Few design styles beckon quite like Mid-Century Modernism. Sublimely sculptural and fantastically functional, Mid-Century Modern furniture is eternally in vogue. As Mid-Century Modern furniture’s pedigree increases, so too does its price tag. That’s not to say that scoring affordable Mid-Century Modern furniture is entirely a lost cause. To help you hunt down Mid-Century Modern furniture at bargain prices, we’ve rounded up a series of tried and true tips. From the little-known Mid-Century makers that you should be pursuing, to the best candidates for furniture rehab, this is how you land Mid-Century Modern style for less.
1. Buy Used vs New
From Eero Saarinen’s Womb Chair to the Ray and Charles Eames’ namesake Eames Lounger, a sizable number of iconic Mid-Century Modern pieces are still in production today. Customizing a new piece via retailers like Design within Reach or Herman Miller, will cost you, though—for those who haven’t dabbled in made-to-order design as of late, a brand new Womb Chair decked out in a base-level upholstery, clocks in at just under six grand. On the flip side, a vintage Womb Chair will keep you firmly in the green. Consider any minor oxidation to the frame or gentle fading to the fabric a badge of venerated character.
Pilling wool and torn tweed upholstery are just a few of the reasons you’ll find Mid-Century Modern furniture slashed to near liquidation-level prices. Doctoring up a Mid-Century Modern piece can feel intimidating to novices, but there’s no reason to feel fainthearted if you spring for an upholsterer. Upholsters’ fees are generally set, but you can reign in costs by opting for a modest fabric. Consider tweeds, wools, and polyester velvets in solid colors which are generally cheaper than splurge-y, name-brand printed fabrics.
3. Go Off-Brand
Moral debates abound on the topic of vintage knockoffs, but as sustainability gains momentum, buying any item already in existence—copycat or not—is increasingly gaining acceptance. Mid-Century Modern pieces that are “in the style” of a major maker’s works can dock as much as fifty percent from the price tag, making them a sage option for anyone coveting avant-garde style without depleting their savings account. Worth noting is that some designers were more successfully emulated than others. Milo Baughman, Karl Springer, and Charles Hollis Jones, for instance, were all platinum-grade makers whose style was auspiciously imitated for the masses.
4. Opt for Less Expensive Materials
One reason that T.H. Robsjohn Gibbings credenza costs so much? It’s made out of solid wood. To knock off a few dollars (or a few hundred), refine your hunt to Mid-Century Modern furniture made from lower-cost materials. More cost-effective materials include Formica, wicker, rattan, and iron. For rattan and iron Mid-Century Modern pieces, scout out the work of makers like Arthur Umanoff or Tony Paul. Both Umanoff and Paul specialized in leggy stools and tables with raffia-wrapped seats and tabletops, with Paul even creating alongside Mid-Century notables like Paul McCobb and Russel Wright. For rattan pieces, plug Franco Albini or Ficks Reed into your search bar. Albini skewed towards Italian bohemianism, while Reed nailed the Mid-Century-goes-tiki vibe.
5. Load Up on Accessories
If you aren’t ready to drop a mini-fortune on a Hans Wegner Papa Bear Chair yet, consider stocking up on an array of Mid-Century Modern accessories. Think: ceramics, barware, and lighting. Even if you have a room full of contemporary furniture, a few choice pieces of Mid-Century Modern décor can usher in an authentic Mid-Century Modern mood. Seek out makers like Culver, Georges Briard, and Dorothy Thorpe for iconic barware, Dansk for candleholders and kitchen accessories, and Bitossi for pretty, one-and-done pottery.
Lead photo courtesy of Fairfield Antiques by JH Studios