Steve Coyle adores his Danish midcentury modern dining set, designed by Niels Koefoed in the mid-’60s. He bought the set about five years ago for $500 from a friend’s mother who was downsizing. It’s valued at $12,000, he said.
“It was a table and old-fashioned chairs, which were particularly cool because they had a hand-carved spindled back and legs with a lot of fine detail, plus a small matching side table,” said Coyle, who lives in Flourtown, Montgomery County. “I’m a fan of the midcentury modern Scandinavian aesthetic — fine craftsmanship, clean lines, and high-quality materials.”
He was so enamored with his find that he started learning about the midcentury furniture movement and scouring local yard sales for new pieces.
“But most of them required pretty substantial work to bring them back to life, and even when I did my best, I found I wasn’t cut out for that kind of detail,” said Coyle, who now shops at local vintage stores to find pieces that have been refurbished.
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Coyle is among many folks with an affinity for vintage furniture, especially midcentury Danish pieces. The term vintage generally applies to anything more than 20 or 30 years old, depending on whom you ask.
“Vintage is a polite way of saying used,” said Mike Wilson, who opened his shop, Mode Moderne, in Old City in 1992 and has seen a 30% increase in sales over the last 2½ years. “There were a ton of Danish midcentury modern stores in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It did go out of style for quite a while, but it’s been long enough now that it’s new again.”
Etsy, a global e-commerce company focused on handmade, vintage and craft items, has seen searches for vintage or antique furniture jump 41% in the last 12 months, with searches for ‘70s lighting up 174%.
Beyond the aesthetics, vintage furniture fans appreciate its sustainability, history and the workmanship that has gone into the pieces. During the height of the pandemic when getting furniture could take months, vintage shops were especially busy.
“As retailers continue to face supply chain challenges, many shoppers are turning to Etsy for vintage home decor and furniture as one-of-a-kind, sustainable alternatives to mass-produced pieces, with the opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint, all while supporting small, independent businesses,” said Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy trend expert, based in both New York and Los Angeles.
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Coyle recently spent $1,500 for a pair of “Eva” captain chairs designed by Niels Koefoed for Koefoeds Møbelfabrik, and $900 for a bachelor’s chest designed by Rud Thygesen & Johnny Sørensen for H.G. Furniture, both from Bentwood Vintage in West Philadelphia. Anthony Dramshek first opened the shop in 2018 on Etsy and recently added in-person visits by appointment.
“Over the past year and a half, sales have increased threefold,” said Dramshek, who carries mostly Danish furniture. “People are at home more and want unique pieces.”
With pieces ranging from $200 to $10,000, his customers are willing to spend for well-known designers whose furniture will last a long time, he said. Millennials make up the majority of his customers, though he has buyers of all ages.
According to Etsy’s Johnson, “In an age of social media sharing, millennial and Gen Z shoppers are increasingly looking to stand out from the crowd.”
While Mode Moderne sees a lot of millennial clients, it also has older customers, many who are downsizing from larger, suburban homes into smaller ones in the city.
Others, such as Nancy Rossi, are upsizing.
When she moved from Jersey City to South Philadelphia last July, she was moving from a small rowhouse into one much larger to accommodate her kids and grandchildren. She bought new furniture to fit her new home, but with pandemic-related supply chain problems, she got tired of waiting for it to arrive.
“That’s why buying vintage is great. I walked into Mode Moderne and got a credenza the next day,” said Rossi, who paid $3,500 for the Danish teak piece, designed by Svend Aage Larsen for Faarup Mobelfabrik in the early ‘60s. “We love pieces that have stories to them.”
Coyle advises vintage furniture shoppers to do their homework to be sure they are paying a fair price, and whenever possible, to see the piece in person.
“I ask the salesperson about the piece and then go home and do my research,” he said. “I take pictures of the marks, the stamps from factories. Sometimes I’ve lost out on pieces, but you owe it to yourself to take the time to find out what you’re buying.”