Buying and Selling: How to Identify Mid Century Furniture
As the old adage says, “something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it”.
In a sense this is as true for a piece of bread as it is for a piece of mid century furniture.
But the statement itself is of virtually no value when you are trying to establish whether you have uncovered a rare gem in your local flea market/ uncle’s basement.
Identifying value is, as you might expect, rarely straightforward.
However, there are a few tell-tale signs that you can look out for in your efforts to separate the wheat from the chaff.
How to Spot Valuable Mid Century Furniture
An obvious one but an important one all the same.
Provenance is basically some proof of the route that the piece of furniture took from the workshop to where you found it.
That is not to say you should be able to track it on Google Maps. It is to say, however, that genuine mid-century furniture by the best designers and manufacturers will have traceable features.
This could come in the form of a brand’s label, a stamp ('Made in Denmark' is usually pretty good sign) or even some legitimate paperwork that can be followed back to a source.
We’ll be honest, the last identifier on that list is a rare occurrence but it is worth a shot if all else fails.
It is also worth noting that the absence of branding is not necessarily an indication of a reproduction or counterfeit piece. Some owners remove these stickers the moment they leave the showroom.
For more on identifying real and counterfeit mid century furniture, visit our real or fake guide.
If you can see a sign of provenance, and you get the impression that the vendor wants to move some stock, then the stage may be set for a deal.
If you have stumbled across something in a property that you or your family own, and you feel assured of authenticity, it’s time to dig a little deeper.
The fact of the matter is that some designers are more collectable than others. This has a direct impact upon value.
If you know a little bit about mid century furniture, then you will probably already know some of the key names. If you’re new to it, then even 15 minutes of research usually brings up the usual suspects (Eames, Klint, Møgensen, Wegner).
If someone is selling something by one of these designers, then it is, at the very least, worth a closer look.
But a closer look is required. Think of it this way: if you knew what you had, would you be looking for a quick sale?
That said, if you can spot something for yourself and the vendor doesn’t seem to be interested in what it is, it’s probably worth getting your wallet out.
There is also a host of accomplished designers who are less prominent so don’t dismiss a name until you have put in the legwork.
You might find information harder to come by but that doesn’t mean that his or her work can’t be brilliant. Au contraire.
Take Kai Kristiansen, for example. There aren’t hordes of solid material out there about him but his work is first-rate. Have a look at the Kai Kristian furniture we carry if you want to know more.
You should, however, give careful thought to buying a piece by a less revered designer if you are buying to sell.
Less well-known names will almost always command a lower price so bear this in mind if you are thinking you can make a quick buck/ pound/ euro.
That said, you might be able to put yourself in a strong selling position if the rest of the design community cottons on to whatever it is you can see in a piece.
Ultimately though, if you are buying to keep then the designer’s name is surely of less importance.
If the quality is there then the value is there, even if there is only yourself and a handful of discerning guests that will be able to see it.
Colour and Condition
Both are hugely important considerations, particularly if you are thinking about buying to sell.
The general rule at the time of writing is that lighter-coloured furniture is more desirable than darker-coloured alternative.
There could be any number of reasons as to why it is on trend but surely one main factor is that lighter furniture looks better in smaller rooms. Darker furniture can have the effect of draining natural light if the room isn’t large enough to cope with it.
Regardless, if you are concerned solely with value, then know that lighter colours are where it’s currently at.
Condition is important but not necessarily a deal breaker. So long as the frame and tops look sound and are relatively free of dints and dents then you could be in business as most pieces can be returned to former glory by an expert.
Always remember that if a piece is in need of some TLC, someone somewhere along the line is going to have to pay for it. This has to be factored into your calculations of value.
Know that if you are buying to sell, that person probably shouldn’t be you. The ultimate owner or third party vendor should take the lead on this one as they will usually have a better idea about what that restoration should look like.
Quality and Materials
Quality can be determined by looking closely at the joints, finish, type of materials that have been used and, where applicable, the thickness of the veneer.
The presence of dowel joints on webbing, for example, is an indication that either the piece has been well restored or it is still in its original condition.
Long story short, this method is a lot more time consuming than simply firing a few staples through the rubber so it would only be undertaken by those that know and care.
Inspect the furniture at its weakest point and look for any signs of cracks, glue and repair. Avoid plastics that have been badly scratched.
Look out for discord in grain or stain and mismatching handles. Consistency of detail is usually a good sign.
Furniture with corner brackets and odd fixes has already been badly restored by someone who didn’t know what they were doing so steer clear as this will affect value.
The choice of materials can also tell you a lot about what you need to know. For example, furniture that is made from either rosewood or teak is likely to be made to a high standard and will thus be of more value.
This is due largely to the fact that the materials themselves can be expensive, difficult to source and had to work with.
For more on the materials used in mid-century furniture and their qualities, view our types of wood used in mid-century furniture guide.
The good news is we can tell you something for certain now: rarity = value.
Sadly, an item’s rarity can only really be established by research so make sure your smartphone is fully charged before you leave the house.
It can be a painless task with the more established designers as it’s the kind of detail that design blogs and online interior publications like to pick up on.
Sadly for you, though, that means you are far less likely to get the deal of the century.
For relatively unknown designers, you’ll have to dig a little deeper but there are resources out there. danish-modern.co.uk, for example, is an excellent place to start if think that best describes the piece that you are looking at.
We’re slightly reluctant to say it, but 1stdibs also has an extensive catalogue and they are almost always on the money with what they sell, what needs to be said about it and what it is worth.
If you can see, or if you have an inkling, that a piece has been handcrafted then that would also point towards rarity. The reason behind this is as straightforward as they come: handmade furniture takes longer to build.
Tips For Reselling Your Mid Century Furniture
- Larger pieces tend to be harder to sell than smaller, more versatile pieces. Bear this is mind if you are about to fill up your van with sideboards, tall boys and 6-seater sofas.
- If you have found a real gem, then you may find that, as a private seller, you struggle to sell at retail price. In this instance you may wish to buddy up with an established retailer and let them take a commission. If you aren’t located in a big city, contact retailers who are.
- Consider selling your furniture as is. It is not unusual for an item of mid-century furniture to require some TLC. Finding the right person to do the work can be time consuming; getting it done is usually costly. The real issue, however, is that you might do it only to find a buyer who is looking for, say, different upholstery. If you have a quality piece, the right buyer will know what they are looking at and will be prepared to pay regardless.
Visit our MCM makers guides more on how to identify Ercol furniture, Børge Mogensen pieces, Karl Andersson & Söner designs and more.