How the thrill of the hunt for mid-century paraphernalia moves collectors to put a personal stamp on their homes
The San Rafael Eichler of Brendan and Cindy McMullan is crammed with mid-century collectables, as their wall of paraphernalia above suggests.
The McMullans' tiki family room (top), and an entertainment room decked with a 1950s Predicta TV and lots of period girlie magazines (above).
The McMullans' office. Their Eichler is so jam-packed, Cindy says, “people with kids are afraid to come to our house.”
The McMullans relax in their backyard.

Call it obsessive compulsive, call it being a connoisseur, call it being a pack rat, call it what you will. But true collectors of vintage paraphernalia, and especially of the mid-century modern variety, know what collecting really is—an extreme sport.

Ed Apodaca and Lisa Berghout, who live in a San Rafael Eichler and began collecting furnishings 26 years ago in Seattle—where they were new, knew no one, and had free time—recall a giant thrift store 45 minutes from town that specialized in merchandise other thrift stores had given up on.

When the doors opened Monday morning collectors rushed in—and why not? Buy three of anything—anything—from a salt shaker to a dining table, and pay one dollar.

"It was great for furniture," Ed says.

"Vintage fabrics—weird, kitschy stuff," Lisa adds.

"People would run through the store," Ed says, "diving [onto the furniture]. 'This is my couch!'"

"It was pretty exciting," Lisa recalls.

There can be danger too. Cindy McMullan, who also lives in a San Rafael Eichler, recalls when she and husband Brendan got a good deal at a flea market. Perhaps a little too good. Next thing they knew, the husband of the vendor was searching for them and was not smiling.

"Hurry up. Let's get to the car," Brendan urged.

"It was a kitchen potato slicer, really old, and it works really well, and we use it all the time," Cindy says. "It was seven dollars well spent even though we almost got beat up."

"We like to hunt," she says, mentioning flea markets, thrift stores, estate sales. "We take road trips—Fresno, Modesto, Sacramento, all the glamour spots."

"We don't go to resale stores," she says, meaning swank shops that 'curate' their wares. "We like to find it in the wild."

Collectors also enjoy the rush of a surprise find. Consider the time Mary Anne Deierlein, who was trying to outfit her Eichler in Palo Alto's Greenmeadow with vintage and stylish items "on a shoestring," spotted a man hauling a Danish solid wood credenza on gorgeous wooden rectangular legs toward the Palo Alto Goodwill shop's donation door.

She fell in love quickly and acted just as quickly. "I love that! Can I have it? He said yes. He put it in my car."

Chutzpah is a virtue.

So is being in the right place at the right time—and possessing physical strength and the fortitude to handle a screaming wife.

Jeff Morelli, who owns an Eichler in the Oakland hills, recalls when a girl stopped by the Brooklyn collectables shop run by members of his family offering them a 1957 Rock-Ola jukebox. Off Jeff went to find the machine half hidden in the upper reaches of a large warehouse.

"You had to climb up a scaffold," he recalls, standing next to the jukebox. "This thing weighs a ton. They're like a 'fridgerator, even heavier. It took five guys to haul it down."

Keep in touch with the Eichler Network. SUBSCRIBE to our free e-newsletter