovering dining chair seats. They’ll look stylish with the matching dining table.

Thanks for stopping by. David and I will be back with a new project in no time!

Ann Marie and David

 

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2016: Top Mid-Century Modern Style Posts

2016: Top Mid-Century Modern Style Posts

Take a look at the top 5 posts I wrote in 2016. They all deal with Mid-Century Modern style. Not a stunning surprise.

When David and I started Iris Abbey, we planned to paint and sell furniture . Our work, though beautiful, didn’t sell. We developed a belief that our local market is pretty saturated.

Our son, Michael, directed our focus to Mid-Century Modern and we haven’t looked back.

Every so often I sneak a painted piece into our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery, but the majority of what we sell is Mid-Century Modern, as you’ll see from these posts.

Cara Greenberg coined the term Mid-Century Modern in her 1984 book by the same eponymous name. This Christmas, Aunt Linda gave Michael a signed, first-edition copy of Greenberg’s Mid-Century Modern.

In furniture, modern came in all price brackets. Those who could afford it filled architect-designed homes with furniture from smart department stores which, in those days, promoted furniture even more vigorously than fashion. A sophisticated home of the early Fifties might have featured, for example, a pair of Eero Saarinen’s all-enveloping Womb chairs in bright red, or had as its pièce de résistance the free-form walnut-and-glass coffee table of Isamu Noguchi, its sculptured two-part base subject to rearrangement at its owner’s whim. — Cara Greenberg, Mid-Century Modern, 1984

1. 5 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Furniture

Mid-Century Modern Living Room
Source: Chris Barrett Design

The best of it was designed by architects who, during the war, when nobody was building houses, had turned their talents to furniture–or who, in desperation for furnishings that made sense in the smaller, sparer postwar house, decided to design their own.  — Cara Greenberg, Mid-Century Modern, 1984

Step into 1956 and see . . .

2. Kent-Coffey’s Sequence Collection 
Kent Coffee Sequence bedroom furniture

3. Painted Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

Sometimes, because the damage is too great or the piece isn’t significant, we opt to paint. With Mid-Century Modern pieces we’re judicious with how much we paint. Take a look at these two pieces:
Mid-Century Modern Dixie chest and nightstand

4. Clothes Press by White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC

White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, is a furniture company close to my heart. I’ve written about them in other posts, but here’s an unusual clothes press:

How Much is My White Fine Furniture Worth?

5. Broyhill Premier Saga Desk Meets Heywood-Wakefield Chair

We found a Mid-Century desk, stylish and curved. Alas, no chair. What are the odds that we’d find a single — not part of a set — Heywood-Wakefield chair? It’s not a perfect match, but close enough to convey the spirit of the times, especially with the period upholstery fabric we ordered.

Broyhill Premier Saga Desk

That’s it for 2016. Next week I’ll share my top posts of all time.

Ann Marie and David

How Much is My White Fine Furniture Worth?

How Much is my White Fine Furniture Worth
Last year I wrote a couple of posts about the White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, often  referred to as White Fine Furniture. Thanks to the attention these posts garnered, I still receive emails and comments from readers asking about the worth of White Fine Furniture pieces that they own, or wish to buy or sell.

Location

While I’m not a licensed appraiser, I strive to provide general information to people who contact me. Knowledge of one’s local market remains key. We live in Jacksonville, FL, and our nearest metropolitan areas are Atlanta to the north, and Miami to the south. Dealers from those locations often stop by Avonlea Antique and Design Gallery and try to negotiate our prices downward.

We brought a high-end chair into our booth, for instance, that we priced for a higher-income household in Jacksonville. The chair just needed the right person to come into Avonlea and fall in love with it. Sadly, things didn’t quite work out the way I planned.

Instead, a non-local dealer made a much lower offer. She explained that she was unwilling to pay the asking price since there was no way she would make money on the resale. While we passed on her initial offer, eventually we settled on a more reasonable amount.

You may face a similar scenario. Consider these options:

  • decline the offer and hope the right client comes in someday, or
  • try to negotiate and complete the sale

Sure, we made a slim profit, but the exercise proved dispiriting. Our chair could — and will — command a higher price in a different market. But our business needs actual sales.

Keep this in mind: that perfect customer with deep pockets and a burning desire for your merchandise may not come along any time soon. What do you do then?

