The Love Affair Continues with Mid-Century Modern

By Josh Levine, Owner of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal
Posted February 2017

It’s February—the month of love—so, what better time to examine the intense love affair the public is having with Mid-Century Modern furniture and art? True love or an infatuation? Either way, this obsession is driving auction prices up as bidders fight over couches, chairs, dining room tables, end tables, hutches, dressers, light fixtures, ottomans, paintings and more from the mid-20th century.

Some say mid-modern architecture and design dates back to the early 1930s. Others say it started it 1940. Most agree the era ended in the late-1960s. At our auction house, in Scottsdale, Arizona, the pieces that I see do the best are from the 1950s and 1960s. They are classic, simple designs featuring clean, contemporary lines, curves and geometric shapes. Rather than ornamental pieces, the furniture from this era featured smooth, polished surfaces and was created with teak, oak, rosewood, beech, elm and walnut. Lucite, plastic and glass were also used to create minimalistic designs.

A bidder paid $3,000 for this Heritage Henredon Frank Lloyd Wright coffee table.

(All photos courtesy of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal)

TV shows like Mad Men helped increase the cool factor of mid-modern designs, and now you’ll find reproductions at big retail stores like West Elm, IKEA, Target and others. But serious collectors will search antique stores, estate sales and auction houses to find original pieces created by renowned designers like Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, Philip and Kelvin LaVerne, Milo Baughman, Harvey Probber, Martin Borenstein, Paul Evans, Edward Wormley and others.

Frank Lloyd Wright, of course, had a big impact on Arizona since he built Taliesin West in Scottsdale. The father of prairie-style architecture, Wright believed form was function, and his bold, architectural furnishings were designed to complement his prairie exteriors. In 1955 and 1956, he licensed Henredon to manufacture his designs. The firm’s sister company was Heritage, and in total, I believe Heritage Henredon manufactured approximately 75 of Wright’s designs.

This Heritage Henredon Frank Lloyd Wright end table realized $2,750 in 2016.

We’ve auctioned several Frank Lloyd Wright pieces, and each time, we see a surge of interest from both live and online bidders. In January 2016, we auctioned a Heritage Henredon Frank Lloyd Wright wooden end table with a Greek Key pattern. The inside drawer was signed by Wright, and the provenance was strong, as the piece included a copy of a Christie's East 1991 letter with a pre-sale estimate of $700 to $900. The end table, simple in design, might not catch the eye of the average person, but because Wright had designed it, the piece did well, realizing $2,750.

The same auction featured three other Frank Lloyd Wright pieces, all from the same consignor. A Heritage Henredon Frank Lloyd Wright coffee table realized $3,000, again, simple in design—wood with a Greek Key pattern and a slate top. One of the legs was marked as a Frank Lloyd Wright piece, and it, too, came with a copy of a Christie’s East 1991 letter. The pre-sale estimate back then was $1,000 to $1,500.

This Heritage Henredon Frank Lloyd Wright sofa realized $2,750 in 2016.

A Heritage Henredon Frank Lloyd Wright sofa went to the highest bidder for $2,750. A Christie’s East letter from 1991 estimated its pre-sale value to be between $1,200 and $1,800.

This Heritage Henredon Frank Lloyd Wright coffee table sold for $1,000 in 2016.

Another Heritage Henredon Frank Lloyd Wright coffee table didn’t do as well as we expected, realizing just $1,000. I attribute this to the condition of the piece. It was a long rectangular table with a Frank Lloyd Wright mark on a leg and a similar Greek Key pattern to the other pieces. A copy of the Christie’s East 1991 letter showed its pre-sale estimate to be between $2,000 and $3,000.

Martin Borenstein is another mid-century architect who designed sleek furniture that appeals to current minimalistic tastes. Not much is written about him, though I did read that he lost his home in the 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm, just two days after remodeling it. Two years later, he rebuilt a contemporary home featuring large glass windows, and he used tall potted plants inside to separate rooms instead of walls.

This Martin Borenstein Challenge Series couch sold at auction for $5,500 in 2015.

We’ve sold several Martin Borenstein pieces, and I think his style of furniture will continue to do well in 2017. I’ve included a photo of a Martin Borenstein Challenge Series couch that sold in our July 2015 auction for $5,500. 

Collectors also can’t get enough of Philip and Kelvin LaVerne. The New York-based father-and-son team created artistic tables and cabinets that were distinctive in style and easily recognizable. In our April 2014 auction, we sold a Philip and Kelvin LaVerne Eternal Forest round table for $9,500. This rare piece from the mid-1970s was acid-etched and patinated bronze over pewter and wood with a molded signature on top. Measuring approximately 17.5 inches tall by 41.75 inches in diameter, it was in excellent condition with the original green felt on the bottom of the base.

A bidder paid $9,500 for this Philip & Kelvin LaVerne Eternal Forest round table in April 2014.

Even mid-century styles without big names attached to them do fairly well at auction. In our July 2016 auction, we sold a black leather settee for $1,100, several hundred dollars more than our estimate of $500 to $700. Similar to a loveseat, settees were designed as wide chairs. They’re retro-cool, cozy and make for a great accent piece.

This black leather settee realized $1,100 in 2016.

Several artists from the mid-century are also selling well. I frequently see bidding frenzies over original pieces by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Harry Bertoia, Jackson Pollock, Jeff Koons, Frida Kahlo and many others. Even the reproductions are doing well.

We’ve auctioned many mid-modern pieces of art, but two that stand out in my mind are a Harry Bertoia multi-plane construction sculptural piece that sold for $110,000 in our 2016 New Year’s Day auction and a Guillermo Wiedemann oil painting that sold for $30,000 in our July 2014 auction.

This Guillermo Wiedemann oil painting
sold for $30,000 in 2014.

As with any collectible, do your research and examine the condition before purchasing mid-century modern furniture or art. Because the style is so popular right now, the market is being flooded with reproductions, or inspirations, if you will. A few things to watch out for are makers’ marks, labels and even signatures. They are generally easy to find, but many pieces are not marked. A Google image search can be quite helpful.

I’d like to think that America’s love affair with Mid-Century Modern furniture and art will be long-lasting. Right now, from what I see, there are no signs of a cyclical change. So, if your heart flutters at the sight of a sofa, end table or other piece that will enhance your home’s décor, treat yourself this Valentine’s Day to a special gift.


Josh Levine owns J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale. Contact: or @jlevines1 on Twitter.




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