Mid-Century Modern Furniture

Finding Milo Baughman at Drexel

Acquisition

A few weeks ago, my son and I ventured into an estate sale madhouse. A lot of times a seller mistakenly identifies a sale or item as Mid-Century Modern (MCM) when it isn’t. My son  makes a game out of it, Ignorance or Malice? The rules are fairly self-explanatory. I just think it’s an attractive hook used to lure interested shoppers. Since there does seem to be so much confusion, I put together a primer on MCM.

But this sale wasn’t like the others. What it had were numerous photographs — posted earlier in the week — of an incredibly cool household.

The pack of buyers frothed rabid that morning. Fortunately Michael and I signed in as numbers 3 and 4 among the early dawn enthusiasts. Michael was still on crutches — a broken ankle from rugby. The melee didn’t favor his physical impairment, and being out of practice with first-day estate sales because of his job, the cutthroat frenzy took him by surprise.

The first people swarmed into the home like locusts — and we were among them. I reached the dining room first. I came face to face with the lovely table pictured below. “Where’s the price tag on this dining table?” I like to think that I presented my question in a calm and civil manner, but chances are the hapless worker witnessed a wild-eyed customer shouting incoherently about tags. After a chaotic few seconds I located the tag snatched it up. Others crashed toward me. This was the craziest sale I’d ever attended.
Milo Baughman Drexel 1952
Later, I learned Michael had headed to a bedroom but couldn’t grab sale tags speedily with his crutches hindering him. Faster shoppers outmaneuvered and frustrated him. We left the sale after an hour or so, only to be confronted by a line of shoppers still waiting to be ushered into  the home for the sale.
Milo Baughman Drexel 1952

We also purchased the matching china cabinet and lots of smalls over the next few days as prices dropped.

Research

Research came next. Who manufactured the dining set? The table, cabinet and chairs  provided a big clue: Drexel, all made in 1952.

Matching those exact pieces on the internet proved difficult. I came across suggestions that pioneer modern furniture designer Milo Baughman (pronounced MEE-lo BAWF-man) designed the set, but I wanted irrefutable proof. By training, I am a researcher.

Days later I cheered when I found a Chicago Tribune newspaper article from June 22, 1952, focused on Chicago’s big summer show of new furniture and accessories. It offered the first proof that linked Baughman with Drexel’s Today’s Living Collection. The important part of the article is in bold:

One of the largest new collections ever to be shown at once was brought out by Drexel Furniture company and includes a new Precedent group, “Precedent ’53,” of 35 pieces, designed by Milo Baughman in silver elm and beech. . . Baughman designed another modern group in elm and beech, with a spice finish, called “Today’s Living.” It is designed for young families with limited space. Source

I researched on Google, Google Scholar, our local library — they informed me I had exhausted their knowledge. I sent emails to Drexel Heritage with photos, especially the numbers.

Today's Living Dining Table -Stenciled Numbers
Today’s Living Dining Table – Stenciled Numbers. 100-4 is the model; 752 identifies the month and year the table was made: July, 1952

Drexel Heritage sent a pdf of the 1955 Today’s Living Catalog, which helped us verify our pieces.
Drexel's 1955 Today's Living Catalog Buffet
See? Our buffet numbers match the catalog number.
Drexel Today's Living Buffet numbers
Drexel 1955 Catalog Today's Living

Verification

My key question remained: Did Milo Baughman design the 1952 Today’s Living Collection for Drexel? And– at last — the confirmation email to me from Drexel Heritage:

“Yes, from the information we have that is correct.”

Baughman worked at Drexel in 1952, just a sliver of his successful life. The next year he moved on to Thayer Coggin, where he acquired his stellar reputation, and continued with them for the next 50 years. In the 1960s and 1970s designers at the High Point Market eagerly awaited the unveiling of Baughman’s newest pieces.

Several museums feature his designs, including New York City’s Whitney. The Furniture Hall of Fame inducted Baughman in 1987.

We’ll leave you with examples of his later designs. First, the man himself:
Milo Baughman

Burl Buffet by Milo BaughmanBurl Buffet by Milo Baughman / Thayer Coggin. Source.

T-Back Lounge Chair by Milo Baughman
T-Back Lounge Chair designed by Milo Baughman for Thayer Coggin. Source.
Circle Sofa by Milo Baughman
Circle Sofa by Milo Baughman for Thayer Coggin. Source.

We’re so fortunate that Drexel Heritage is still a functioning furniture manufacturer. Despite this fact, however, the Drexel rep still couldn’t provide me with a copy of the 1952 Today’s Living Collection catalog.

Researching source material such as catalogs and information on notable designers can be difficult, but this story has a happy ending.

Thanks for stopping by, and we love reading your comments.

Ann Marie and David

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Ingmar Relling’s Siesta Chair: A Design Icon

Norwegian Ingmar Relling (1920-2002) designed his Siesta chair in 1964. The following year it placed first at the Norwegian Furniture Council’s design competition. Siesta gave Relling a premier spot in Scandinavian design history along with international acclaim. In fact, this chair is recognized as the icebreaker leading to Norway’s entrée into international furniture markets.
Ingmar Relling Siesta Chair

The Vanishing Barcelona Chair

Last weekend we acquired a pair of low-back Siesta chairs of our own. I wish I could claim it was expected. Despite these Norwegian beauties catching our attention online earlier in the week, we opted to go to another estate sale for, what we thought, a bigger prize.

