Forget Italian “starchitects” and Scandinavian hipsters. The real superheroes of postwar design are American artisans who created supercool furniture at prices young couples could afford. “You hear so much about the Europeans, but Americans were great at mid-century design,” says Leigh Keno. Powerhouses like Charles and Ray Eames, Edward Wormley, Florence Knoll, and Eero Saarinen (who moved from Finland to the United States as a tweenager) enjoyed a surge of popularity that peaked in 1999. But prices have since flattened as design devotees chase the neo-neo thing.
“Americans from the 1950s and ’60s have suddenly fallen off the radar,” adds Leslie, who recently snapped up a rare rosewood version of the Eames “potato chip” chair, formally known as the “DCW” (Dining Chair Wood)—it’s the chair shown here—for $2,100 at Treadway/Toomey Auctions in Cincinnati.
“Eames was truly a visionary,” enthuses Leslie. “He designed not only the chair but the molding machine to make it. He even developed plywood leg splints for the Navy.”
The Kenos suggest that design buffs scout for modern classics close to home. For instance, Edward Wormley worked for Dunbar Furniture, located in Berne, Indiana. And head for Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in search of design masterpieces by Paul Evans. Some of the biggest bargains? Paul McCobb’s brass-and-wood furniture, George Nelson’s fiberglass chair, and Warren Platner’s wire chair.
Photograph: Bryan McCay