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.
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:
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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:
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.
Heidi, our most reclusive kitty, even came out to admire the furniture:
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.
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