My Advice

Whether buying or selling furniture, a negotiation dance is usually expected. I send an email to readers who ask me about a valuation on specific pieces. Here are excerpts from my typical letter:

First of all, White Fine Furniture is built to last for generations. It’s sturdy and beautiful. You know that it is superior to any furniture made today. The problem is, not many other people understand this about furniture. They tend to buy as inexpensively as possible and replace in a few years.

I haven’t seen photos of your set, but that’s OK because I’m not an appraiser. I can, however, offer my opinion.

Your location is a factor. I live in Jacksonville, FL, between Atlanta and Miami. We have dealers and buyers from those areas come to visit us because we sell cheaper than those metro areas. If you are in a big city, you have more options.

Unusual styles (like Mid-Century Modern) command better prices than traditional styles. I saw a gorgeous White bedroom set at an estate sale that was priced slightly over $2,000. I had to walk away because I didn’t have the money and I knew I wouldn’t make much profit on it.

If you’re in a larger market, check with local antique malls. The procedure used by the antiques gallery where I have a booth is to accept electronic info and photos from community members wishing to sell, and direct this info to a dealer(s) who handles that type of merchandise. From there, it becomes a private negotiation between the dealer and the seller. The dealer wants to acquire the items for the lowest possible price and the seller wants the highest price. We all know that and hope to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Consignment stores are a possibility but they take a sizable chunk out of the selling price. My understanding is that consignment stores usually reduce the price on your/their pieces each month. Furniture not sold during an agreed period may be picked up by you or donated by them. If you need to get rid of your furniture immediately, however, this is a serious option.

You could place photos and descriptions of your items on Craigslist.

My number one piece of advice — I should have started with this — is to contact a dealer in your area and get info about your market. This refers back to my discussion of Jacksonville vs. Atlanta and Miami.

White Fine Furniture Legacy Lives On

Sometimes people with actual ties to White Furniture Company, aka White Fine Furniture,   contact me. I get very excited when this happens.

How nice to find folks still enjoying some of the finest furniture ever produced. I worked at White’s for three summers while I was still in high school. Many of the folks pictured I knew and admired their skill (even at 16 years old I knew a craftsman when I saw one) these men and women took pride in their job. I picked up wood scraps and delivered them to the boiler to be burned for heat and other energy needs.) At times I would stand and watch for 15 minutes at the skill it takes to cut out the scalloped huge table tops, it was amazing to watch these guys handle these huge pieces with ease. The exact measurements used, the quality of wood, the skill to finish the pieces, the packaging for shipment was second to none. White’s also knew the skill it took to put out furniture of this quality and paid their employees a better than average hourly wage. My uncle worked there nearly 50 years, he and many others were able to raise families and put kids through college because of these fair wages. The book [Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory] does give a good look of the factory near the end, but the over 100 years before is the real story of American pride. I so miss the folks I worked with there, but my memory of each one always make me smile.  — Dennis

Recently, I received this comment:

Just a little something to add to this wonderful post. I am a White and my father was the last White president of the factory before it was sold. I grew up with a house full of White furniture and I took it for granted as children do. I was recently telling a friend that I honestly didn’t know until I was an adult that furniture could break! For 46 years I have been used to drawers that always perfectly, smoothly open and solid pieces that never have any problems. I am very thankful to be a part of this legacy. Thank you, Ann Marie, for this wonderful tribute to my family’s heritage.     — Becca

My White Fine Furniture Posts

If you are interested in reading my Number 1 post of all time, head over to White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC – Part 1

Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory
Andrew inspecting bedpost, photo by Bill Bamberger

Continue on to White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, Part 2,
How Much is my White Fine Furniture Worth?

check out Clothes Press by White Furniture Company, Mebane, NC,How Much is My White Fine Furniture Worth?

and finish up with Can You Name My White Fine Furniture Collection?

Our Newest White Fine Funiture Acquisition

I began writing this post yesterday and — BOOM — this morning we purchased dining table, 6 chairs, and 2 leaves manufactured by White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC. It needs work, and that’s David’s kingdom — but I love the Mid-Century Modern look of the chairs.
White Fine Furniture
White Fine Furniture logo

Good luck on your next negotiation.

