Mid-Century Modern Furniture

Painted Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

Warning: The following post may be unsettling to MCM purists.

What do you do when you can’t save the original wood? When the time and effort to refinish your find just isn’t worth it? Perhaps if these 2 pieces of Mid-Century Modern furniture had been in better condition we could have salvaged all the bare wood. Instead, David and I decided on a painted, smooth finish.
Dixie MCM Dresser and Nightstand

Made by Dixie, the dresser and nightstand had more problems than just a few dings. While they had excellent bones, both pieces were really showing their age. Take a closer look at the dresser drawers.
Close up of Dixie Dresser Drawer Damage
The factory’s stain and topcoat had broken down with age and use. Beyond that, David faced scratches, scrapes, nicks, and even a bit of water damage.

David usually restores our Mid-Century Modern pieces to their natural glory.

White Furniture of Mebane, NC
White Furniture: Sideboard
White Furniture of Mebane NC
White Furniture: China Cabinet
Mid-Century Modern China Cabinet
MCM China Cabinet – SOLD

But these Dixie pieces had taken too much abuse. Luckily, David thought he could save the drawers. A bold choice. I undertook painting the exterior frame in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Old White. I chose Old White instead of Pure White because I had a can of the former and none of the latter.

Testing a New Technique: Mid-Century Modern Smoothness with ASCP

I wanted the paint to resemble the smooth lacquer finish. I’ve read about people loading up their paint sprayer with watered down ASCP, but I don’t have a sprayer. Annie Sloan herself demonstrated a feathering technique for painting modern furniture.

I tried my own technique using a brush and watered down Annie Sloan paint. In retrospect, there are easier ways to achieve a lacquered look. More on lessons learned later.

Here’s the dresser with its first coat of paint, on its way to a smooth finish:

Dixie MCM Dresser

I put two coats of paint on (no water involved), pausing to sand the 220-grit between every layer. After those coats, I swished my brush in water and then dipped it into a plastic container of paint. Very watery paint went down on the next 2 to 3 layers, again with sanding between each layer. The water thinned out the paint so there would be fewer paint lines. I wanted smooth — no lines.

This photo shows the nightstand after a few coats of watered-down paint and still needing sanding. Since we were experimenting, the top probably got 5 layers of watery Old White, and the sides about 4 each. We used 220-grit sandpaper between each layer. For the very last sanding David worked his way up from 220 to 400 to 600-grit.

Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

Meanwhile, David focused on the nightstand drawers. You can see differences emerge in the photo below:
Dixie MCM Nightstand 3 Drawers
1. Left Drawer – Nothing has been done to it; years of grime contribute to its dullness
2. Middle Drawer – David sanded with 150 grit sandpaper and acetone to strip off the original  finish and sanded the drawer removing scratches and shallow dings
3. Right Drawer – Multiple coats of Watco Danish Oil Medium Walnut. Sanded between coats with 220-grit. No sanding after the final coat. David just wiped it down and let it cure.

We researched the sealer. I saw an article by The Purple Painted Lady with this caution:

Something to be aware of – is if you burnish your Chalk Paint™ (we call this the Modern Look) that you may not be using Clear Wax on top. In fact- you may have a problem having the Clear Wax being absorbed into the Chalk Paint™ since by sanding the surface excessively to get that super smooth feel, you create a hard- compacted surface and the wax will have a hard time penetrating it or the Chalk Paint™ will have a difficult time absorbing the wax now. Slight sanding is fine!…I do this all the time and then apply Clear Wax. But if you are “polishing” the surface, please be aware of this caveat.

Our pieces had a super smooth feel, so ASCP’s Clear Wax was out. We next researched polyurethane and learned that it has a high possibility of cracking and yellowing. Nope — didn’t want that. I couldn’t reach my stockist so I telephoned The Purple Painted Lady’s shop up in New York State. They recommended General Finishes High Performance Water Based Top Coat – Gloss, which I bought locally. We went with Gloss because we wanted shiny brilliance rather than a muted, Satin surface.

Here’s the nightstand with 2 coats of the GF Top Coat on, sanded with 400-grit between coats. The third coat was sanded 600-grit. The fourth and final coat, with 400- and 600-grit.

Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

Painted Smooth Finish

As for our timing, we chose to finish this piece before starting our Christmas holidays. Before cleaning the house, buying and trimming the tree, and before shopping. Theoretically that should have worked but David found himself locked in combat with the larger chest and his work days stretched perilously close to Christmas.

Perhaps David will write a post detailing his trials with this nemesis. How many of us have encountered a piece that fights back every step of the way? But he was determined to place both chests in our booth before we began Christmas — and we could practically hear Santa up on the roof.

We made it!