Friday morning we groggily stood in a line many miles away. Numbers 1 and 2 on the sign-in sheet. David, normally gregarious, communicated in monosllyabic responses. We were on a mission: Michael sent us to snap up a fetching Barcelona chair (or well-made reproduction) wrapped in a rich white leather.

Barcelona Chair repro
Barcelona Chair repro. Original designed by Mies van der Rohe, 1929. Source

The doors of the sale opened and we raced inside, only to learn a disappointing and infuriating truth: someone had removed the Barcelona chair the previous evening — before the sale began.

There’s no telling what happened. Was it removed by the family, as the estate agent apologetically explained? Or was it something more nefarious, as some dealers muttered darkly: a price agreed upon before the general public could lay claim to it? Bad business, indeed.

Oh, and the snappy 1979 red MGB with red piping on the upholstery seams that, unbeknown to us, had captured David’s imagination? It was no longer there either. David wanted to at least drool over it for a few minutes. He believes everyone should own an MG at least once. Fortunately he already has enjoyed that experience.

David texted our son, Michael, with the sad news that the Barcelona Chair had vanished. The two shared moment of shock and anger. Michael opined on one of his favorite estate sale topics: the need for a cohesive set of guidelines to bring order to a largely ad hoc business. We listened politely. But, taking stock of the situation, we had gambled on the Barcelona chair and miscalculated badly.

Enter, Siesta Chairs

We headed home to regroup. While I gulped down a glass of cold pomegranate juice, David phoned the estate sale with the “Westnofa” chairs. Surprise — they were still available. When we heard the asking price, we knew why. If they survived until 9 am the next morning, when everything at the sale dropped by 30% . . .

After talking it over that night, the three of us came to a decision: we’d buy them. David took the lead on this one, leaving at 7:15 am for a 45 minute trip across the St Johns River. He signed in as number 2 on the list. The doors opened and he made a beeline for the chairs and fended off another shopper who came in behind him. He kept the purchase quiet until he triumphantly returned with a pair of matching Siesta Chairs. Very exciting.

Sadly, it was too much to hope for matching ottomans. Not that we’re complaining. David likes the thrill of the hunt and the adrenalin rush of the purchase. He compared his adventure to a Deerslayer moment, with Ingmar Relling’s Siesta chairs in the sight of his imaginary long rife. And he got two with one shot.

A lot of craftsmanship went into the Siesta chair. This is a serious merging of design and function into luxurious comfort. Laminated, bent beechwood create the bones, while a soft leather seat welcomes your tired body. More interestingly, the color changes with the light. Here’s a shot of it around midday — brown, right?
Ingmar Relling Siesta Chair
And in late afternoon light it appears burgundy:
Ingmar Relling Siesta Chair

Look at the back! Cords and canvas offer trampoline-like comfort. We’re not kidding — not only is it incredibly light, the Siesta chair is also sensationally comfortable.
Ingmar Relling Siesta Chair

Ingmar Relling Siesta Chair

Ingmar Relling Siesta Chair
Occasionally people claim that Westnofa manufactured these chairs. That would be wrong. Westnofa, created in the 1950s, was an umbrella Norwegian organization intended to promote trade in international markets. Vestlandske originally manufactured Siesta. In 1997 Ekornes bought Vestlandske. Currently Rybo produces this timeless chair.
Ingmar Relling Siesta Chair
We love Rybo’s description of Relling’s process:

Simplicity, minimalism, elegance and uncompromising quality are key concepts in all Relling’s designs. Sleek, clear lines, not to mention the obvious correlation between design and function, were essential for Ingmar Relling, who always was closely involved with the chair’s development after it left the drawing board. Even in the design phase, it was crucial for Relling that the chair should be eco-friendly – with optimized use of materials, wood from sustainable forests, maximum durability and reusability. This is typical of Ingmar Relling, who, as well as being a designer, was a dedicated humanist, interested in dimensions extending beyond the purely aesthetic. Source

Function equal to form. Comfort interwoven with responsible design. Something to ponder, maybe, after I melt back into the chair’s soft embrace. Ingred Relling Siesta Chairs

 

Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Pinterest.

Ann Marie and David

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Broyhill Premier Sculptra Bedroom Set

Our striking Kent-Coffey Sequence bedroom set sold recently and left a hole in our booth. We quickly filled it with new acquisitions: 4 pieces of a Broyhill Premier Sculptra bedroom set. It stretches along one side of the booth: chest, dresser, nightstand and headboard hanging above. This headboard is unique because it’s one of the first king-sized headboards that Broyhill Premier produced.

Broyhill Premier Sculptra Bedroom Set

Our pieces are dated 1964 but Broyhill Premier introduced the Sculptra Collection in 1957 and continued its production into the mid-1960s. Designed to have a Scandinavian sensibility, the Sculptra line boasted sophistication and style aimed at a voracious upper-middle class audience.

Broyhill Premier Sculptra Bedroom Set

Boyhill Premier Sculptra logo
Source

Despite her strong lines and subtle charm, the Sculptra line is often overshadowed by Brasilia, a sister collection introduced by Broyhill Premiere in 1962 that sought to capture the spirit of Brazil’s new capital.

Broyhill Premier Brasilia Collection
Broyhill Premier Brasilia Collection

While Brasilia has the drama of swoops and arches, Sculptra offers rectangles and restraint. The carved elliptical pulls — shaped like cat eyes — offer a delightful contrast.

Broyhill Prremier Sculptra Chest
Broyhill Premier Sculptra Chest

The closest we come to a swoop is this delicate dip on the top of the headboard. Sadly, this set does not include a footboard.

