Telling Furniture Apart

Mid-Century Mod: The Importance Of Design In Antique Furniture

When people think of antique furniture, they usually imagine a baroque chair from the 1600's, or shaker style American furniture from the Colonial period. But mid-century modern furniture holds a very special place in the antique collector's heart. This style of furniture is colorful, expressive, creative, and unique. Designers like Knoll, Panton, Miller, and Eames are some of the pioneers of this genre. What makes mid-century modern furniture so special, and how can a collector know it's legitimate and real?


Most mid-century furniture consisted of wood, metal, and upholstered fabrics. One of the most significant designs of this style are pieces made from one solid piece of wood. Eames furniture is known for this, and their famous chairs are typically one piece of solid wood, bent and shaped into a chair form. Other clues to indicate mid-century objects are their unusual shapes, strange fabric patterns, and quirky style. When this trend became popular, many designers would apply a paper label to the bottom of their furniture indicating where the materials came from as well their own personal design stamp or logo. Some even signed each piece individually.


One of the hallmarks of legitimate designer mid-century furniture is the high quality material that the furniture was made of, and the beauty and fluidity of the designs. If a piece has visible bolts and screws, it is most likely a reproduction. The lines of the piece should be clean and sweeping, and not angular or pieced together. Take a look at the material, and if unsure, an appraiser can assist you in determining if materials used to make the furniture are correct. Teakwood, leather, and bakelite were all popular materials used to make mid-century furniture. While it might not be easy to spot with the novice's eye, a professional (such as one from will know immediately if a piece was made during the correct time period based on the material it's made of.


Today this popular style of furniture is considered a valuable commodity, but when many designers such as Charles and Ray Eames sold their pieces, they were common household items and office furniture. This means you can expect that most mid-century furniture will have a bit of patina such as small scratches or even tears in the upholstery. If a piece is real. it may not affect the value if it is still rare. Some collectors like to reupholster this furniture as long as the overall chair or other piece maintains its unique shape.