We’ve all visited museum shows filled with Eames chairs of plastic or beautifully molded plywood that are so precious we can only look but cannot touch. But vintage mid-century modern furnishings can be quite affordable, and a better deal than buying new.
Vince Bravo, who has been selling mid-century furniture, furnishings, and décor from other eras for about 20 years, says many Eichler and other mid-century modern homeowners believe the best way to furnish their home in period style is to buy recently produced versions of classic designs.
This can be done easily enough, for example at Design Within Reach or through Herman Miller.
But for the same amount of money, or less, he says, fine vintage pieces can also be obtained. “People have a misconception that vintage is more expensive than new,” Bravo says. “You can very often find vintage pieces for less than they are selling the new versions.”
A mainstay for many years for Bravo has been vintage sleek, solid birch furniture from the Heywood-Wakefield Company, a firm whose roots go back to the mid 19th century but is most famous for its mid 20th century style.
Heywood-Wakefield had several factories in the United States and was widely sold in stores, Bravo says, so there is plenty out there. Unlike the firm Herman Miller, which produced many diverse lines of furniture by individual, sometimes idiosyncratic designers, Heywood-Wakefield went for a unified look and did not play up individual designers.
Bravo appreciates how versatile the furniture can be because of its standardization. “The various pieces are easy to arrange together,” he says, noting that the levels of the shelving and countertops are “the same from piece to piece, so you can put a lowboy next to a sideboard next to a bookshelf. It matches. You can keep building on it.”
“It’s extremely affordable to buy a dining room table with six chairs,” he says. “It’s stylish and it’s $3,000 or less.”
“Since it’s solid wood, and I refinish it, by the time you get it home it looks like they came fresh out of the factory,” he says of the pieces.
It’s worth noting that you can still buy new Heywood-Wakefield furniture today. A firm in Florida acquired the assets of the company in 1992 and has been turning out new tables, chairs, desks and more ever since.
Bravo comes from a family of collectors, and got his resale license when he was still in high school. “I had to be driven to the state board to get my license,” he says. He worked his way through college managing an antique store, and has continued selling furniture and collectables even while working a full-time day job as a school teacher in San Mateo.
He’s seen interest in serious modern furnishings grow as interest in mid-century style evolved.
“In college, no one was looking for Herman Miller,” he recalls. “There was more emphasis on the kitschy stuff from the '50s—flamingoes and the boomerang.”
About Heywood-Wakefield, he says, “People buy it not even knowing what brand it is just because they like it. They like the aesthetics of it.”
"With Heywood-Wakefield, people remember it. ‘My grandmother had that table,’ they’ll say. The average person doesn’t say, ‘My father loved his Eames lounge chair.’ That really emphasizes that Heywood-Wakefield is furniture of the working man.”