Broyhill Premier Sculptra Headboard
Broyhill Premier Sculptra King Headboard

Creation of Broyhill Premiere

The story of Broyhill furniture stretches across the 20th Century, composed of a family of entrepreneurs  whose vision and guidance kept the company afloat. Following the end of World War II, Broyhill Furniture faced ruin. Despite an initial post-war surge of buyers, by 1949 demand had all but dried up. The company found itself in dire straits, as lagging demand forced the company to cut its workers’ hours down to three days a week.

Luckily for the company, Ed Broyhill proved to be visionary. He allowed his business to adapt. Faced with a market indifferent to the large, opulent pieces produced by his company, Ed turned to his son Paul to modernize and diversify the company’s lines. The sleek, modern pieces marketed by Paul Broyhill bolstered the sagging fortunes of Broyhill furniture and paved the way for the creation of the Broyhill Premiere collections.

Established in 1957, Broyhill Premiere sought to capitalize on a rapidly expanding market. Changing tastes led Americans to demand sophistication and style, but above all, quality. The collections were aimed at young, affluent families looking for an alternative to their parents’ massive and ornate furniture. Broyhill Premiere found immediate success, but was not profitable until the 1960s.

Continued commercial success allowed for the expansion of both the company and the furniture collections. The company issued a letter in 1966 explaining their philosophy of the Sculptra line. Here’s a portion of it:

October 10, 1966

Sculptra
In recent years modern designers have been paring away at the excesses in scale, weight and ornamentation in art, architecture, furniture design, and countless other related fields. A new reverence has developed for clean, uncluttered, but graceful lines which are functional and well proportioned. Designers and furniture craftsmen in the Scandinavian countries of Europe have undoubtedly thrust themselves into the forefront of this new “Puritanism.” Their success has been evidenced by the fact that a great deal of the furniture produced in the past few decades which adheres to this principle has become known throughout the world as “Scandinavian Modern.”

Sculptra is an outstanding example of this “imported look” of Scandinavian Modern. It is master-crafted by Broyhill Premier in beautifully grained American walnut. Sculptured moulding bonded to the faces of doors present an outstanding principle design motif. Carved elliptical recessed drawer pulls contribute to the elegant simplicity. A curved stretcher between the gently tapered legs arches gracefully to support leg pieces. A unique moulded gallery rail sweeps upward from the top of many case pieces to add to the sculptured effect.

As you can see, our wooden pieces have endured years of use. This is a Before shot showing  the wear that comes with age and use.

Broyhill Premier Sculptra pulls
Broyhill Premier Sculptra pulls

David rubbed it down with Watco Danish Oil to revive the rich brandy walnut finish. Here’s an After shot in the late afternoon sun:
Broyhill Premier Sculptra Oiled Wood Detail

Notice that the finish has been completely rubbed off the center of those cats eyes. Years of fingernail contact with the wood caused that. The handles are metal and originally painted in wood tone. David used a brush to saturate that bare area with Watco.

The result is mixed. He plans on removing the handles, masking off the drawer and spraying the cutout surfaces with Touch Up Solutions’ Aerosol Toner-Dye Extra Dark Walnut. The dye will add a uniform walnut color to the visible areas in the center of the drawer pills. He estimates it will take 15 minutes, tops.

We found all 4 pieces in very good shape — pretty amazing. Minimal finish issues were easily solved by using Watco Danish Oil Medium Walnut to even out the color and renew the top coat. Of course, “easily solved” is a bit misleading. The finished product represents three grueling 8-hour days of cleaning, oiling, rubbing, oiling, rubbing . . .  you get the idea. One coat is never enough. The 60-year-old wood/finish soaked up the Danish Oil.

This is important: David made sure he didn’t leave oil on the wood past the specified drying time. If left too long, the oil becomes a sticky residue. Be sure to follow the instructions on the container.

Broyhill Premier Sculptra Bedroom Set

While I appreciate the strong lines and subtle curves of the entire set, I think the King Headboard is a crucial selling point for our collection. Unlike the assortment of undersized Twin and Double size so prevalent in Mid Century Modern furniture, the King Headboard didn’t exist before the mid-60s. I’m inclined to believe in the scarcity of these big headboards. In over a year-and-a-half of searching estate sales, this is the first King we’ve come across. I could be wrong though. If you’ve had better success, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to check out our Facebook page and Pinterest.

Ann Marie and David

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Broyhill Premier Facet China Cabinet

In 1967 the Broyhill Premier division of Broyhill produced the Facet Collection. Less than a year later, the line was shut down. Lucky for us, we got our hands on a china cabinet from that collection. It evokes splendor, style and drama and is an exceptional piece for any home.
Broyhill Premier Facet China Cabinet

With strong lines, gorgeous color, and a unique design, why did Broyhill Premier decide to discontinue its Facet Collection? The answer came down to money. Production costs were deemed too high, so Broyhill eliminated the line.

Around this time Broyhill introduced 3M synthetics (plastics) into their manufacturing process. A Broyhill Premier representative, in 1968, acknowledged that economics drove the company’s decision: “It would be impossible to do the same intricate handwork in wood at an economic price today that we now can do with molded synthetics.”

This marked one of many tipping points in the death of American furniture manufacturing. The next decades would witness new materials such as plastics, particle board, and MDF (medium-density fiberboard), introduced to boost sales and turn around company losses. But the problem was more widespread. Changing trends in furniture shopping contributed to the closing of furniture factories. Wood and upholstery production shifted overseas. Like it or not, disposable furniture became “good enough” for most of our homes.

