Although I love a pretty broad range of mid-century design, there is a certain pang of excitement that runs through me when I spot a high-profile designer piece in the wild—especially when it’s cheap. Over the years I’ve bagged a Pollock executive chair for $5 (Charles Pollock for Knoll, 1963), an Eames Aluminum Group management chair for $2 (Charles Eames for Herman Miller, 1958), and four Bertoia child’s chairs for $12 (Harry Bertoia for Knoll, 1955). This week I added a few nice specimens to my trophy wall.
This week I managed to pop into a thrift store after a morning meeting out of town and spotted this beauty in the window—Eero Saarinen’s executive arm chair, designed for Knoll Associates in 1957. An iconic chair from one of the greatest designers of the 20th century, and it only cost $35.
I was in too much of a hurry to even check for a label and be sure it wasn’t a knock-off. Lucky me, as I carried it out to the car I saw the Knoll Associates sticker on the base. Snag!
It isn’t perfect. There are pits in the chrome base and the upholstery is a little dingy; all things you can expect after 40 or so years of use. I could go out and buy a shiny new one, but mine cost about $1,850 less. I’m sure for that price difference I’ll have no problem getting it professionally cleaned or reupholstered.
The Saarinen chair started my week on a high. Surely it would be my thrifting pinnacle. I certainly didn’t expect to find this peeking out from under a pile of filthy nonsense on the porch of an estate sale this weekend.
It was buried under a stack of boxes, but all I had to see were the legs and a little glimpse of the seat back to know what it was—an upholstered version of the metal framed dining chair (DCM) designed by Charles Eames in 1946.
I wasn’t 100% sure at first that it wasn’t a knock-off as it was too obstructed to look over at the sale. But, for the $5 price I was quoted, it was a gamble worth taking. It was a gamble in more ways than one. This chair is a little… filthy.
Ok, it’s all the way filthy, actually—possibly one of the dirtiest pieces of furniture I’ve ever brought home. Once I flipped it over to reveal the Herman Miller emblem I was happier, but it will have to be professionally cleaned because these chairs are very difficult to reupholster. I’ve got high hopes; there are no serious stains, holes, fading or even any odor. If all else fails, the legs are good and someone out there probably needs them.
My final designer chair score of note is this Ergon chair, designed by Bill Stumpf for Herman Miller in 1976. Although 20 years later Stumpf and Don Chadwick would design the lauded Aeron Chair (which I also have—found for $3), the Ergon chair was one of the world’s first ergonomic work chairs. It’s not as sexy and high profile as the other chairs, but I appreciate the pared down 1970s sensibility. The design is clean with polished cast aluminum and vivid cobalt blue upholstery. Plus, unlike some of its flashier counterparts, it’s very comfortable.
I’m going to have to rein myself in a little and remember that my house is not a rehabilitation center and museum for designer chairs. It may be time to start a catch and release program.