Top MCM Brands at Estate Sales

It’s official: we’re in love with midcentury modern, and it doesn’t look like the affair is fizzling out any time soon. Coined by Cara Greenberg in her 1984 book, Midcentury Modern: Furniture of the 1950s, this style spans the mid 1930s to mid 1960s. While the phrase “midcentury modern” stuck, the style had taken off long before there was a name for the simple streamlined look. Post-war America fell in love with the new “mod” style that would come to define modern suburban life, and with it, the promise of the American dream.

MCM, as it’s also called, later found a resurgence in popularity during the early 90s and has continued to flourish today, thanks to period shows like Mad Men and The Astronaut’s Wives Club that keep the style trendy.

The real question is: how can you get your hands on some of these iconic pieces? Well, you could pay thousands of dollars for a reproduction from one of those swanky furniture stores or design websites.

Or you can get creative and find original MCM furniture at estate sales. Estate sales (also called “tag sales”) are great places to snatch up some fine midcentury pieces for your home or office. (Keep in mind you won’t find cast-offs sold for the cheapest price. Instead, you’re likely to find furniture that has been well cared for, and as such, priced accordingly.) However, you’ll avoid the markup you’re likely to run into at antique stores, so it’s worth the time spent scouring the sales in your area.

We’ve singled out just a few famous midcentury brands to keep your eyes peeled for at estate sales. With a little knowledge about what to buy, it’s still possible to find a good deal. And remember, part of the fun is the search — so happy hunting!

1. Adrian Pearsall

When you think of that midcentury “Space Age” look, American architect and designer Adrian Pearsall is probably responsible for some of what you’re picturing. Known for incorporating geometric shapes, swooping lines and sharp angles into his work, as well as the use of warm-colored woods, Pearsall designs are easy to recognize. (Pro-tip: examine furniture bases for that signature walnut wood).

Some backstory: According to his son, dad Pearsall was a pretty unassuming and humble guy, which is, let’s be frank, pretty unusual with these artsy types. He founded Craft Associates with his brother back in 1952, and the story goes, was such a practical businessman that he gave his company a generic name. In case designing furniture didn’t work out, he could use the name to sell something else! Luckily, the furniture did take off, and pieces from that time period are still in high demand today. If you’re trying to discern an original from back then, look for tags that read: Craft Associates, Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania.

In the 60s Pearsall formed Davidson-Pearsall, and later, in 1968, he sold the Craft Associates label to the Lane Company. In the 70s, Pearsall formed Comfort Design, and stayed there until his retirement in the 80s.

Adrian Pearsall Sofa
Adrian Pearsall Sofa: Photo Credit

Some designs Pearsall is known for include the iconic long and low gondola sofa, like the one pictured above. The gondola sofa was so named for its resemblance to a gondola seat, with its curved seat and concave back. Like much of the furniture designed in the 1960s, the Adrian Pearsall gondola sofa was low to the ground.

Other Adrian Pearsall-inspired designs to be on the lookout for: armchairs with high backs flanked with angular armrests or chairs that incorporate neck rests into the design. Like most midcentury modern furniture, Pearsall pieces make great focal points in an otherwise simple space. Fun fact: You can also thank Pearsall for designing the famous Beanbag Chair that got you through all those all-nighters in college. Who knew back then that you had an eye for American modern art?

2. Knoll

Founded by a man, but grown to empire status by a woman, Knoll is a name you need to know if you’re into midcentury modern. Hans Knoll founded the company in 1938 but after his sudden death, his wife Florence took over and grew Knoll into the international company it is today.

Design nerds will recognize a number of American and European artists who worked under the Knoll label, including Niels Diffrient, Maya Lin, Carl Magnussen, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Max Pearson, Jens Risom, and Eero Saarinen — to name a few. Chances are you’ve sat in a Knoll designed chair: the Tulip, the Barcelona, and the Hardoy chairs are all popular models that are still manufactured today.

Saarinen Tulip Chair
Tulip chair: Photo credit

The Tulip Chair was designed in 1956 by Eero Saarinen (who also designed the famous St. Louis Arch) as part of the famous Pedestal Series. Saarinen’s mission was to eradicate the “slum of legs” into a cleaner more streamlined look — hence the chairs and tables resting on a single leg. You might have sat in a Tulip at the last hipster restaurant you dined in. Saarinen wanted his chairs to be more than just places to sit; he wanted his furniture to be able to stand on its own — no pun intended — as art. With clean lines and easily replicated materials such as aluminum, plastic, and fiberglass, the Tulip Chair married the best of modernism with post-industrial design.