But the Mid-Century Modern Facet Collection represents one last hurrah for solid wood. Few of these pieces exist, yet somehow we found one in Jacksonville. I can’t take credit for our outstanding sleuthing abilities. We didn’t realize how rare this cabinet was when we bought it. Only through research did we discover its uniqueness.
Broyhill Premier Facet China Cabinet

I’d like to think this china cabinet appeared on television:

When Broyhill created a division of middle- to high-end furniture in the early ‘60s, it partnered with daytime game show ‘The Price is Right.’ Bob Barker and Rod Roddy gave away countless bedroom and dining room suites over the years.

Broyhill Premier Facet China Cabinet

I love the four large windows of the Facet’s glass hutch top. Not only are collectables easily accessible, but it’s almost a wall of windows. Upper lighting is powered by two separate power cords and cast a strong, warm glow on the cabinet’s contents. The hardware is original, with knobs on the upper hutch . . .
Broyhill Premier Facet china cabinet

. . . and pulls on the lower two drawers.
Broyhill Premier Facet china cabinet

Warm-toned walnut veneer overlays the solid hardwood of this hutch.

The lower cabinet is fitted with 2 smaller doors on either side of 2 drawers. While the drawers are mounted on steel glides, the doors present an interesting, layered design.
Broyhill Premier Facet Lower Cabinet

The entire cabinet is mounted on a solid walnut stretcher base with four tapered legs.
Broyhill Premier Facet China Cabinet

The original cloth label appears on the inside of the top drawer . . .
Broyhill Premier Facet cloth label

. . . and the quality inspection sticker is still on the back.
Broyhill Premier quality stickerI can’t help gushing about this piece. Broyhill Premier’s Facet china cabinet deserves a place of recognition in the discerning modernist’s collection. Right now this beauty is in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.

Broyhill Premier Facet China Cabinet

You can also find us on Facebook and Pinterest.

Ann Marie and David

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Kent-Coffey’s Sequence Collection

Our son, Michael, haunts Craigslist, especially now that he broke his foot at rugby. I try to keep up but with his foot elevated and nothing but time on his hands, I’m no match for him.

During one of his late night scavenges, he found a mostly complete bedroom set from the Kent-Coffey Sequence Collection, so David and I hit the road for a look. We liked what we saw and offered the seller $50 less than her asking price. Nothing doing. She knew she could get her price. We all knew she could get it — so we gave her the money.

Kent-Coffey Sequence label

The Kent-Coffey Manufacturing Company was a furniture powerhouse in the 1950s and 1960s, producing modern, sturdy, affordable designs for a rising middle class. It was part of the American Dream.

Based in Lenoir, NC, Harold Coffey began the company in 1907. He counted among his friends James Broyhill and John Bernhardt, local owners of their own iconic furniture companies. Quality furniture flowed from little Lenoir’s factories.

Here’s a 1956 Kent-Coffey ad for its Sequence Collection:

Kent-Coffey Sequence ad
Lovely Walnut . . . works wonders for your bedroom!
Here in the “Sequence” group, you see proof of Kent-Coffey’s success in making furniture that seems to be so much more expensive than it really is! Everywhere you look you see fine details — like parquetry on every top surface, and unique drawer pulls, aligned so as to form slim columns of brass. All pieces are “off the floor,” resting lightly on sculptured bases. And everywhere you see the rich grain that makes walnut so lovely! Basic, go-anywhere pieces give the “Sequence” group a marvelous flexibility. Chests, bookcases, desk, dressers — see how they align themselves to solve a difficult “long wall” problem, or turn a corner neatly. Ask your Kent-Coffey dealer to show you the “Sequence” soon! Or write for name of nearest dealer to Kent-Coffey, Dept. L-6, Lenoir, N.C.

While walnut is the primary wood, the secondary wood is mahogany. The drawers have a mahogany bottom rather than a cheaper, softer wood such as poplar.

We unloaded the pieces in our driveway for the Before photo shoot. You can see the dresser and chest here; you can’t see David holding up our bamboo rug as a backdrop.
Kent-Coffey Sequence Dresser and Chest

Four vertical parquetry stripes on the dresser’s top surface are visible in this next photo. All of the pieces in this collection have the same surface: mahogany veneer forming the perimeter as well as running vertically down the center and dividing the tops into thirds or halves.
Kent-Coffey Sequence parquetry

And the night stands:
Kent-Coffey Sequence Nightstands

David cleaned the pieces thoroughly, which was a tremendous job. He applied Watco Medium Walnut Danish Oil to highlight the rich tones of the wood and to restore the top coat.

All four pieces of Kent Coffey sit on a floating frame, a design feature borrowed from Danish Modernism. It makes heavy, blocky furniture feel lighter and expands the visible space of the room. Alas, our set doesn’t include the original Atomic Mirror pictured below. If any of you have or know of one, we would be thrilled to reunite the dresser with a matching mirror.

Kent-Coffee Sequence dresser and mirror
Source

For those of you paying attention, just last week we finished an exhausting rearrangement in our booth featuring a 1933 Heywood-Wakefield furniture set. Those pieces came with such a romantic story that we were determined to keep them together despite many offers for individual items. We succeeded and in the blink of an eye sold out half of our booth.

This serene new configuration in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery doesn’t show the hours of labor David, Michael and I put in over the weekend to achieve this elegant look. But we walked away pleased with our efforts.
Kent Coffee Sequence bedroom furniture

Kent-Coffey Sequence Chest

Kent-Coffey Sequence Dresser

Kent-Coffey Sequence Chest

If you’d like to join us on our adventures, follow us on Facebook or Pinterest.

