After several barren weeks of estate sales devoid of bargains and success, our luck finally changed. We bought 2 Mid-Century Modern dining table sets in one weekend (along with several additional pieces), to add to the 3 dining sets we have distributed between our booth and warehouse.
This seems a good an opportunity to discuss what characteristics we look for.
Mid-Century Modern dining table sets should convey a sense of lightness, sleekness. The shape should capture your attention. As a rule, MCM tables and chairs are more compact and, therefore, perfect for smaller spaces. Once you begin studying tables and chairs, their differences become evident.
We always check the name of the manufacturer before buying Mid-Century Modern dining table sets. That means one of us is slithering around under the table and tipping over a chair. If we find a name like Drexel or White Furniture, we’ll stop our investigation right there. An unknown manufacturer, however, isn’t dismissed; we just double our efforts to make sure the pieces structurally sound and aesthetically appealing.
Although MCM designers experimented with other materials such as plastic, glass, vinyl and shaped plywood, the tables we buy are made of wood. Tabletops are covered with good, wood veneer, which is a thin slice of actual wood. This process changed in the 1970s when furniture companies began to incorporate particle board and MDF to save money.
How much work will the pieces require? Our biggest expense is outsourcing a table for sanding and refinishing. Are the pieces sturdy? If any legs are wobbly, can we easily fix them? We hope for good padding and original fabric on the seats. Both of these, if problematic, can be remedied. All these elements, however, add to costs that can lower our profit margin
Now that we’ve covered the characteristics we consider when evaluating MCM dining table sets, let’s look at our sets.
This dining set belongs to Drexel’s Profile Collection, designed by John Van Koert. Drexel manufactured Profile between 1955 – 1961. This set dates from 1956 and includes table, 6 chairs, and 3 leaves.
First, look at its shape: tapered legs, gentle curves, borders on the table top, and chair spindles. It’s Drexel made, so the quality is excellent. Rich brown color, made of pecan and walnut woods. When we encountered this piece at an estate sale, I froze in horror seeing that heavy metal container on the bare wood.
The chairs look great. I made sure to dust between every one of those exquisite spindles. One chair has a small stain on the fabric, but I think we can clean and avoid the recovering process.
2. Caldwell Furniture Company
Caldwell Furniture of Lenoir, NC, manufactured this table and chair set in 1961. My research hasn’t led me to any rich details on Caldwell’s. The company started in 1906 and Thomasville bought it in 1968. Despite knowing very little about the manufacturer, this is a well-designed table. I like the way each side gently bows.
The tabletop had sustained topcoat damage. Davis stripped the top and outsourced the table and its 2 leaves for refinishing. The final result reveals a highly grained walnut with contrasting light and dark grains.
Here are 3 of the 4 recovered chairs. The backs remind me of bow ties. We recovered, and seriously upgraded, the 4 dining chairs seats, which we wrote about in a previous post. At present this MCM dining set sits in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.
3. White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC
White Furniture, known for high quality, manufactured this set, probably in the late 1970s. It came with 6 chairs and 2 leaves.
The chair spindles gently curve, the legs taper. The oval top contrasts with the square and rectangles of the chair and there’s an Asian sensibility to these chairs. David believes the wood is walnut but we haven’t studied it enough to identify the finish. As for the condition, the table needs refinishing.
The square cushions are in great shape, generously padded and covered in a white vinyl. I’m not a fan of vinyl, but it can be useful if children are anywhere near food. Here’s a chair detail:
4. B. F. Huntley of Winston-Salem, NC
My research hasn’t led to any unusual discoveries. A small business, Huntley’s started in 1906, sold to Simmons in 1929, burned in 1935 and reemerged as Huntley once again before Thomasville bought it in 1961. Although the table has a series of stenciled numbers on the bottom, each company had its own system of identification. I can’t say definitively when Huntley made this set without a code to decipher the numbers.
This drop leaf table came with 6 chairs and 1 leaf. Ironically, a previous owner had the table refinished but neglected/forgot the leaf. As a result, the leaf doesn’t match the table’s newer finish. David claims the table needs work, and Michael tells me the seats need recovering.
When David and Michael picked up the set from the estate sale, they — and the sales rep — realized it was a drop leaf. The rep claimed, had she realized that when pricing, she’d have marked it higher.
What I appreciate about the chair design is the “H” back, and the upper back slat reminds me of a surfboard. At a glance the padding and fabric looked OK to me but I haven’t studied it. I know at least one of the chairs wobbles.
5. Drexel Today’s Living
Milo Baughman designed Drexel’s Today’s Living Collection, Our set was manufactured in 1952. The shape of the table holds interest because its thickness narrows down from the center. I wrote about our struggle to acquire these pieces at an estate sale.
The woods are elm and beech; the finish is beech. Between its wood color and the matching orange fabric, there’s a sense of lightness. Happily, we kept the chair seats as is.
Lastly, our son Michael will choose one of these Mid-Century Modern dining table sets for his personal use. He narrowed his selection down to two sets (#1 and #5), both manufactured by Drexel, Michael’s considering either the Drexel Profile set by John Van Koert (4 chairs, 3 leaves) or the Drexel Today’s Living set designed by Milo Baughman (6 chairs, 2 leaves).
If Mid-Century Modern dining table sets appeal to you, which would you choose?
Ann Marie and David