Drexel Profile

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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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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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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