Ann Marie and David

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Rearranging Our Booth

Two things prompted the immediate action of rearranging our booth: the sale of a large china cabinet and Spring! Even though the temperature has dropped the last couple of days, I know it’s coming.

Because of the scarcity of storage space at our house, we originally instituted a no-sofa policy. Over time we relaxed the rule. Come to think of it, the weak leak seems to be our son. First he acquired a rattan Rumpus Room, then later a fabulous Heywood-Wakefield living room set.

After struggling valiantly to take back our house from an ever-growing furniture collection, and largely succeeding, the tide began to turn. A few Craigslist scores and couple estate sale finds had the rooms filling up once again. When Michael came to us with a photo of the sofa he found, we put our foot down. No more sofas!

We went to the sale anyway. This is what we brought home: a surprisingly handsome Mid-Century Modern yellow sofa. I set aside my personal feelings once we saw it in person. My mother introduced a MCM sofa very much like this one, only a deep turquoise. She switched  out a massive, beloved sofa that robbed my childhood of an improvised trampoline/bounce house.

This sofa’s in great shape considering its age. The strong lines catch the eye and the light airy color are ideal for pushing us into Spring:
MCM sofa

All the large pieces are now in place in our booth. After playing around with arrangements, we introduced the yellow sofa into the Heywood-Wakefield furniture living room vignette. This new configuration necessitated shifting every piece.
MCM living room

Check out the 3 pillows on the yellow sofa. That’s artwork by British artist Natalie Rymer. I carried them back from England last autumn. Her colors are so perfect for Florida. Here’s another view of the cosy scene:
Heywood-Wakefield living room furniture

We added our hand painted French Bombé next to the yellow sofa, even though it isn’t MCM. While both pieces are different styles, they work surprisingly well together.
Hand painted French Bombe

A pre-Columbian figure and a MCM cornucopia of fruit sit on the Heywood-Wakefield side table:
Heywood-Wakefield side table

On the other side of the room we’re attempting to create a dining experience with the White Furniture Co. of Mebane table and 6 chairs but it looks a bit jammed up right now. Since it’s been here a while, it might be time to rotate out. Close by is the Empire Revival library table that David refinished and I painted. It will make a beautiful homework table, television stand, or desk in a study.
White Furniture Co. dining room table
antique mall vendor space
We still have lots of smaller pieces to bring in. A couple that did make it are this elegant bowl made in Norway . . .
Norwegian Bowl
and a cylindrical pottery vase that’s more decorative than utilitarian — but I like its organic quality.
Cylindrical pottery vase
So, that’s where we are with rearranging our booth for now. Thanks for stopping by. If you enjoyed what you read, please share us with your friends.

Update: I posted this on a Friday and by Sunday one happy customer had purchased all the Heywood-Wakefield living room furniture and another, the yellow sofa. We’re all thrilled.

Ann Marie and David

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5 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Furniture

Mid-Century Modern (MCM) denotes a style of design and architecture that stretched roughly from 1933 to 1965. Some would limit it to 1947-1957, but I prefer the wider range.

Cara Greenberg gets credit for coining the term in the title of her book, Midcentury Modern: Furniture of the 1950s (Random House, 1984).

Furniture made in the middle of the 20th century isn’t automatically Mid-Century Modern furniture.

Craigslist sellers and estate sales often slap a Mid-Century Modern label on their wares because they know the style is popular. Perhaps they don’t know the difference. Perhaps they hope buyers won’t know the difference.

For those who remember the I Love Lucy TV show, Lucy and Desi moved to colonial home in Westbury, Connecticut in 1957. Here’s their Early American dining room in the television studio. It’s Colonial Revival in style — casual and rustic yet traditional. And unlike real homes, unusually large.

Lucy and Desi's Colonial Westport Home
Lucy and Desi’s Colonial Westport Home

This next photo provides more realistic proportions for a room, but both examples show sturdy maple dining sets, farmhouse curtains, braided rugs, and hutches displaying serving ware.

Early American 1950s Living Room
Early American 1950s Living Room

Now, here’s the Birkenstock House, an home in New Canaan, Connecticut, built in 1962. Geographically, it’s about 10 miles away from Lucy and Desi’s fictional Westport home. Stylistically, it’s a world apart.

Birkenstock House
Birkenstock House. Architect: Victor Christ-Janer. New Canaan, 1962

5 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Furniture

1. Lines

Clean lines, curves and smooth surfaces create an understated look. Less becomes more. The heavy, boxy, ornamented pieces of the past were banished and replaced with slimmed down furniture in open spaces. Suddenly, MCM homes became light and airy.

Mid-Century Modern
MCM Family Room: Open and Colorful

2. Materials

Furniture continued to be made from wood, but now with international influences. Scandinavian design and teak wood soared in popularity. Broyhill’s popular Brasilia line, introduced in 1962, imitated the waves and lines of the Brazilian capital. Despite this being a large piece, designers managed to visually reduce its mass.

Broyhill Brasilia china cabinet
Mid-Century Modern Broyhill Brasilia Style Server and Hutch, 1st dibbs, $2,950

New materials — and uses for them — emerged in World War II. Post-War designers conscientiously applied plastic, plywood, glass, and/or lucite to their creations, integrating these materials into the design.

Mid-Century Modern Designers
A few of America’s greatest designers, assembled in 1961, Playboy. Left to right: George Nelson, Edward Wormley, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames and Jens Risom

Design husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames (pronounced EE-ms) experimented with a variety of inexpensive materials. Their work with molded plywood, for instance, resulted in the much coveted (if it’s original) Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. We own a couple of replicas at our house.

