Friday, March 9, 2012

Worth it? Or not?

These days I'm not much of an antique-shopper or yard-sale devotee, although twenty years ago I was so committed to thrifting that most of our household furniture was purchased used and refurbished by me.

Now, at my age, the idea of kneeling on newspapers in the driveway, stripping old varnish with steel wool and gooey, corrosive paint stripper just doesn't say "fun" to me anymore.

Even so, sometimes I get a fresh reminder of the thrill of the hunt.

Heywood Wakefield M154A side chair

Yesterday, while driving through the San Fernando Valley, I spotted something on the side of the road, made a quick round-the-block detour and went to investigate.

There, in the grass of the parking strip, with a neon-orange "YARD SALE" sign, was a Heywood Wakefield "Dog Biscuit" dining set - a drop-leaf table, two side chairs and two arm chairs. In the yard behind an entire home's worth of furnishings were displayed, but all I cared about was the dining room set.

The chairs were in pretty good shape - a little dirty, in need of a good cleaning. The upholstery was a kind of yellow chenille with metallic flecks.

Price? I asked the guy presiding over the sale.

$2000 for four chairs and a table.  "A guy offered me $1500 earlier and said he'd be back later if I didn't get $2000 for 'em," he said, in an attempt - I assume - to get me to offer $1600.

Ah. Although our dining room chair situation is not ideal, and I'd love to have a set of four Heywood Wakefield "Dog Biscuit" chairs, $1600 isn't in my budget.

Mid-century modern vintage furniture is quite hot these days, especially in L.A. So it's probably a pretty good price for the value. But no. I had to walk away, though with a touch of regret.

Heywood Wakefield M154C arm chair

I grew up with those chairs - my parents' first dining room set was exactly that table and six, not four, chairs. I think the upholstery was a kind of soft dull green chenille. Later, in the 60's, we bought what my childhood self thought was a nicer dining room set, in a kind of "Mediterranean" style with a large buffet.

But, oh, my adult self appreciates the sleek stylishness of those "Dog Biscuit" chairs. What happened to them?

After the Mediterranean dining room, the Heywood Wakefields ended up consigned to the basement, to the hobby table, or as desk chairs in childrens' rooms. When Brother 3 married and started a family, Mom and Dad donated the set to him, where they were treated just as most people treat hand-me-downs, and they are no more.

A lost chance to relive my childhood, right?

Actually, if I really really want Heywood Wakefield "Dog Biscuit" chairs, I'm in luck. The Heywood Wakefield Company still makes them. The company was bought out by another firm, and the new owner recognized the potential of these iconic Mid-Century styles. Today, you can buy new "Dog Biscuit" chairs, for around $400 - just a little more than asking price for the yard sale set I walked away from. They're still made of solid Northern Yellow Birch, with a hand-rubbed finish. There's an assortment of fabrics for upholstery.

So if I'd had $1600 burning a hole in my pocket, I could have walked away with a vintage set of chairs I'd have to clean, refinish and re-upholster - or I could order new ones with fabric of my choice.

What do you think? Is there a value in the vintage pieces that outweighs the new? Or would you go for the new pieces?

What's your talent for thrifting?


smalltownme said...

30 years ago someone gave us a chair similar to this.  It took us 5 years to get around to refinishing it and we did a lousy job so we took it to a professional.  I still haven't had it reupholstered!  So last summer when I found a refinished Reenskaug rocker like this, I snapped it up.

ming said...

One comes to the age when you need to think of how much your time is worth. If you don't love thrifting and refinishing (and I no longer do)it's worth it to buy new or already refinished. I would rather spend my time away from work doing other things.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Those chairs look really comfortable! If the new chairs and table are built as well as the old ones -- and you can't beat the price! -- I'd buy a new set... if I was in the market, that is.
We've hung onto the Formica table that my husband's folks purchased when he was baby. It will go to MusicMan and Rapunzel in their first apartment with the understanding that when they no longer love it, a younger brother gets to have it.
I recall working really hard to refinish a china hutch that had belonged to dh's grandmother. Oh, the fumes! We've since seen one like it (but in better shape, with all original parts) on Antiques Roadshow.

Anonymous said...

I buy new. I don't like to refinish. That being said, I do love going to antique stores and searching out glass and small porcellaen pieces (these are easy to clean and display). Refinished furniture is beautiful and the stories these pieces could tell? But good new pieces are a lot less work. I never pay full price for anything though.

My mother held on to a number of pieces of family furniture. My brother took the mahogany bedroom set and refinished it and it is beautiful. But the other things, no one had an interest in and they were sold. So I don't worry about such things anymore, what holds memories for me will probably just be "old junk" to my kids.


Gilly said...

If the chairs are still being made by the same company (well, more less the same!) same style, then I'd go for new. Antique pieces only really fetch a lot when that pattern or whatever is no longer made.

$1600 dollars sounds a lot for a dining set, but my maths might be wrong doing the currency sums!

I'm past the hard jobs too, stripping, rubbing down, repainting just doesn't attract me at all now!

Life with Kaishon said...

I think I would pick the vintage ones...but only if I could find someone else that wanted to pretty them up : )

cactus petunia said...

I have the yard sale/swap meet/fleamarket/thrift store gene...and I have many many many un-and half -refinished projects to prove it!

In my option, if you can afford an original piece, it's usually far superior to a reproduction. You just can't beat old-growth wood and superior craftsmanship.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

My mother used to refinish a lot of antique furniture and still has a load of oak chairs stored in the garage attic. We used to love to say, "Mother is out stripping in the driveway again!" I'm not sure she appreciated our humor as much as my dad and I did.

Those are great chairs. For the price though I'd probably go with the new ones. Although then we wouldn't be able to say, "Aunt Snow is out stripping in the driveway!"