Mid-Century Modern Dixie chest and nightstand

But the drawers on the big chest didn’t glide smoothly — and that bothered David over the holidays. Especially when a customer bought those 2 pieces and our gorgeous MCM 9-drawer dresser with mirror right after New Year’s.
Mid-Century Modern dresser

We promised the client that the drawers would glide like ice skaters when her fiancé picked up the pieces. And they did.

Lessons Learned
  • General Finishes Top Coat gave power to these two pieces. I love working with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and I did a good job painting, but David’s multiple layers of top coat with increasingly higher grit sandpaper provided depth, gloss and glamour.
  • Avoid delaying your holiday. That’s no fun. For us, the issue came down to space. We had to move furniture into our booth before rearranging for Christmas and buying the tree. I don’t want to be in that situation again.
  • We knew the drawers were sticking and we put a not-ready-for-prime-time piece into our booth. We won’t do that again.

I’m happy to assure you that we had a lovely Christmas season once it began, the 3 furniture pieces went to a new home, and our new client is thrilled because of our excellent service.

Ann Marie and David

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ASCP Barcelona Orange Bookshelf with Spots

I’m so pleased with how Barcelona Orange turned this Ugly Duckling bookshelf into a trendy display case for our booth.
ASCP Barcelona Orange

Our bookshelf emerged from humble beginnings. David and our son Michael found it curbside and brought it home. I liked the rounded corners and the Denmark label. But it’s made of particle board, not solid wood like we’re used to. This little guy had plenty of strikes against him. Scratches, dents and a few gouges.

David cleaned and shellacked it and we forgot about it for a few months. I remembered the bookshelf only when Michael wanted a way to display his modest collection of Pyrex dishes in our booth.

Obviously it needed paint, and I wanted to do something splashy.  We have an orange back wall in our booth, a nice contrast to the pale gray side walls. The orange wall looks fantastic — very Mid-Century Modern, which complements a lot of our furniture.
Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery Booth 76

I’d never used ASCP Barcelona Orange, so it was time.

I checked the internet and found my inspiration picture. Beau Ford, one of Annie Sloan’s Painters in Residence, painted this for a child’s room. Colorful and fun.
Annie Sloan Barcelona Orange

I planned to give variety to my spots by using cool colors like ASCP Florence and Aubusson Blue. Maybe a few white spots.

Rain poured down for days, forcing me to work in our kitchen. I put down some paint and then remembered I needed a Before photo. This is it. You can see one of the gouges I slapped wood fill over.
ASCP Barcelona Orange Bookcase

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint goes a long way but this bookshelf took much more paint than I anticipated. We shellacked its dark veneer twice before painting but this little guy’s size — his inside and out — required a lot of paint. Several coats.

Fortunately I had cracked open a new can. Here is the painted bookcase without its shelves. I considered painting one of the shelves Florence and the other Aubusson Blue but decided that would be too much. I stuck with Barcelona Orange.
ASCP Barcelona Orange Bookcase
ASCP Barcelona Orange

I used a wine bottle cork to make the random spots. That gave me the general circular shape. I filled in any uneven circles using a small paintbrush with Florence, Aubusson Blue or Pure White. Then Clear Waxed everything.

The first time I slid in the drawers, they scraped paint off. Ugh. More work. By the second time, I had sanded down the rough particle board edges, applied Clear Wax to the edges, and used a piece of paper between the board and the bookshelf side. Smooth sailing.

A couple of final thoughts: I didn’t add a lot of spots because the purpose of this display case is to showcase the Pyrex. We don’t plan on selling this case — the whole particle board issue again. My knowledge of Pyrex is practically nil but I’m thinking of a future blog about what makes some pieces more valuable than others. Or maybe pass that assignment on to Michael.

We plan on rearranging our booth in the next few weeks, so our lovely display case will soon be at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery — against a gray wall.
ASCP Barcelona Orange with spots

Thanks for stopping by. Comments always are met with excitement and rejoicing. You can like for our Iris Abbey Facebook Page and follow our adventures in searching for success in an antiques mall.

Ann Marie and David
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Heywood-Wakefield Furniture: Early MCM

Heywood-Wakefield’s modern furniture emerged in the 1930s, but the company enjoyed a long, conservative history prior to that. Early popular pieces included wicker and rattan in the 19th century, and colonial style in the early 1920s. They debuted their modern line at Chicago’s Century of Progress in 1933-34.

I still need to unravel whether these furniture pieces are examples of that first style, but let’s move on because I have other news to share.

Personal Invitation

Through classified channels I learned of a 78 year-old woman desiring to sell her parents’ furniture. Lloyd Manufacturing Co. of Michigan, a division of Heywood-Wakefield, made the pieces in the 1930’s. More information via internet searches, however, was in short supply.