Eames Chair
Rosewood Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. 1stdibbs, $4,700

This 1950s bar, made of bamboo, vinyl and formica, holds center stage in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.

Dry Bar and Stools
Royal Chrome Dry Bar, Stools and Matching Wall Shelf, 1950s

3. Colors

Color exploded. Neutral walls receded to emphasize shapes and colors in the room.

Mid-Century Modern Living Room
Source: Chris Barrett Design

A bold accent wall, on the other hand, as in our Iris Abbey booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery, gives a pop of excitement — just not too much.

Heywood-Wakefield living room furniture - $1,995
Orange Accent Wall in Iris Abbey Booth

4-5. Pattern and Texture

In the photo below, textures flex their power. The shag rug, rough stone fireplace, smooth glass table, sleek ceramic lamp, and furniture fabric all work together. Patterns emerge in the abstract painting, pillows, and pottery. The wood and glass of the coffee table suggest the lines and shape of a modernist sculpture.

Form follows function for all of the pieces seen in this room. Again, I’ll mention the lightness and airiness of the space. The sofa sits on a floating frame. This serves to lift and suspend the heaviest piece of furniture, giving the same ethereal feel as the lounge chair.

Midcentury Modern living room
Source

In our last photo, what textures can you identify in this photo? There’s natural wood and brick, tile flooring, ceramic lamps, a nubby rug, the metal chandelier, fur throw, and fabric on the pillows, chairs and sofa. I like the exotic bookcase that features items from the owners’ travels.

MCM Living Room
Contemporary Living Room in MCM Style

Despite some of the prices seen here, you can find Mid-Century Modern furniture to fit your budget. If you are not a collector, you don’t need an original. Replicas are an alternative. All you need is one statement piece and you can build your room around it.

5 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Furniture

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Ann Marie and David

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MCM Heywood-Wakefield Bedroom Set: A Rainy Quest

The Heywood-Wakefield Tipoff

Our son Michael emails me Craigslist links. Sometimes just a single item that catches his eye, other times dense jumbles of links for furniture and knickknacks assembled during a scouring of Craigslist. Once or twice — I believe — he has muttered about my mistimed response rates.

Thursday morning I opened Michael’s email and found this Craigslist photo:

Heywood Wakefield Sculptura Dresser

Since I wasn’t interested in the stack of empty boxes, I studied the Heywood-Wakefield Sculptura dresser and other Hey-Wake items in sitting in St. Augustine, about 40 miles south of us.

I called David to look over my shoulder at our computer screen.
“What do you think?”
“Let’s call now,” he said.
He phoned, negotiated a price, and said we’d pick up that evening. Michael couldn’t accuse us of failing to act promptly on this one.

David texted Michael about the sale but the message didn’t go through. Michael remained in the dark. I soon texted him asking if he could help move furniture that evening. No, because he had rugby practice. He still didn’t know we arranged to buy the Hey-Wake. His absence would complicate matters because I don’t excel at moving solid wood furniture.

The Estate Sale

But first we visited a local estate sale and pick up a few small items. Anything large would be impossible to transport because we had a Kent-Coffey chest in our SUV. Speaking of which, even if we moved that piece out of our vehicle, could we fit all the Hey-Wake pieces in? Our best guess: no.

How’s this for luck? We encountered an Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery colleague at the estate sale, a generous man who lends us his enclosed trailer from time to time.
“May we borrow your trailer for a move tonight?”
“The answer is ‘yes, you may.'” This white-haired gentleman brims with Southern gentility. I love him.

A quick aside, here’s an abstract painting we bought at the estate sale. Not exactly small, but flat.

Blue Circle Abstract Painting

The Trailer

The trailer is magnificent. Double rows of wall hooks to secure items. Shelves of blankets, padding, straps, hooks, clamps, and jars of bungee cords. We left the estate sale, drove home in the rain, loaded up our hand truck with 12 ” pneumatic tires (a Christmas gift to David) next to the Kent-Coffey chest, and went to pick up the trailer. Only the trailer. We’re still far from heading out of town.

At some point our information caught up with Michael and he offered to skip rugby practice to help us. No, no. We’ve got this wired. It will take about 50 minutes to drive there; we’ll take the drawers out, load them separately, then deal with the cabinet.

Rain, cold and dark engulfed us as he headed to St. Augustine. We could handle that. But the ambiguous directions unraveled us. The furniture couldn’t be at an exact address. No, the seller gave cryptic clues leading to an unmarked building: look for a long dark country road, a driveway 100 yards away from something, a McDonalds (which we never saw), a traffic light, a 2-story house with solar panels on top (couldn’t see it in the rainy blackness).

I exchanged phone calls with the seller. He grew increasing brusque as we became more frustrated. Poor David had to turn the SUV and trailer around a few times in tight quarters on dirt driveways.

This was pretty much our view from inside the vehicle:
Rain Storm at night

The seller drove out to the road and watched for us. And phoned me:
“Did you just go through that traffic light?”
“Yes, where are you?”
“Pull over to the side and wait. I’ll get in front of you and you can follow me.”

Were my tears from joy or exasperation? We eagerly followed him down the road. All he needed was a lighted “Follow Me”  sign to make it clearer to us. By the time we backed into place next to the 2-story building that did indeed have solar panels, the rain had lessened. A small kindness that we gratefully accepted.

The Find

We examined the Heywood-Wakefield pieces and silently rejoiced: a Sculptura dresser, manufactured 1952-59; an Encore side table/nightstand from 1950-55; a Dog Bone (named because of the cut out) footboard and solid headboard.

