Newbie wants to learn about Danish Modern furniture and antiques in general
August 23, 2005 4:44 PM   Subscribe

How does one learn about furniture/antiques, specifically Danish Modern furniture? Total idjit/newbie questions inside.

So I know jackshit about furniture but am looking for some chairs, a coffee table, a credenza, etc... and again and again when I see stuff I like, it falls under Danish Modern / Swedish / Eames / Wegner, Juhl, etc etc.

I'm finding it rather interesting.

1. What's the best way to learn about this stuff?
2. What's the best way to find it (I'm in Toronto)?
3. There are some people/companies selling a lot of it... how? This guy, for instance, consistently finds/sells gorgeous pieces. How do people get good at this kind of thing?
4. What other "categories" of furniture should I search for if I dig this stuff?
5. Caveats for buying things like this? Am I just better off buying new furniture or are these things better made?
posted by dobbs to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
Response by poster: 6. What are some other phrases and whatnot I could punch into eBay?
posted by dobbs at 4:46 PM on August 23, 2005

Try punching in "Mid-Century" (that's the Eame's stuff).

And I agree, it's great.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 5:09 PM on August 23, 2005

I mainly know stuff about mission oak, and a lot of it I picked up as a child from my parents, but I've learned a lot more by going to local antique stores and just talking with the owners, many of them are hobbyists. Another good idea is to go to half-price book stores, the library, etc. and look at antique price guides. Warman's is good. Careful antique purchases and proper maintenance will last you a lifetime. They really don't make them like they used to. I recently refinished an antique oak drop-leaf table, the price of the table and supplies came to about $50, which is amazingly good, but my point is, antique purchases will likely appreciate in value and look nicer and last longer than something new from a furniture store.
posted by sciurus at 5:17 PM on August 23, 2005

You could also search along material lines, such as "molded/bent plywood" and the like. In addition, probably the most famous designer of "Danish Modern" furniture was actually Finnish--Alvar Aalto. IKEA rips his stuff off shamelessly.

The thing is, even if you're looking into these as "antiques", a hell of a lot of mid-century (and earlier) modern furniture is still in production. I think just about every decent thing Mies, Corbusier, Aalto, Gropius or the Eames ever did is available through design within reach. All the work by these guys was pretty high quality and generally produced by high-end firms like Herman Miller, so if you find an old piece it's probably safe to assume it's built to last.
posted by LionIndex at 5:20 PM on August 23, 2005

Buy a book?

If you are really serious, contact Herman Miller because they have some people there who can point you to a ton of resources.
posted by caddis at 6:59 PM on August 23, 2005


Sorry to be so specific to Toronto. I would look in the furniture section in the OCAD library. It's a small library with a great collection on furniture design.

Danish Modern is relatively affordable in Toronto. I can recommend Ralphz, and a few of the used furniture stores on Queen West.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:22 PM on August 23, 2005

Dobbs, go for solid teak. IT's easier to find good solid used teak, than new pieces. It wears like iron.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:24 PM on August 23, 2005

great links to follow here
posted by amberglow at 7:30 PM on August 23, 2005

My parents (my mom's Swedish-American) have been into this stuff forever; my dad actually has some original Eames stuff, like the plywood side chairs, and I'm sitting at the matching desk (er, dining room table) right now.

Most metro areas probably have a furniture store or three that specialize in the genre, like Dania (Chicago/Seattle), where you can get relatively high quality reproductions or imitations.

The best way to learn? Well, there are plenty of books about the period, which of course overlapped a great deal with architecture of the day. It's hard for me to know since I've been exposed to it all my life, but it's included visiting numerous museums and architectural tours of places like Columbus, Indiana. You'll want to check out the museum of modern or contemporary art wherever you visit, for example. People get good at knowing stuff by spending a lot of time looking at the real thing (not just repros), and they get good at brokering it by being in the business for a long time and having great connections. (I wouldn't think of getting into it unless it was already my lifelong passion.) Broader categories depend on a lot of things -- I'm from an eclectic approach, mixing Modern with Contemporary with Victorian. If it's good stuff, it can almost always work together. Mission, Craftsman, perhaps even Stick/Eastlake (mainly architectural, not furniture, but representing the first flush of machine-cut wood forms), Shaker and Amish (clean with disarming simplicity). You may like some of the recently-licensed Wright reproductions or other things Taliesin folk have done.

Caveats, though: I don't think a lot of the early Eames or Scandinavian stuff was always well-made. There was a lovely sitting chair we had with these tapered legs that one day just collapsed under a certain teenager's too-quick descent (and I was svelte then). The wire-frame chairs and desk are always flying apart in different ways and needing tightened bolts or whatnot. The upholstery holds up no better or worse, sometimes worse because it has to cover up sharp angles. Look at each piece individually.
posted by dhartung at 8:32 PM on August 23, 2005

Too bad there is no IKEA store near you. That is the one-stop shop for all that is modern scandinavian furniture. A total overkill of the senses if you ask me.
posted by JJ86 at 3:29 AM on August 24, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers everyone. Much appreciated!
posted by dobbs at 8:40 AM on August 24, 2005

Not sure if it's entirely relevant, but I saw the touring show Scandinavian Design: Behind The Myth when it came through Glasgow recently. There's an exhaustive catalogue that came with it, which goes into great illustrative and historical detail, and poking about on the exhibition site gives you a link to the publishers, who are selling it direct. [Scroll down to the bottom for the book in question.]
posted by Len at 8:48 AM on August 24, 2005

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