We’re huge fans of furniture from the 1930s to the 1960s, the period that’s generally described as mid-century modern. We don’t mean the more kitsch American ‘atomic age’ stuff, rather what we’re interested in is the well-thought-out and well-made furniture that started being produced in Denmark and then spread to other parts of Scandanavia before its humane principles spread more widely. This kind of furniture varied quite widely from traditionally made pieces from skilled cabinet-makers all the way through to proto-Ikea type democratic kit-furniture. Many of the classic designs from this period are still being produced of course and you’ll find things like Arne Jacobsen’s Series 7 chairs in dining rooms and offices all over the world.
Finding the vintage furniture you want
We wanted to take the opportunity when we had built our new house to find some really good pieces from this period, whether vintage or new. However, we have to be patient and very selective as we don’t have a lot of money, and there really isn’t a great selection available in Ontario, which was still very conservative and still very much a farming-dominated economy during the mid-century period, so local sales sites like kijiji aren’t that great and vintage stores have very limited selections of truly good stuff. There are excellent European vintage sales site aggregators, in particular Vntg.com (formerly known as Retrostart), however shipping costs are prohibitive for anything bigger than a single lounge chair. North America has sites like Chairish as well as the ludicrously expensive, 1stDibs, and of course you can try your luck with ebay and even etsy (you might be surprised…). Shipping from parts of the USA can also be ridiculously expensive, although services that find spare space with existing delivery services, or act as a clearinghouse for local movers and shippers, can sometimes come up trumps. UShip seems to be the best of these.
Anyway, what did we get and why?
Here, we wanted a couple of really comfortable armchairs and a daybed for, well. lounging. Early on, while we were still starting the build, when we still thought we had money over, we found our vintage armchairs, both Danish from the early 1960s: a classic Senator high-back armchair and foot stool designed by Ole Wanscher, and one perfect oak-framed armchair designed by Hans Olsen.
Senator high back armchair in teak by Ole Wanscher for Cado (early 1960s).
The Senator series was originally made by PP Jeppersen, and this original version is more expensive. Ole Wanscher had a reputation as being relatively conservative compared to his contemporaries, however this is perhaps as much due to his manner as his designs. In fact he could be remarkably innovative, and the design of the Senator series lent itself to a more reproducible iteration, which was duly created by Paul Cadovius’ firm, Cado, which became famous mainly for its modular wire-frame and teak shelving systems. This version screws together in a way that Ikea made the basis of its entire business model. However, the Cado chairs fit together beautifully, the quality of the materials is way above what Ikea offers. They look almost exactly the same, except for the screw holes. And the extra advantage of the Cado version is that you can have them shipped more affordably, because they come apart.
Easy Chair by Hans Olsen in oak, late 1950s (this is our actual chair but photographed professionally prior to purchase)
Hans Olsen is one of the less known of the major Danish designers of the time, but he’s one of my favourites, and I think his Easy Chair (1955) is simply perfect. For various reasons I am not really a huge fan of teak, the wood that was used in by far the majority of Danish furniture in the 1950s, and were fortunate to find a perfect example in oak.
More recently, I happened to find another superficially very different chair from the late 1960s on Etsy, which uses steel, suede and cabling. However, while is might be superficially different, the proportions are almost exactly the same as Olsen’s earlier lounge chair – this may be the reason why it’s often attributed to Olsen (and consequently overpriced – so beware!), but actually it was an in-house design by LEA and doesn’t seem to have had anything to do with him. it’s a fun piece, although our son and our cat have to fight over who gets to sit in it…
Balloon Chair by LEA, 1960s
Balloon chair, with local sheepskin
For the daybed, we wanted something relatively low, that wouldn’t go above the level of the large south-facing windows’ lower frame, but which had moveable cushions. That eliminated my favourite Danish vintage daybed – the ‘Minerva’ model by Hvidt and Molgaard. We also decided that we wanted some lighter wood as our floors are very dark. So in the end, we bit the bullet and ordered a new Artek 710 bent birch daybed. When we say, ‘new’, we mean in production terms – the design is an early (1933) mid-century modern classic by Finnish architect and designer, Alvar Aalto. We bought it with the cushions uncovered, and got hold of some new Artek-designed fabric separately in a sale, and Kayo made some removable covers, as well as using some of the Marimekko fabric from the curtains she made for the old house to recover some cushions.
New Daybed 710 by Alvar Aalto for Artek, first produced in 1933
The Dining Room
As it happened, the same place we got the daybed, an Artek dealer and slightly eccentric vintage furniture shop in Toronto, Studio Pazo, also had some sale-priced Artek Chair 69 bent birch dining chairs, , also designed by Aalto in 1935. These ones had coloured seats and backrest, one on each of the six colours they do. We decided these would be perfect for the dining table.
New Chair 69 by Alvar Aalto for Arkek, originally produced in 1935.
To add to these, as a present to my wife, who had always wanted a Wishbone Chair, otherwise known as the ‘Y Chair’, designed by the brilliant Hans Wegner in 1950. I secretly ordered a pair of special limited editions of this classic design in elm, from the original manufacturers, Carl Hansen & Sons. It’s amazing to think that these are just about the cheapest Wegner chair you can get and, well, they weren’t cheap. But they are probably the most perfectly satisfying chairs I have ever seen, both comfortable and beautiful. These chairs will all go around our existing locally made reclaimed pine dining table.
Wishbone (‘Y’) Chairs in elm (Hans Wegner for Carl Hansen & Sons).
Detail of the leg and hand-wound papercord seat
The beautiful curved back and armrest
We also needed some kind of cabinet or credenza for storage in the dining area, but the space we have for this is shorter than the standard 60″ mid-century length. However, we have managed to find a beautiful Paul McCobb-designed credenza in maple. The only problem is that it’s in Brooklyn and we are yet to be able to get it shipped…