The two bigger pieces looked banged up but David knows how do bring Hey-Wake back from the dead. The seller showed us other Mid-Century Modern furniture upstairs and asked us to consider buying the pieces at a fair price. He felt we lowballed him on the Hey-Wake, but acknowledged reviving them will take a ton of work. I must point out again: we negotiated the price before we drove down. As far as his other furniture, we weren’t in any shape to consider it.

Out came the drawers and we began to load and secure.

Daylight

We pulled out the furniture the next morning, the sky a brilliant blue and sun pouring down. You can see the damage more clearly but David is encouraged because he’ll be working with solid wood — no veneer. We’re looking at dresser damage in the photo below, followed by the marred nightstand.

Heywood-Wakefield Sculptura Dresser Damage
Heywood-Wakefieldl Encore Nightstand Damage

The Dogbone footboard sits higher than the headboard in the photo below because it’s perched on the rear fender of the trailer. The side rails and the both head and footboard have extensive finish issues.

But once again, Heywood-Wakefield used solid pieces of wood to build their furniture. We don’t have to worry about sanding out a deep scratch in the wood because there’s no thin piece of veneer to confound the restoration. David thinks this will be a fun project but it comes with a learning curve. I have no doubt he will  bring the pieces back to the original Hey-Wake Wheat finish.

Dogbone footboard

Things always look so much better in the light of day — dazzling enough to forget about our damp recovery efforts. I did, however, announce a new policy: I only do pickups during daylight hours.
Heywood-Wakefield Sculptura dresser, Encore nightstand, Dogbone headboard and footboard
Heywood-Wakefield Bedroom Set

I plan to share a cheerier post about St. Augustine, our country’s oldest established city, sometime soon. You didn’t get much historical scenery in this update. Here’s a link to an earlier post about a Heywood-Wakefield Living Room set that we acquired. It’s beautiful furniture.

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Ann Marie and David

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Mid-Century Modern Vanity and Upholstered Stool

The Discovery

We drove to an apartment complex for a look at a Mid-Century Modern desk listed on Craigslist. Michael had made arrangements for us to evaluate and purchase, if acceptable. The pictures didn’t offer much information and a description was nonexistent. Still, it caught our son’s eye, so maybe worth a look. When we discovered a Broyhill Premier Saga desk, David and I knew it was more than acceptable.

The seller and I chatted while David went out to arrange blankets in our SUV. She asked — with David still muddling about in the back of the car — if I’d like to see something else. Sure.

This glowed in a back bedroom. Oh my gosh. David appeared and took photos to send  Michael. I ignored him and told her we’d take it. The monster mirror wasn’t attached, so no need to unscrew it. David and Michael could return tomorrow to load and transport these vanity pieces. Very carefully.

Mid-Century Modern

I speculated that Heywood-Wakefield manufactured it, but that was just a gut feeling. And wrong. When I showed pictures to someone much more knowledgeable, he suggested it was made in England.

It’s a lady’s vanity, where she keeps her lingerie and perches on a stool to apply her makeup. Her jewelry drawer sits below the that fantastic full-length mirror.

Still, I did not have a manufacturer. I posed the question on a couple of Facebook furniture groups. Nothing definitive emerged from the many and varied suggestions. David speculates Mid-Century Modern. More research needed.

The vanity itself didn’t require much work but every lady who owns a vanity should have a stool.

The Stool’s Wood

We needed a vanity stool, and my knowledgeable friend produced one from his stash. Alas, its mahogany color was too dark and too red. But David plunged into this project. He stripped and sanded the finish. After several attempts he achieved a finish somewhat approaching the vanity’s color by coaxing a warm medium Walnut overlaid with Fruitwood stain. The wood really does look like it matches the vanity.

Mid-Century Modern

Upholstering the Stool

The original fabric, dark, dirty and completely unsuited to its new task, needed replacing.

Vanity Stool Original Fabric
I had a period fabric, a remnant, that would work. It’s much brighter and seems better suited to Florida. If you’re really paying attention to my projects, this fabric went on a Heywood-Wakefield desk chair (M 953 A) a few weeks ago.
Vanity Stool old and new fabric

Here’s the original material: jute webbing, batting and the fabric.
Upholstery materials

The original jute webbing lacked tension; it sagged pitifully. David applied pressure to the webbing and it drooped down to touch the table beneath.
Jute webbing

We removed staples from half the stool. David used a pliers to pull the pieces of webbing taut while I stapled them down. Much better. We could bounce a quarter.
Vanity Stool Tightening Jute Webbing

Starbuck found her peaceful nook for a nap: she stayed there for hours.
Vanity Stool Sleeping Starbuck
We cut foam and placed it on the jute. Then came the batting, followed by the new piece of fabric. I cut it larger than the original because the additional foam and batting commanded a bigger piece.

With an embroidery needle and fishing line, I basted around the top edge of half the fabric, leaving long ends. When I pulled the two opposing ends, half the fabric gathered, theoretically allowing me to create smooth sides. Repeat on the other side of the fabric, so I could then gather the extra fabric, cut and staple to the bottom. But…. I didn’t cut the piece big enough and we struggled — and struggled — to create smooth sides.

What’s a day without creative struggle? It’s character building.