Ann Marie and David

Ficks Reed Furniture: Mid-Century’s Exotic Rattan

Ficks Reed Furniture

Interior decorator John B. Wisner designed these fabulous mid-century rattan pieces for the Ficks Reed Company. I believe they are part of the Far Horizons Collection, introduced in 1954. During this period, exotic decor from Asia intrigued the American market.

Ficks Reed Far Horizons

A center seat or perhaps a table existed at one time, but was long gone when David and Michael purchased the set. Today the two chairs form a love seat that is accompanied by a pair of matching end tables.

While researching, I discovered that they’re made from rattan, not bamboo. If you’re like me, you may be hazy on what separates the two. In 1954 the Schenectady Gazette clarified the difference:

A tropical vine, sometimes stretching as long as 600 feet over the jungle floor, has become one of the most desirable materials for summer furniture. Rattan, found in the Philippines and East Indies, when fashioned by a firm like Ficks Reed Co. of Cincinnati into high-styled furniture, bears little similarity to the thorny bark-covered vine gathered by natvies in the interior or the jungle.

Distinct from bamboo which is a hollow grass or tree straight and brittle — rattan, solid throughout, is extremely pliable and can be wrought with skill into innumerable articles for the home. Source

Let’s take a closer look at the construction of our pieces: The graceful, upward sweep of the arm tipped with brass caused this particular feature to be named an “elephant tusk.”
Ficks Reed Chair Frame
Ficks Reed logo
Ficks Reed rattan side table

In 1885 Louis Ficks formed the National Carriage and Reed Company in NYC. Five years later, he relocated his company to Cincinnati, soon added a partner, and changed the company’s name to Ficks Reed.

The company initially produced woven reed and wicker baby carriages, but built its reputation on its luxury wicker and rattan furniture over the course of its 125-year existence. Every piece, whether residential or commercial, was hand worked to the highest quality. Today Ficks Reed means exceptional quality and increasingly rare pieces.

In additional to John B. Wisner, Ficks Reed worked with designers such as Dorothy Draper, Paul T. Frankl, and Paul László. Luxury hotels promoted their Ficks Reed decor. Here are some examples:

The Greenbrier, West Virginia – Interiors Designed by Dorothy Draper
Ficks Reed at The Greenbrier
Ficks Reed The Greenbrier
Ficks Reed The Greenbrier

The Colony, Delray Beach, Florida

Ficks Reed The Colony Delray Beach FLFicks Reed The Colony

End of an Era

By January 2011, Ficks Reed was out of business, yet its legacy lives on. SWI Vintage acquired dozens of its pieces and transformed them, through lacquer and textiles, into furniture celebrating the vibrancy of Palm Beach. They sold quickly via One Kings Lane:Ficks Reed Dorothy Draper Bench
Ficks Reed Green Schumacher Loungers
Ficks Reed White Schumacher Chairs
Our Ficks Reed love seat and side tables are beautiful, but I suppose there’s always the possibility I could lacquer our pieces. Choices are pink, green, white, navy or natural. Any recommendations?

Ann Marie and David

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DIY Wood Repair: Water Marks, Burns, Scratches, Finishing

An unexpected acquisition exploded into weeks of DIY wood repair for David. How did he overcome white water marks, dark water marks, burns, scratches, finish stripping, and create a new finish color? Read on to find out.

Backstory . . .
Broyhill Premier Sculptra Bedroom Set

We bought a lot of furniture and decor at a hectic estate sale last March. Unlike our usual sales, this house was wall-to-wall Mid-Century Modern (MCM), every room overflowing with stunning pieces. Collectors and dealers came out in droves. My son Michael and I were among the first into the house and it was a bonanza.

We came across a beautiful Broyhill Premier Sculptra bedroom set, made in 1964. Unfortunately, the high prices wouldn’t allow us to make any money on resale. Michael suggested we leave a bid but, with the eager mob surrounding us, I didn’t think we had much of a chance.

Surprise! A phone call informed us we were the proud new owners of the Broyhill set. Broyhill Premier manufactured their Sculptra collection between 1957 and 1965. With our purchase we acquired one of the first king-sized headboards ever made.

Great collection. We put it in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery and enjoyed lots of interest.

A client and friend contacted us and asked if we’d be interested in buying a matching nightstand. She had paid already paid a mover to deliver her own merchandise and they would throw in the nightstand at no shipping cost to us. Good deal.

