When Matt and Ann Anthony decided to furnish the patio of their home in Crestwood, they went vintage midcentury modern.
“I’ve lived in traditional homes, but I’ve always admired the clean lines and simplicity of modern homes,” Ann Anthony said one recent afternoon. She pointed to Russell Woodard wrought-iron chairs around a contemporary patio table and vintage Harry Bertoia Diamond Lounge Chairs, all grouped near an outdoor fireplace.
“The scale of these pieces is perfect for this space,” she said. “I sat out here even in the winter when there was snow on the ground.”
The Anthonys are loyal followers of a niche market that eschews contemporary outdoor sectionals and wickerware from national retailers for patio furniture from resale shops that dates to the 1940s through ’60s.
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Styles range from aluminum chaise lounges with floral cushions and brightly colored metal shell chairs to sleek wrought iron pieces by John Salterini and Capricorn. Prices for the pieces, which are often highly collectible, can range from a few dollars to more than a thousand.
Demand for the vintage stuff has grown enough in recent years that manufacturers are creating retro versions. Wayfair.com, Hayneedle.com, Grandin Road and RetroMetalChairs.com sell the iconic shell chairs, also known as motel chairs, bouncers, clamshell and tulip chairs.
Heather London and Susan Hartnett, owners of Urban Mining, a First Friday vintage flea market on Main Street, were sitting outside on a warm spring afternoon.
They both agreed: When something starts to show up in home magazines, a trend is catching on. But they also agree that fine vintage furniture has never really fallen out of style.
“It’s well-made, it’s in fashion, and it’s relatively affordable,” Hartnett said. She pointed to a clamshell chair: “How can you not have fun when you’re sitting in one of those chairs? The metal chairs are the era of our grandparents, who sat on them out on the front porch, so there’s a nostalgic pull.”
London gestured to another chaise and chair and noted that the “webbed” furniture from the 1960s is from Samsonite.
“We know it came from the Lawrence swimming pool,” she said.
London likes worn-looking chairs, which, she said, some people sandblast and power coat.
“I’d seal them just as they are,” London said, pointing to the rusty spots. “I see this and I can imagine the hundreds of people who have sat on them and worn the paint down. Leave it like this and you have a piece of history.”
According to Rod Parks, owner of Retro Inferno, a midcentury modern furniture shop in the Crossroads Arts District, vintage furniture peaked from the 1940s to the 1960s, when there was a post-war boom in modern design.
He has found that less vintage furniture in general is being tossed as more people realize that it melds well in any space, inside or out.
“You don’t have to have all of one,” he said. “These are classic pieces that look fine mixed with other styles of furniture. And it’s stuff that has held up for years and will continue to do so.”
In any era, he said, you can find treasures, but you will also find poorly made copies of them. In other words, just because something was made in the ’50s or ’60s does not mean it’s worth much.
“Some people cringe at the word vintage because they think ‘junk,’” he said. “In fact, if you educate yourself, you’ll be able to sort the good stuff from the junk that was cheap to make and hasn’t held up well.
“The hairpin legs set these off,” he said, pointing to vintage chairs by John Salterini. A Russell Woodard table and a Capricorn lounge chair designed by Vladimir Kagan sat nearby, Parks can identify the maker of most of the piecesclustered around the pool at his 1966 Bruce Goff-designed home.
When searching for finds, looking for pieces from furniture makers like Knoll is a good idea, he said. But if nothing is marked, study the piece and if the material is sturdy, the design is classic and the hardware is in good shape, it will probably last for many years.
Donna Foulk was sitting on a wrought-iron Peacock chair in the back of her house one afternoon looking like a snapshot from a 1950s movie.
She was wearing cat-eye glasses, a polka-dot dress and teased-sky-high hair.
“I have loved vintage clothing and furniture since I could walk,” said the owner of Donna’s Dress Shop, which specializes in vintage clothing. “My parents pushed me in a Victorian baby buggy.”
Foulk and her husband have made a home above her 39th Street boutique. Everything from her refrigerator to her sofa pays homage to the ’40s and ’50s, a time when “sturdy” was the key.
The same goes for her collection of patio furniture.
She thinks the wrought-iron Peacock chair on her front porch and matching rocker in the back were made in Mexico in the ’50s or ’60s.
Her husband shares her enthusiasm for vintage finds, and her father delights in finding treasures and restoring and painting them. In fact, he sandblasted and repainted a motel chair and bench for her. One is on the front porch, the other on the back.
Before finding her Peacock chairs, Foulk saw a similar pair propped in the back of a scrap metal truck. She chased it for blocks before falling behind and giving up.
“All I could think was, ‘Oh, please don’t scrap it,’” she says.