Caldwell Furniture Co.

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?

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Ann Marie and David

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4 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

MCM Dining Table Sets

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.

  1. Clean Lines

    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.

  2. Manufacturer

    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.

  3. Wood Grain

    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.

  4. Condition

    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.

  1. Drexel Profile

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.

Mid-Century Modern dining table sets

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.

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

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. Caldwell Furniture, Lenoir NC

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.

MCM Dining Table Sets

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.White Furniture MCM Dining Table & Chairs
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:

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

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.

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

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.

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

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.

Milo Baughman Drexel 1952

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

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