Whether it’s nostalgia, an affinity for clean lines, or deep love and appreciation for the set design on Mad Men, midcentury modern furniture has a solid, faithful fan base.
For Allyson and Chris Virden, the journey to Mid Mod Collective started in 2009. They owned a few pieces and added more here and there. The Virdens had just retired from managing the LeConte Lodge for 12 years and were interested in starting other businesses. (One of those businesses is Olde Virden’s Tennessee Pepper Co.) As their interest in midcentury modern furniture took shape, they saw an opportunity and jumped on it.
“Chris and I had been collecting since 2009 and got into selling in 2013. We started in another store in town as a dealer, and then we met the original partners [of MidMod Collective],” says Allyson. “There were ten of us total, and we all loved midcentury modern furniture. We wanted to have a store set up as vignettes.”
The group opened MidMod Collective in 2014 with only the pieces they each had, along with a few consigners who had showroom-ready pieces to sell. The current partners - Thomas Miller, Shannon Bedwell, Blake Deal, Todd Witcher, and the Virdens - keep a high standard of quality.
“We sell quality, midcentury modern furniture that’s made to last another 50 or 60 years, or longer. We keep things out of the landfill,” says Allyson. “A lot of people would put these things on the curb, but we breathe new life into them.”
Each of the partners goes on treasure hunts throughout the year. They travel to estate sales and auctions. They peruse online. They chat with folks who call to say they have a sofa from Grandma’s house they’d like to unload. In keeping with their standards of quality, they don’t accept any old piece of furniture. If it’s not already in tip-top shape, it has to have good bones that can be reupholstered, at the very least.
“Sometimes we go into a house and it’s like a time capsule. The homeowners haven’t bought new furniture in decades,” says Chris. “Sometimes the house is full to the brim. You just never know what you’re going to find.”
Allyson adds, “Sometimes a piece needs to be recovered completely but the structure is fine. Sometimes all it needs is new stuffing.”
By definition, midcentury modern furniture hails from the 1950s and 60s, mostly American-made. Danish furniture also falls into this category since Scandinavian furniture is minimalist by nature and often uses the same woods found in midcentury modern - teak, rosewood, walnut. Hardwood is key here. It’s solid. It’s sleek. It’s the difference between a chair lasting 70 years versus seven. You won’t find pine or particleboard in midcentury modern furniture. When you sit down on a sectional that was built in 1955, it doesn’t sway or creak or shift.
This distinction is key. Anyone in the market for a couch knows the mental gymnastics required to discern whether or not the sticker price is worthwhile. Will this couch endure five years of our kids? Will the arm break under the weight of my teenage son? Will it hold any value after we’ve paid it off? If anything about midcentury modern furniture is true, it’s that the pieces are made to last.
One of the most common names in the midcentury modern furniture world is Herman Miller, a century-old design company whose Michigan founder oversaw the development of a successful line of furniture for both the home and office. Herman Miller designers are responsible for the office cubicle, modular seating, and the lounge chair and ottoman combo, in keeping with the aesthetic of sleek, chic, and ergonomic design. Today Herman Miller focuses more on office furniture and less residential, but the company is still recognized as a cornerstone in midcentury modern design.
MidMod Collective has more than seating. In keeping with its original business plan, the showroom is laid out in vignettes - little living rooms and dining areas. There is artwork, lighting fixtures, and the sort of tchotchkes you remember from childhood. The key to shopping at MidMod is to check in often. Things come and go quickly, particularly if they get rare pieces in high demand.
Nostalgia definitely plays a roll with buyers, but so does general appreciation. MidMod’s customer base ranges from older shoppers who want to remember their childhood to young architecture students and first-time homeowners who want pieces to match their mid-century rancher.
“For many people, they like the aesthetic. Certain pieces look like art,” says Allyson. “It also has a contemporary feel. It’s minimalist. We are a society of needing more and more, and that’s not what this is about.”
Not to be excluded the fans of Mad Men, a period show centered around the lives of 1960s New York ad men on Madison Avenue.
“The Roly Poly glasses that Don Draper drinks out of? We couldn’t keep them. Still, to this day, when we get them, they sell quickly,” says Allyson.
“There are pieces from that show that I’m always looking for, like his bar cart,” says Chris. “I look at Facebook and Craigslist 20 times a day looking for things.”
For more information about MidMod Collective, visit MidModCollective.com.