I emailed her and asked if David and I could take a look. She sent these photos in her email:

Lloyd Manufacturing Co Division of Heywood Wakefield Lloyd Manufacturing Co Division of Heywood-Wakefield Lloyd Manufacturing Heywood-Wakefield

Pictures can deceive, but this furniture looked good on my computer monitor. Heywood-Wakefield is famous for simple, aerodynamic lines in its modern designs. Dedicated workers steamed the wood and bent it, drawing out its sleek curves.

Arriving at the Seller’s location that afternoon, we crawled over the pieces looking for tags. Nothing. It seems Grandma, the Seller’s mother, decided to remove them somewhere along the way. But look . . . the green rocker is blue and has kind-of-a-matching foot stool. Sometime in the 1970s or 1980s the furniture was reupholstered, while retaining the original springs and horsehair.

Lloyd Manufacturing Co. Division of Heywood Wakefield

Bumpy Negotiation

This is sturdy furniture. We offered what we believed a fair price and the Seller’s face fell. I knew a lifetime of sentiment filled that furniture. She thanked us for our interest but another party would look at the pieces on Saturday. Or perhaps she’d put the set on Craigslist. She’d let me know.

A swing and a miss. We drove home in silence but I felt good about what we had done: we went, looked, and made a honest offer. As for the Seller, I couldn’t fault her. She wanted the best deal for these precious pieces.

A few days later — and long after we had given up hope — she sent an email asking me to increase my offer by a specific amount. Were we back in the game? Yes, everything could be ours if we gave more money. But we couldn’t match her new price. I emailed a counter offer. And . . . nothing for a few more days. Maybe this wasn’t meant to be.

Out of the blue the Seller phoned me. She never received my email reply. I repeated our offer but before I could finish my sentence she blurted, “Sold!”

Romantic History

I love learning the history of beautiful old pieces, and we have a good story here.

The Seller’s parents, as newlyweds in 1933, lived in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. A friend’s furniture store stood just down the street. One day Mother caught sight of this freshly arrived set of modern furniture. Enchantment pulled her closer. When her husband came home from work later that afternoon, Mother gushed to him about this magical apparition. Dad didn’t say anything.

The next day Mother, in the back of the house, heard noises out front. She opened the door to encounter furniture delivery men unloading her new living room set. Her husband made a huge, romantic gesture for their first anniversary.

The furniture stayed with the family all these decades. Actually, it has resided in the granddaughter’s home for the last several years, ever since Grandma’s death. As Buyers, we understood the emotional connection with the pieces. I don’t know how the Seller selected us, but they entrusted a part of their family it into our care.

Take a look at this side table lying on its side. The base gently flares out from the curved sides. It’s beautiful.

Lloyd Manufacturing Co. Division of Heywood Wakefield

Lloyd Manufacturing Co. Division of Heywood Wakefield

Approaching Storm

Rain pounded our SUV in the darkness as David and Michael headed for the Seller’s house. We’re talking the kind of rain where you can’t see beyond the end of your hood. David rented a U-Haul trailer that afternoon. It’s unwieldy, but with everything in motion there was no turning back.

Our son warned us about the weather, but we wrote it off as his usual doom and gloom. I believe optimism gives each day its buoyancy.

As the men debated scrubbing the pickup because of a heavy downpour in our area, David phoned our contact. The cheerful Seller claimed fair weather in her neighborhood. Encouraged, I dispatched the guys. But the storm followed them. Four inches fell in a 24-hour span of time.

Soggy Retrieval

David had trouble backing the trailer into the Seller’s driveway. The narrow street, the darkness of night, and the blinding rain all proved troublesome.

The Seller’s husband volunteered — he had years of experience! Once again, failure. David resumed his trailer-backing efforts and managed to get it onto driveway, just nowhere near the garage. Several abortive attempts later, the men unhooked the trailer and physically rolled it into the garage.

I should mention David’s injury. Nothing serious, but a bandage covered a deep cut on his index finger. In the driveway, his rain-soaked bandage slid off.

David and Michael, soaking wet, gratefully accepted towels from the Seller. Amid the general chatter about the furniture, the Seller’s daughter wept at losing her Grandmother’s furniture. Totally understandable.

Time to load the trailer. But David’s simple motion of reaching out to grab a cushion opened his wound. Blood spurted. “THE FURNITURE!” people shrieked. He bled on the living room floor, through the hallway and into the kitchen, where heroic efforts stopped the blood with gauze and blue painter’s tape. (No pictures this time.)

And still David tried to help because this was heavy furniture. Repeatedly, people stopped him and loaded the pieces as he dejectedly looked on. But let’s look at this gorgeous chair:

Lloyd Manufacturing Co. Division of Heywood Wakefield

Lloyd Manufacturing Co. Division of Heywood Wakefield

With the furniture loaded, David and Michael headed home through the downpour.