Big Problem: Wood Repair Needed

On a muggy, rain drenched night, the nightstand arrived. It matched the collection’s design but troublingly sported a cherry stain, not our golden walnut.
Broyhill Premier Sculptra Nightstand Cherry

David pulled out the CitriStrip and began the process of wood repair. He’s the expert at our house.

Broyhill Premier Sculptra Nightstand CitriStrip
First side loaded up with stripper — 4 more to go
Stripping Broyhill Premier Sculptra
Residue CitriStrip and old finish

But this baby had issues beyond its color. Once the cherry finish came off David tackled the stains and scratches.

White Water Mark

The white water mark was easy. Denatured alcohol helped get rid of it and a 180-grit sanding left it matching the rest of the top.

Broyhill Premier Sculptra nightstand damage

Dark Water Marks

Dark water marks are always the hardest to remove. With the finish completely removed, David used a paste of oxalic acid, marketed as Wood Bleach (Trade name). This is neither a quick nor easy solution. It sometimes takes several coats to minimize the black ring, which is caused by water soaking into and reacting with the tannins in the wood.

After three applications, most of the dark ring disappeared. He sanded down the area with 180-grit sandpaper and was fortunate that it didn’t ghost back through when the he applied the new stain medium.

Burn Marks

Finally one goes our way. The burn wasn’t deep and was easily sanded out with 180-grit.

Scratches

The scratch was a bit deep. David knew if he sanded the veneer to remove the stain, he’d run the risk of going through the veneer. Then the area the wouldn’t take stain properly. He tossed out this option. Instead he used a steam iron and a wet cloth to pull the scratched area back to the surface. When heat is applied to wet wood, it raises the grain. As you can see in the picture, the scratch is now flush with its surrounding face. There is a dark line or bruising now visible, but no deep scratch. Once he had it flush, David sanded the dark area down then matched the tone of the wood around it.
Broyhill Premier Sculptra wood damage

Matching the Stain

With the blemishes in the wood ameliorated, David took up the task of staining the piece to match the walnut tones of our other pieces. Minwax Special Walnut looked like a good match when he put it on an inconspicuous area for testing color. He plunged in and stained the entire piece.

Wrong. It looked way too red to belong to our Sculptra collection. Next up, a car trip to a local furniture refinishing business and a plea for knowledge. I imagine David pressed the finisher about miracles. Could this piece be saved? Especially with the time and effort already invested. The pessimistic answer he received held a ray of hope and, frankly, he felt it was too late to turn back. Like Ahab, David and his nemesis nightstand found themselves locked in a mortal struggle. The poor finisher skeptically advised Provincial, a stain close in tone to Special Walnut but mostly based on green. The only way to kill the red was to mix it with green.

Still Mixing the Stain . . .

Provincial toned down the reddish color but didn’t come close to matching the existing finish. Frustration. A week and a half of work needed to be removed from the piece. Out came the CitriStrip for two more full strippings. Several hours and many dark words later and there! The nightstand was back to neutral with no red tone bleeding out of the wood.

He surmised that the original finish had been a layer of dye and shot with cherry toner before the finished top coat got sprayed on.

The extra strip was an attempt at removing any residual red tone from the wood. After a few trial-and-error color matches, he went with a mixture of Watco Light Walnut and Golden Oak. The Light Walnut still had some red in the light walnut stain. The Golden Oak toned that down and added a lighter golden hue to some of the wood graining.

Resolution

David came very close to matching the two pieces. The lighter undertones of the original collection mimicked what an aging process would have done to the finish and the wood underneath. I was quite pleased with the final results; David bordered on ecstatic.

David DIY Wood Repair
My Hero

An added bonus: after three weeks we no longer had to explain why the second nightstand was offsite. More importantly David stopped muttering to himself about stains and tones and being generally disagreeable when things didn’t work right. But that’s pretty common, right?

Lesson learned: matching tones of wood finishes is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes it’s best to let the pro do the job. But David loved the learning experience and he lucked out on the top of the curve. Pretty amazing. He gives himself 25% to skill and 75% to luck — and not knowing when to quit.
Broyhill Premier Sculptra Nightstands

Here they are, together at last. The collection sold within a week. Don’t they look beautiful together? And heroic David brought about this transformative wood repair.
Broyhill Premier Sculptra Nightstands

Thanks for visiting. We love reading your comments.

Ann Marie & David

You can find us on Facebook and Pinterest.

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