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FURNITURE CARE & REPAIRS

* Appraising Wood Furniture
* Cleaning Wicker Furniture
* Protecting Antique Chairs (Windsor & Chippendales)
* Scratches in Wood Furniture
* Waxing Wood Furniture
* Furniture Knowledge
* Antique Furniture Price Guides
* Restoring Antique Painted Chests
* French Polishing Furniture
* French Polishing Furniture # 2
* French Polishing Furniture # 3
* French Polishing Furniture # 4
* Repairing Marquetry Furniture
* Repairing Parquetry Furniture
* Furniture Restoration - What to look for
* Repairing Split Wood Furniture
* Stripping Wood
* Waxing Furniture

FURNITURE ARTICLES

* Adjustable Chairs
* 1930s & Art Deco Bookcases
* Art Deco Console Tables
* Art Deco Dressing Tables
* 1930s and Art Deco Kitchen Furniture
* Art Deco Wardrobes
* 1950s Furniture
* Biedermeier Furniture
* Bureau cabinets
* Card Tables
* All about Chairs
* Chiases lounge
* Chest of Drawers
* Cheval Mirror
* Children's Furniture
* Chinese Furniture
* Chinese Lacquer Furniture
* Clothes Presses
* Cocktail Cabinets
* Commode Confusion
* Dating Furniture
* Buying Desks
* Directoire Furniture: 1790s France
* Drawer knobs and handles
* Dumbwaiters or dumb waiter furniture
* Early Dining Furniture
* A True Eastlake Table?
* Empire Revival Furniture
* Fake and Reproduction Furniture
* Folding Furniture
* Footstools or Foot Stools
* Furniture handle and knobs
* Garden Furniture
* Hall Furniture
* Hall Stands
* Indian Furniture
* Islamic Furniture from the Middle East
* Jacobethan Furniture
* Japanese Furniture
* Louis XV & XVI Furniture: Understanding the Obsession
* Louis XV and XVI Furniture Defined
* Lounge Furniture
* Mid-Century Modern Furniture
* Music canterburies
* Octagonal Furniture
* Ottoman Furniture
* Pedestal Desks, executive office desks
* Regency Sideboard Furniture
* Reproduction Furniture

 



 
MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE

 
Once cast aside, now wildly popular



Mid-century modern classics are some of the most sought-after furniture collectibles today but are increasingly difficult to find. Their eclectic designs by noted architects and designers from the 1940s and 50s are examples of modern art you can sit, dine, or lounge on — and they mix well in almost any décor.


LCM Chair designed by Charles Eames, 1946
Black molded plywood LCM Chair
designed by Charles Eames, 1946,
manufactured by
Evans Products Company
for Herman Miller
HISTORY
Designers were inspired by the 1920s aesthetic of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe (designer of the Barcelona Chair) as well as the "form follows function" Bauhaus movement of the 1930s.

Mid-century furniture, as we know it, capitalized on advanced technology developed during World War II. The molding of plastics and aluminum, new methods of molding and laminating plywood, new spot-welding techniques for joining wood to metal, rubber, and plastic — none of this would have occurred when it did if not for the war.

Husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames developed the Eames Molded Plywood Chair based on leg splints the Eames created for the U.S. Navy in the early 1940s. According to Time magazine, it's the best design of the 20th Century. The various models (wood legs, chrome legs, metals legs, rockers) were — and are — lightweight and elegant, molding comfortably to the back. Herman Miller has continued to manufacture them since 1946.

The core of the movement, the 40s and 50s, saw the advent of new lightweight, mobile, and low-maintenance materials (e.g., fiberglass, cast aluminum, resin, acrylic, and foam rubber). The whole idea of Eames furniture, for example, was that you could break it down and ship it in small or separate boxes.

Other icons of the era include Eero Saarinen's Womb Chair, a modern take on the winged-back chair (still in production by Knoll); sculptor Harry Bertoia's Wire Chair (his only foray into furniture); and Isamu Noguchi's IN-50 coffee table, with its shaped glass top and wooden legs.


Chair and ottoman designed by Eero Saarinen, 1948
Womb Chair and ottoman
designed by Eero Saarinen, 1948,
manufactured by Knoll International
At the high end, architects and sculptors of the 40s and 50s were making functional modern art. But top-quality kitsch furniture of the age was also popular.

The post-war boom was full of spage-age optimism. Cars with rocket fins could be seen pulling up to drive-ins and diners blazing with neon lights. You could buy furniture, accessories, and fabrics for your home in the shape of boomerangs, flying saucers, and exuberant squiqqles. And though Formica was invented in the 1930s, it was the 50s that brought us this material in zany patterns of pink and turquoise.

Care and Keeping
"There's going to be wear and tear on 50s furniture, but most things can be fixed for a price," says Berman. "In many cases, if you're willing to restore an old piece, you can create great value, but the cost of restoration can often be many times the value of the piece."

For beginners, she advises asking the seller for a detailed history on a piece — age, origin, work done, etc. "Don't be afraid to ask obvious or seemingly silly questions; that seller has asked questions in the past. And when buying online, remember that mint condition to you may not be mint condition to someone else. Again, ask a lot of questions. Is the stitching all the way around, are there any breaks or cracks in the fiberglass, any discoloration?"

Common things to watch for:
  • Refinished furniture: Many Eames plywood chairs have been refinished (original finishes include walnut and rare black and red alkaline dyes). "Without ever seeing an original, you may not recognize the difference," Berman cautions.

  • Damaged mounts: Eames chairs may be damaged around the shock-absorbing rubber mounts located between the frame and the plywood. Often you'll see drill holes in the back of the chair where these mounts were reinforced with screws.

  • Damaged fiberglass: This material can't be refurbished.

  • Old foam: This filling will decompose (an issue with Womb chairs and other upholstered furniture). If you squeeze the fabric and feel some crunching, or you see a grainy residue of orange or yellow, these are telltale signs. Sometimes the original fabric can be removed and the piece can be re-foamed. It depends on the piece, and it can be quite expensive.

Lounge chair and ottoman designed by Charles Eames, 1956
Molded rosewood plywood and black leather-upholstered
lounge chair and ottoman
designed by Charles Eames, 1956,
manufactured by Herman Miller
Market
"Today, it seems everybody wants a piece of mid-century modern furniture," says Berman — a notion supported by the fact that many popular pieces of the era have remained in continuous production since their debuts.

With online auctions offering many pieces once considered scarce, the mid-century modern furniture market can defy logic. Says Berman, "There's no such thing as a set price any more; the market is what anyone is willing to pay at a given moment, and it changes radically all the time. Prices have come way down — especially for pieces that are not in mint condition." Though a great 50s kitsch lamp can sell for more than a designer lamp of the era, the kitsch market is generally more accessible.

Homework
Berman recommends seeking out good references, and studying vintage architectural books and magazines. "There's a wealth of knowledge out there, and you'll see a lot of things you won't find anywhere else. You can train your eye to recognize authenticity, and you also may find something lesser known online. Then you can snap it up because the seller won't know what he's got."

You can find 50s furniture in flea markets, auctions (both overall 20th-century modern and specialty), online auctions, and even second-hand and thrift stores.

REFERENCES
Mid-Century Modern, Cara Greenberg
Sourcebook of Modern Furniture, Jerryll Habegger
The Design Encyclopedia, Mel Byars
Dictionary of 20th Century Design, John Pile

 


Susan Mink Colclough - April
April
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