Heywood-Wakefield in the Sun

The rain stopped two days later, and we arranged the furniture on our front lawn for a photo session. David concentrated on taking photos of the sweeping contours from a variety of angles and we wound up with an inordinate number of pictures. Check out the aged wood — either birch or maple. It takes on a warm, golden honey patina.

Lloyd Manufacturing Co. Division of Heywood Wakefield

Heidi, our most reclusive kitty, even came out to admire the furniture:
Lloyd Manufacturing Co. Division of Heywood-Wakefield

What Experts Say

Twenty years ago Mary Daniels wrote about the booming interest in Mid-Century Modern in the Chicago Tribune. She interviewed Dave Vogel, co-owner of Atomic Interiors, Madison, Wisconsin, about Heywood-Wakefield furniture:

It’s Modern — but not too much so. ‘The original buyers don’t strike me as the type who were out to make to make a statement,’ says Vogel.

“‘There must have been something in their minds not to buy the brown furniture, but they didn’t want to make the leap to “Buck Rogers” furniture,'” he says, referring to Herman Miller and even more extreme designs in wire and steel and fiberboard.

“‘These are not the boomerang-shaped tables. This style is more on the safe side, acceptable,’ Vogel adds. ‘It was pretty much “normal” stuff — what the general public would like. That’s why they sold so much of it.'”

Heywood-Wakefield furniture, then, assumes a place on the evolutionary continuum of design. It wasn’t a revolutionary departure from earlier designs — the Bauhaus already preceded it — but forged a trail that would lead to more avant-garde design.

Lloyd Manufacturing Co. Division of Heywood-Wakefield

The original Heywood-Wakefield company went bankrupt in 1984 but, happily, in 1992 South Beach Furniture Company bought its name and style. South Beach Furniture now produces selected Heywood-Wakefield pieces, called “Streamline,” completely in the United States.

The good news is that if you really love Heywood-Wakefield, you have a choice of buying vintage or new. The more I look at these pieces, the more I appreciate the design. Happy hunting.

Interested in learning more about furniture manufacturers? You can find information about White Furniture of Mebane, NC, by clicking Part 1 and Part 2.

Read how we drove through darkness, rain and cold to purchase a Heywood-Wakefield mixed bedroom set.

Ann Marie and David

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1950s Mid-Century Modern Furniture

Isn’t this 1950s bar amazing? Our son, Michael, purchased it over the weekend, and so much more. Read on.

1950s Mid-Century Modern Furniture
1950s Portable Bar, Matching Mirror and Stools

David and I have had our space at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery for 8 months. Recently they hired Michael to help establish an online store.

Michael and Georgina are responsible for this significant component and they’ve created a professional photography studio. They transport items into the studio, take photos, catalog descriptions and prices, then return them to the vendors’ booths. Once the site goes live, they’ll keep track of online purchases. This is a big deal for Avonlea’s almost two-hundred vendors.

We know that Michael likes Mid-Century Modern furniture. It seems the folks at Avonlea are learning this as well. A vendor invited Michael to a closed estate sale that had MCM pieces, because she has no interest in retro furniture.

Michael couldn’t go because of work but he directed us to the house in a beautiful part of town quite close to the river. The homeowner had recently died at the remarkable age of 101 and her daughter was handling the estate, which included her mom and dad’s home built in 1950. She led us into the rumpus room. That’s how it’s identified on the original blueprints: Rumpus Room. I love it.

Lots of photos and texts back and forth to Michael. Here’s what he bought:

Corner Grouping of Bamboo Furniture
Corner Grouping of Bamboo Furniture


Lamp illuminating Corner Grouping
Lamp illuminating Corner Grouping


Bamboo Coffee Table
Bamboo Coffee Table


Mid-Century Modern Bamboo Card Table and Chairs
Mid-Century Modern Bamboo Card Table and Chairs

This card table extends into a rectangle for parties. Can’t you picture it in the ’50s . . . ladies wearing red lipstick, fancy dresses, and high heels; gentlemen in their suits and ties. Soooo smooth and stylish. We just need Don Draper from Mad Men.

Extended Coffee Table
Extended Coffee Table

Michael bought this matching lounge chair, table tamp and a pair of stereo speakers. One speaker is hiding in the photo below.

Lounge Chair and Table Lamp
Lounge Chair and Table Lamp

The speakers were manufactured by Wharfedale in England sometime between 1970-71. They’re monsters, weighing in around 75 pounds each.

Bamboo Chair and Speaker
Bamboo Chair and Speaker


1970 Wharfedale Speaker
Inside the Wharfedale Speaker

I’d say Michael, whether he knows it or not, has started a new Mid-Century Modern business. Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said: “To reach a port, we must sail – sail, not tie at anchor – sail, not drift.” Michael has weighed anchor.

David and I made a few purchases, too, but I’ll save them for another day.

Thanks so much for visiting.

Ann Marie and David

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