POSTED ON JUNE 20, 2012:
Mad for Mod
Midcentury modern furniture for today
It would be inaccurate to say that midcentury modern has come back around. Truth be told, it never left. Midcentury modern, which, originated during the '40s, '50s and '60s, looks as current today as it ever did.
So with your style needs in mind, I did a little legwork and went on a quest to find the knowledge you need to acquire just the right piece.
When shopping for midcentury modern furniture, you can go one of either two ways. You can buy vintage or buy new -- and both are equally legitimate as long as the piece is made by the licensed manufacturer.
Like any great piece of art, the classics always get knocked off. Unfortunately, although a knockoff might slightly resemble the legitimate piece, it's likely you'll pay a comparable price and yet won't see any appreciation in value over time. Shopping at a reputable store, like SR Hughes, guarantees that you get the real deal. If you're ever unsure of exactly what you're getting, ask the dealer/seller point blank, "Is this an authentic piece?" Any reputable dealer will be happy to divulge.
Whether it's at the flea market, at an auction, on Craigslist or in a store, most authentic designer pieces will have an etching, engraving or plate to denote the authenticity. While such markings might sometimes be missing from vintage pieces, you should definitely expect some sign of legitimacy from a newer version of an original.
Where to shop
If you're looking for new versions of classic modern pieces, stores like SR Hughes or DesignWithinReach.com are great resources. If it's an iconic piece you're after, odds are good they'll have it.
If vintage is more your bag (and your budget), you might score a deal by scouring local vintage furniture stores, flea markets, estate sales, consignment stores and auctions. Just be ready to invest a bit of time and effort.
With local stores like Mod50s Modern, you can purchase from experts like Maurice Powell and thus know exactly what you're getting. He's more than happy to do the dirty work for you.
As Powell points out, "One can find great original midcentury modern pieces by hitting the thrift stores and yard sales," he said. "This is where you will get a deal, but you may have to search for many months to come up with one great item."
Shane Hood, Lortondale resident and head of preservationist group Modern Tulsa, is finding it more and more difficult to find vintage pieces off the beaten path because of their increasing popularity.
"I started collecting modern furniture about 15 years ago," Hood said. "At that time, it was easier to just hit a local thrift store and pick up a piece. ... Shows like Mad Men, the short lived Pan Am and websites like Ebay have turned on the general populace to what 'modern' is. So, it is harder to actually find mid-century design stuff than it used to be."
The challenge of the hunt aside, Hood has stayed true to the architectural period of his Lortondale home and has gone almost entirely vintage. "My Furnishings are all midcentury modern," Hood said. "The only new piece that I have is an Eames rocker made by Herman Miller. Everything else is from the period."
But will it work in your house?
For those who don't live in a pad straight out of a Rat Pack film set in Palm Springs, midcentury modern elements and objects can be incorporated easily and organically into just about any interior.
"What comes to mind when decorating with mid-century modern furnishings," Powell said, "is that you need to be in a midcentury modern house with a flat or butterfly roof, or maybe a ranch style home. But I have incorporated more midcentury modern furniture into more traditional homes or bungalows than anything. If you want to collect the object, you can make it look right in any setting.
Navigating the options
For the modernist newbie, choosing which pieces to invest in can be a bit daunting. There is certainly an array of options and as with all design -- not all midcentury pieces are created equal when it comes to lasting value.
If you're looking to collect, it's a safe bet to purchase some of the more iconic and recognizable pieces. You can never fail with authentic pieces from Eames, Saarinen, Noguchi, Mies van der Rohe or Le Corbusier.
If you're looking to purchase for the purpose of achieving that retro look, the designer doesn't matter nearly as much as your preferred aesthetic. Whether old or new, iconic or obscure, a great looking piece you really love is always a worthwhile purchase that is sure to lend your life beauty for many years to come.
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