Vanity Stool basted fabric
The Display

We moved the vanity and stool into our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.
Mid-Century Modern Vanity and stool

Here’s a closer look at the completed stool:
Mid-Century Modern Vanity Stool

We created a MCM vignette by arranging Heywood-Wakefield living room furniture, hanging a silver-framed mirror over the sofa, a silvery abstract painting on the other wall, and adding the wonderful Mid-Century Modern vanity and upholstered stool. Did I mention I love that full-length mirror?
Heywood-Wakefield living room furniture

If you liked this post, please share it with your friends. Better still, come to Avonlea and take this gorgeous Mid-Century Modern Vanity home with you.

Ann Marie and David

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Broyhill Premier Saga Desk Meets Heywood-Wakefield Chair

Our son Michael found this elusive Broyhill Premier Saga desk on Craigslist and dispatched David and me to buy it. I love the way it curves in the front.

Broyhill Premier gave this description of its Saga Collection:

Mad for modern? Have your heart’s desire with SAGA by Broyhill Premier. . . SAGA is a fresh twist to the Scandinavian furniture story . . . vigorous in design and striking in simplicity. Skillfully proportioned for today’s room sizes in warm, beautifully grained Walnut.

Broyhill Premier Saga Desk

In 1957, to provide sophistication, style, and quality to their growing customer base, Broyhill Furniture established its Broyhill Premier line at the old Lenoir Chair Company plant in North Carolina. They added a sales force and a quality control program. And then they developed ad campaigns.

I found an example of one of their campaigns from 1960, when Broyhill Premier and Air France cosponsored an Abroad at Home contest. How sophisticated.

Broyhill Premier and Air France AdThe rules were simple:

Join in the fun . . . enter the “Abroad at Home” contest!

THREE FIRST PRIZES . . . 14 EXCITING DAYS FOR TWO TO PARIS, ROME OR SCANDINAVIA

Think of it . . . winging your way luxuriously across the Atlantic aboard a new AIR FRANCE Boeing 707 jet . . . off on a European holiday with all of your expenses taken care of by Broyhill Premier.

Here’s how it can be you . . . living it up for 12 wonderful days in your choice of Paris, Rome or Scandinavia.

First . . . visit your local franchised Broyhill Premier furniture dealer or AIR FRANCE ticket office for an official “Abroad AT Home” Contest entry form. A quick call to Western Union Operator 25 will give you the name of your nearest Broyhill Premier dealer.

Now . . . choose where you want most to visit . . . Paris, Rome or Scandinavia. Then, finish in 50 words or less this sentence:

“I would like to take my husband (or wife) to (Paris)(Rome)(Scandinavia) because. . .”

Let’s pause a moment in the excitement of this contest to study a full-page advertisement for the Saga collection and read its thrilling caption:

Broyhill Premier Saga Ad
Framed amid windswept crags and fjords, Saga adds a new chapter to the century-long story of fresh and vigorous Scandinavian design. See the beauties of Scandinavia for yourself as a winner in the “Abroad At Home” Contest. But, first, see the new Saga collection at your Broyhill Premier dealer’s . . . forty pieces sculptured in hand-rubbed walnut . . . priced from $39.95.

Now, on to the remaining rules:

Then mail, with your name and address to:
“Abroad At Home” Contest
Box 33-B, Mt. Vernon 10, New York

Your entry must be postmarked no later than midnight, September 15, 1960 and becomes the property of Broyhill Furniture Factories. Winners will be notified by mail on October 15, 1960 with the judges’ decision accepted as final.

Three first prizes will be awarded . . . one for each of the three new Broyhill Premier furniture collections. For TRIANON, 14 days for two to Paris. For INVITATION CLASSIC, 14 days for two to Rome. And for SAGA, 14 days for two to Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo. With all expenses paid.

As a winner . . .you will fly from your home to New York on one of the country’s leading scheduled airlines. From New York, you will fly to your destination in Europe, Economy Class, aboard a new AIR FRANCE jet. And l’economique est tres chic when you fly on the world’s largest airline.

At your destination, you will be transferred to your hotel, first class of course. There you will partake of everything for which your favorite city is so famous. You will go sightseeing, dine in the finest restaurants, dance at the top nightclubs, have ample time to explore on your own and for shipping. All of your expenses, with the exception of those of a personal nature will be paid for . . . every arrangement taken care of by experienced travel personnel.

This is such a magical contest; I love the linking of international travel with furniture. But let’s head back to our Iris Abbey escapades.

David cleaned up the Premier Saga desk and Michael hunted for a chair. First, David filled the chipped veneer on the left side of the desk top with Timber Mate Wood-filler Walnut. He then used Watco Danish Oil Medium Walnut to bring back the rich depth of the original Broyhill finish.

Michael came up with a chair that looked a close match. Heywood-Wakefield manufactured this dining chair in 1954-55 in two finishes, Champagne and Wheat. This chair is Wheat. While not the exact shade of the Broyhill Saga Premier Saga Desk, the Heywood-Wakefield M 953 chair is just a few tones away and makes an elegant pairing. It has a bow tie back, which seems perfect for the gentle curve in the desk.

The fabric, however, looked a bit sad. We pulled some vintage fabric and gave this girl a facelift. Here’s her Before shot:

Heywood-Wakefield Dining Chair

And After:

Heywood-Wakefield chair recovered

We’re selling the desk and chair as a set in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. The combination of these two utilitarian pieces, from quintessential American manufacturers of MCM furniture, creates a unique pairing: a Broyhill Premier Saga Desk and a Heywood-Wakefield M 953 Bow Tie Chair.

The serendipitous mating of these pieces embodies the best of American furniture manufacturers’ foray into Danish design that resulted in what we call Mid-Century Modern furniture. Styling, simple elegance of line, and solid wood. No particle board.

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Ann Marie and David

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