Barcelona Chair
Barcelona Chair

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was the designer responsible for concept-ing the famous Barcelona Chair, which he created for Barcelona’s 1929 International Exposition. The Barcelona Chair was originally designed for royalty, but the Spanish King and Queen never actually tested them out — their loss was our gain. Upholstered with deep tufted fine leather over a steel chrome base, the criss-cross chrome base was inspired by the ancient Roman campaign chairs, which were foldable to easily transport on the trail. In 2015, the Barcelona Chair design lives on, thanks to modern design stores — and will only put you out about $5,000.

Butterfly chair
Butterfly chair: Photo credit

If you’ve ever tailgated in one of those nifty cloth chairs, you can tip your baseball cap to Knoll. Indeed, your beer-swilling throne, also known as the “Butterfly Chair” or “BKF” (after designers Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, Jorge F. Hardoy) is part of the elite Knoll portfolio. Also inspired by the easily portable campaign chair, the BKF is basically a piece of tough cloth stretched across the highest points of a foldable steel frame. Showcased in 1940, the design officially became part of the Knoll catalogue in 1947 and has remained a midcentury classic and backyard favorite.

If you’ve ever tailgated in one of those nifty cloth chairs, you can tip your baseball cap to Knoll. Indeed, your beer-swilling throne, also known as the “Butterfly Chair” or “BKF” (after designers Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, Jorge F. Hardoy) is part of the elite Knoll portfolio. Also inspired by the easily portable campaign chair, the BKF is basically a piece of tough cloth stretched across the highest points of a foldable steel frame. Showcased in 1940, the design officially became part of the Knoll catalogue in 1947 and has remained a midcentury classic and backyard favorite.

3. Broyhill Brasilia

If you’re lucky enough to run across an authentic Broyhill Brasilia piece at an estate sale — buy it now and ask questions later. This delightful furniture line has inspired a cult following among midcentury modern fans, and for good reason. The name isn’t just for international appeal. MCM mainstay manufacturer Broyhill’s Brasilia line was inspired by the architecture of the classic Brazilian capital, also designed midcentury between 1956 and 1960.

Broyhill Brasilia incorporates many of the design elements that make the cosmopolitan city unique. Its signature swooping curves and arches are reminiscent of the Cathedral of Brasilia and other Brasilia architecture. The line was originally introduced in the Seattle World Fair of 1962 and has only gotten more popular with time.

An old Broyhill brochure calls the Brasilia wood “softly shaded walnut” and you’ll want to keep the wood in good condition in if you’re lucky enough to come across any. In any case, messing with the wood by way of painting or staining could affect the resale value of the piece. Be on the lookout for pieces with the original brass Brasilia hardware, like the ones in the highboy pictured below.

Broyhill Brasilia is easily recognizable — and not so easily replicated. Unfortunately, this means getting a good deal on an authentic piece of Broyhill Brasilia is most likely also a thing of the past.


Broyhill Brasilia highboy dresser
Broyhill Brasilia highboy dresser: Photo credit

4. Le Corbusier

While Le Corbusier was a French and Swiss guy known mostly for his architecture (and his thick-rimmed circular eyeglasses), like a lot of other designers focused on form and function, he dabbled in furniture. And like a lot of designers who dabbled, his dabblings ended up becoming iconic pieces of art worthy of museum exhibitions. Perhaps more importantly, his pieces also better served the needs of modern society (meaning: his chairs were pretty comfy to sit in).

Le Corbusier Arm Chair
Le Corbusier Arm Chair: Photo credit

Like any architect worth his salt, Le Corbusier was into math and fascinated with systems and proportions and the Golden Ratio. This obsession with geometry would largely inform his philosophy of “furniture that felt right” that drove his designs. He also came up with a lot of the modern comforts we take for granted today, like spacious open floor plans and rooftop gardens. A true man of the people, he was interested in making city life more comfortable for urban dwellers. He viewed the house as a “machine for living” and believed furniture should serve as “extensions of our limbs and adapt to human functions.”

