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Buying Retro Furniture

Nov 28, 2007
When first deciding on buying retro furniture, it is useful to know a few of the better manufacturers and designers from the period. This has been made slightly harder by the fact that an item of furniture called "retro" can come from the 1950's through to current production items.

Once you have decided on a particular theme i.e. chromed items with glass (that can be either clear or tinted), sticking to that style lends itself to modern house or flat design. Options of various wood veneers were available as an alternative to glass offering a warmer feel and variety. The most commonly used veneer from the 50's, 60's or 70's was rosewood and this was used by two of the best British manufacturers of the era. They were Merrow Associates and Pieff. Both companies produced items of the highest quality and style. Recognizing these pieces is not always easy due to the fact that Merrow rarely labeled their furniture whereas, fortunately, Pieff did.

Condition is an important factor when buying an item as chips to glass, chrome work that is pitted or flaking or veneers peeling or missing can be expensive to rectify.

Quality leathers were also used by Merrow and Pieff offering an even wider range to choose from. There were many other designers who are now widely collected and two of the leading designers were Robin Day and Ernest Race. They both produced a vast variety of items many of which have become design icons such as the Ernest Race "Heron" chair which had bolt-on legs with a fabric covered seat. Robin Day produced a huge range which included the use of molded plastic seating.

Retro design furniture from the Fifties onwards includes many designers from the USA as well as Europe and Scandinavia. From the USA designers had a huge influence on furniture production throughout the world, possibly the most influential being Eames whose items are very collectible.

George Nelson items are also well respected for style and quality of manufacture in particular the "Coconut" chair. Its radical, triangular shape helped make it become another design icon from the 1950's.

Scandinavian designers produced many desirable items most of which were produced in teak and occasionally in rosewood. Most of these items were labeled making their origins easy to identify. The vast majority of these being of Danish origin.

Because quite often companies producing furniture manufactured a range for domestic and commercial/office use making it hard to determine their original design function i.e. there is a very fine line between a storage cabinet for office items, files etc and a sideboard for domestic usage. This cross over of use makes it easier to locate retro furniture as many items now turn up in second hand office furniture outlets. From a buyer's point of view, the most commonly used source for locating items is now via specialist sellers, auction houses and eBay all of which have positive and negative aspects of buying your piece of retro furniture.

My advice would be research the item, obtain a condition report and negotiate a price that both the buyer and seller are happy with.

There are so many good designers of retro furniture it would be impossible to name them all but I couldn't finish without mentioning one of my personal favorites - Robert Heritage. He also produced a wide range of furniture - one item in particular that has become a true design icon is the "Hamilton" sideboard which is a truly wonderful piece of design and functionality.

I hope you have found this useful and if you would like any further advice, please do not hesitate to get in touch via my website http://www.ovalinteriors.com
About the Author
Geoff has many years experience in buying and selling retro furniture, and some of the items currently available can be found on his website Oval Interiors. Geoff also is retained by collectors who are looking for specific designers from this period.
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