Summer Issue: Tips for Cool Collecting

Collectors can get maximum enjoyment out of their hobby by focusing on what they love, good organization, and persistence. Boris Letuchy of Walnut Creek displays ceramics in the living room of his Eichler. Photos by Dave Weinstein

No time is better than summer to find cool items to bring some modern class to your modern home. Some Danish modern furnishings? Vintage 1950s ceramics? 1960s plasticware ideal for a picnic? 'Collectormania,' a story in the new Summer ’18 issue of CA-Modern magazine explores the world of mid-century modern collecting.

If you’re planning a road trip that might conveniently take you past thrift stores and flea markets in exotic locales, or if you’re just staying home, the article provides both inspiration and a few practical tips for finding, organizing, and appreciating your collectable finds.

What? You’re not a collector? Well, that may change after reading this article, if you dare.

Meanwhile, distilled from some of the collectors we profiled in the article:

Know what it’s worth but buy what you like. Today it’s relatively easy to find out what a Russel Wright tableware set or a Predicta TV in operational condition are worth by surfing the net.

Jeff Morelli prizes this Italian mid-century sofa not for its monetary value but for its style.

East Bay Eichler owner Jeff Morelli, whose real passion is for sofas but whose collection ranges widely, often checks eBay to gauge the value of an item. But he cautions collectors not to get hung up on those results. Just because one person asks a high price and another person pays it doesn’t mean others will too, he says.

Several collectors suggest not buying based on price along – hoping to make a killing, or even a profit. Buy because it’s something you want. “Just know what you like,” says Morelli, who lives in an Eichler in the Oakland Hills.

Go to different venues. Much of the fun for many collectors is finding collectbable toasters, Hawaiian shirts, or Exotica LPs “in the wild,” in the words of Cindy McMullan, who lives in a San Rafael Eichler.

The thrill of the chase is ever so much fun if you find an item at a thrift store, estate sale, or flea market, rather than in a carefully 'curated' and high-priced design shop.

Estate sales are “the best way still,” says Lisa Berghout, who lives wither husband Ed Apodaca in a San Rafael Eichler.

Boris Letuchy examines the bottom of one of his ceramic finds to show off the name of its maker.

Boris Letuchy, who lives in a Walnut Creek Eichler agrees, and adds: “You are looking for estate sales where people have lived in the house a long time. These are the people who have it.”

By “it,” of course, he means the good stuff.

Check out backrooms and basements. “When you go to estate sales, they mark up items in the main rooms,” Ed Apodaca observes. “It helps to really look around the more obscure areas,” like rear rooms, basements, closets.

Sometimes you have to act fast – and perhaps be a little bit pushy. 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.”

Here's how the McMullans display their tiki bar matchboxes, a way of turning could-be clutter into art.

Don’t focus exclusively on big-name brands or designers. Like many collectors, Morelli buys based on looks, intuition, and feel – not by the name of the designer.

“A lot of my stuff is no name,” he says, “and I think it’s cooler looking than some of the stuff that is named. I like that offbeat look. A lot of people don’t. They go for Herman Miller, Eames, the other well-known names. A lot of that stuff is pretty tame, to me.”

Make your collection personal. The furnishings, art, and objects of daily use that fill Mary Anne Deierlein’s house are as much a personal journal as a collection, with things standing in for words. Consider her Panasonic TNT 8-track player from the 1970s – so called because it looks like a TNT detonator – or her several, ball-shaped radios called 'Panapets,’ with leash-like chains, and the 8-track Toot-a-Loop radios that twist into freeform shapes.

“I was born in 1960, so these were really fun things in the 1970s and early 1980s, and boy, you were cool if you had one,” says Mary Anne.

These plastic radios from Panasonic are collectables that remind Mary Anne Deierlein of her childhood.

Your collection will be more attractive if you keep it organized. “Just clump things together and it looks more organized,” Cindy McMullan advises. She and her husband, Brendan, whose house is choc-a-bloc with vintage finds, do some wonderful clumping:

A record room lined with records, mens manazines, and music paraphernalia; a shelf of toasters in the kitchen; Enid Collins handbags on a wall shelf.

Know when to stop. Yes, even collectors can end up with too much of a good thing. Several we spoke to say they have cut back drastically on their collecting, focusing mainly on items that fill out or enhance their existing collections, or that replace items they then sell or donate.

“But we still go to flea markets to look,” Cindy McMullan says.

Why? Because collecting is so much fun. Get hooked by reading ‘Collectormania,' a sneak preview of the new Summer ’18 issue of CA-Modern magazine.

Reader Comments Box