Le Corbusier Lounge Chair
Le Corbusier Lounge Chair: Photo credit
In other words, if you’ve ever melted into one of those Sharper Image lounge chairs and felt as if you didn’t know where the chair ended and you began, you can thank Monsieur Le C. for that. A man ahead of his time, he understood the importance of comfort, as well as aesthetics.Perhaps his most famous contributions are the use of glass and steel in his work. His most famous furniture designs are the chaise longue (official name: Chaise Longue LC4) and the grande armchair (Grand Confort), both with tubular chrome bases, leather cushioning, and sleek sophistication — pictured above.

5. Finn Juhl

A Danish designer, Finn Juhl was more interested in form than he was in function, which is to say he had a flair for the dramatic. It shows in his designs. A pioneer of that illustrious school “Danish Design” that hit it big mid-century and has been popular ever since, we can thank Juhl for bringing what’s officially known as Danish Modern to America.

Like many Danish artists, he worked primarily in teak, a favorite of furniture-makers because it’s one of the softer and more pliable woods. He too was obsessed with clean lines and curves which helped to define the Danish Modern style.

Pelican Chair
Pelican Chair: Photo credit
Perhaps his most recognizable chair design is the Pelican Chair, pictured above. Designed in 1940, it’s still manufactured today with its “wing-like” arm rests that almost resemble an embrace and overall avant-garde look. What else would you expect from a guy who was inspired by cubism and surrealist art? While Juhl understood that a chair exists to serve a function, like most of the modern designers, he believed a piece of furniture should have the same artistic value as a sculpture.He’s also responsible for the floating back design featured in many of his sofa and chair designs and which is still a popular design in modern furniture today.

6. Milo Baughman

Another American designer on our list Milo Baughman (pronouned “Boff-man”) was born in Kansas and raised in California. He would later go on to create the “California Modern” look : relaxed and unpretentious, yet classic and able to withstand the test of time. (You won’t see Baughman designing anything like the Pelican chair; he preferred to adhere to simpler forms). He also understood that comfort should take precedence in furniture design. After all, he believed furniture was designed to be used — not isolated within the white walls of a museum.

Milo Baughman Coffee table top
Milo Baughman Coffee table top: Photo credit
Baughman was influential in bringing a lot of modern furniture into the everyday home, thanks to his partnership with manufacturer Thayer Coggin in the later half of the 20th century. Together, they incorporated a variety of materials into his furniture, making use of warm woods like walnut, metals, and fine upholstery which lent his pieces a sleek sturdiness.No doubt you’ve seen some of his famous chrome and glass or brass and glass sculptural coffee tables, like the one pictured above, or sat in a Baughman-inspired chrome base chair while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. The chrome and glass etagere (or what Americans call a “knick-knack shelf”) and the semi-circle shaped sofa, are more of the famous designer’s iconic modern designs. 

7. Heywood Wakefield

While IKEA furniture may be all the rage (at least for more mobile Millennials), solid wood furniture can last a lifetime. Heywood Wakefield was an American furniture company that’s been around since the mid 20th century and helped pioneer the process of wood bending to make furniture.

But let’s back up to the beginning. The company’s roots are with the 5 Heywood brothers in 1826 who began fashioning chairs out of wood in their father’s old barn. Later, they joined up with the Wakefield Rattan Company which specialized in — you guessed it — rattan and wicker furniture.

Heywood Wakefield Encore Buffet
Heywood Wakefield Encore Buffet: Photo credit

The first order of business for the newly merged company was to breathe life into some of their stale designs that were threatening to keep them stuck in the past. This need for innovation created the “Modern” series that includes the “Sculptura,” “Crescendo,” and “Kohinoor” lines that are so coveted by MCM fans and collectors today.

Heywood Wakefield began taking inspiration from French Art Deco for their 1930s through 1940s designs If you’ve ever traveled by train, chances are you were whisked from point A to point B in a Heywood Wakefield designed seat: the Sleepy Hollow chair. And since blondes have more fun, Heywood Wakefield used a bright blonde birch wood that adds a sunny element and soon became their signature look.

Throughout the years, Heywood Wakefield brought several soon-to-be known artists under its label including renowned midcentury favorites: Gilbert Rohde and Russell Wright. Indeed Heywood Wakefield was ahead of its time, and its designs precede the popular streamlined look that would come to dominate MCM style.

7 Midcentury Modern Brands at Estate Sales
What are your Midcentury Modern styles have you found at estate sales? Let us know in the comments!