Authentic Mid Century Furniture vs MCM Reproduction
By Dirty Girls Restoration, May 11 2018 01:45PM
First off, I'm a little sad about this blog topic. With Mid Century design nearing it's 70th anniversary, Mid Century "Style" has made a huge comeback the past couple of years. Don't get me wrong, the collectors have always been around and it's always been a unique and sought after design style - but today you can't do a search for Mid Century anything without a million reproductions filling up the screen.
To find "true" Mid Century among the search results is now a hunt and peck process. As little as just 2 years ago this wasn't the case. Etsy, (which is not supposed to be a site where "new" items are sold), is filled with brand new MCM reproductions. As is Target, Walmart, new furniture stores and a ton of online retailers. You can't walk into a store without being bombarded by it or turn on the television without MCM filling up commercial and sitcom sets. Which is all well and good, the style is fabulous (obviously) - however it has become a "trend" and we all know what happens with trends.
Over the years of being in the "authentic" Mid Century business (selling items that were actually made in the mid 20th century), we have met and entered the homes or businesses of many people who were redecorating and wanted the "Mid Century look". There are those that are hard core Mid Century enthusiasts who will not accept any form of reproduction, there are those who have MCM reproductions and want to add an authentic piece to the mix, and then there are those that want "the look" but don't want "used furniture". Our company, Dirty Girls Restoration, does not sell reproductions - EVER!
So the latter of those groups will contact us saying "I bought a brand new MCM sofa a year ago and it's already fallen apart, the frame broke, the fabric has come apart, etc....and it was expensive!".... they contact us looking for true authentic Mid Century furniture, fully restored to like-new condition, has already lasted an entire lifetime so they know it will last another lifetime.... because why?......oh yeah, it's MUCH higher quality. People know this.... or they learn quickly. For the ones that contact us trying to "mix" new and old.....they promptly realize there is a stark difference....I'll get to that in a minute.
As someone who worked on the front lines of HGTV's infancy and experienced first hand the birth of "shabby chic" in the United States, I can honestly say all it takes is a "celebrity" on television showcasing a glorious new "X" and telling everyone how fabulous it is that makes people run out and change the entire design scheme of their home. I really think you could take the most horrendous design style imaginable, have a couple designers/celebrities say its the "next big thing, this is fabulous"....and yep, then it would be. Thus the 80's happened....ha.
Back to Mid Century.......the short version....authentic Mid Century furniture is structurally more sound (made of solid "old wood stock"), has incredible attention to detail as it was "mostly" made by people and not machines, and is smaller than reproductions (people are larger these days you know).
Longer version - authentic Mid Century furniture was designed and assembled by hand with solid wood. In contrast, new reproduction MCM furniture is mostly made with pressed wood or fiberboard (wood fibers glued together). Even if you find a reproduction claiming it has a solid wood frame, the wood of today is farmed for timber (young trees) - whereas wood 70 years ago was old stock (meaning it wasn't farmed, it was actually harvested from forests (not many exist anymore). The wood in authentic Mid Century furniture has many more rings (old growth). It's more dense and much much stronger. If you've ever tried to nail or screw into old growth wood vs new wood from a home improvement store....the difference is staggering!
Next, authentic Mid Century furniture was assembled by hand, hands on actual people, people who put detail and pride into their product. Yes machines were used to cut out individual pieces - but assembly, weaving, etc were still done by hand on Mid Century pieces. Today machines make most of the furniture, including assembly and everything that goes into it. Machines with no pride...or hands. Also (and this might sound crazy) there is an energy intertwined in authentic Mid Century furniture that cannot be reproduced. It carries with it the history of the Atomic Age, the Hippie Movement, the birth of Rock n Roll. It's already lived a lifetime and you can feel that. Anytime you are in a room with an original designer Mid Century item beside a reproduction (not in a photo, but in person).....there is zero doubt which is which. I would imagine most of the long since dead designers of the Mid Century / Atomic Era would scoff at what we have done to their designs using cheap wood and thin, crappy fabric fabricated together by machines.
We have some authentic 1950's Hans Wegner Wishbone Chairs (designed in 1949 and produced by the Danish firm Carl Hansen and Son since 1950). They are extremely hard to find and usually retail around $1000 each (at the time of this writing). However, I could walk into Bed Bath and Beyond right now (I'm not kidding) and buy a reproduction for $150 with 20% off (pick your color). So, why would someone pay $1000 when you can get the same look for $150? Here's a good article on the difference:
For myself, if I didn't have the money for the original - I would not buy the reproduction. It's just not the same. Maybe it is a matter of pride but I would rather have an empty home with a mattress on the floor than a home full of cheap knockoffs......I guess everyone can decide that for themselves. I'm not saying you shouldn't buy reproductions, my goal is just to educate and hopefully save people some money when (because of the Mid Century descriptor and price tag) they think they are buying a sofa that will last a lifetime but in reality they will be lucky to get 3-5 years out of it (on average).
And lastly a little plug. I get the people that say "I don't want used furniture". I get it, I understand that....we have found some funky funky stuff in furniture we have picked up over the years. However there are companies like ours that fully restore those amazing pieces of Mid Century furniture so that they are "like new" without wiping out the history or the quality. You might be saying...."yeah the frames are better and stronger but if you are getting things reupholstered then there is no difference in the fabrics on new vs "restored" old. Well....at Dirty Girls Restoration, this is what we do: We do the wood restoration, we professionally clean (and I mean clean every nook, cranny, and crevice), we do all the structural repairs, we do minor upholstery (by hand)....but we do NOT do full upholstery work. For that, we drive 420 miles (one way) to an Amish husband and wife team that do everything by hand, old school. Their work is impeccable! Yes they give us good rates because we have been taking our items to them for so many years, but honestly the price is not much different than what some local upholsters charge. We have tried different (closer) upholsterers on occasion for smaller items where we didn't feel the trip justified the profit...however the difference in quality was very obvious. So, we make the 14 hour round trip drive for ALL of our items needing reupholstery simply because of the detail and quality that the Amish couple provide.....and we DO NOT price our items any higher (most of the time lower) than most dealers that do nothing to their items.
Sadly, when the tapered legs have left all of the Target stores of the world and the MCM reproduction craze has said it's trendy goodbye to make way for "Farmhouse Style", "Art Deco revival", or heck maybe even the pastels and puffiness of the 80's will make a comeback......we and other hardcore enthusiasts will still be looking for the designer "needle in the haystack" with fabulous space age angles tucked away in the back of grandma's estate sale. Here at Dirty Girls Restoration we will always sell what we love...that may take on a few different forms in the years to come but Mid Century, (NOT Mid Century 2018 (which doesn't even make sense??)), will always have our heart.