• Heywood-Wakefield furniture — still made new today in the USA

    retro vintage bedIts no secret that Heywood-Wakefield is a well-known and well-loved line of vintage furniture among us retro folk — and for good reason. The line epitomizes the streamline modern style and coordinates with a variety of vintage and modern furniture styles. Add to that the solid wood construction and the warm glow of the finish, and it is easy to see why Heywood-Wakefield is so popular. And good news — Heywood-Wakefield is still being made today. We recently connected with Leonard Riforgiato, who, with his partner, bought the rights to the Heywood-Wakefield name  in 1991 and revived production of the brand. Together they began recreating some of the hardest-to-find vintage styles. These include their best sellers, queen- and king-sized beds.

    To learn more about the line of Heywood-Wakefield furniture made today, we asked Leonard to answer a few questions and provide us with more information about the revived Heywood-Wakefield company and how he got into the furniture business:

    How did you get into the Heywood-Wakefield furniture business?

    I started in 1984 doing a booth at Art Deco Weekend in Miami Beach, selling whatever 1950s and mid-century stuff I could find to the public and to antiques dealers as a “picker.”  At that time, the South Beach Art Deco District was in its infancy; rents were dirt cheap, so I opened a store.

    I soon noticed that any time I had Heywood-Wakefield furniture (which I had just found out about) it would sell fast, so I started specializing in it. Within a few years so did a lot of other people, and it became difficult to find reliable sources.  When Gloria Estefan’s people came in one day and wanted 150 of the “dog bone” chairs for a restaurant, and I had three, I knew it was time for us to start manufacturing the stuff.

    So my partner and I bought the name and trademark and intellectual property rights to the brand from the Bankruptcy court in New York and began the quest to find people who could build it today.  By cute coincidence, the actual transfer became official on my birthday in 1991.  It’s also very interesting to note that my partner is Andrew Capitman, the son of Barbara Capitman, who is credited with almost single-handedly saving the Art Deco District buildings from destruction beginning in the 1970s when she founded MDPL – the Miami Design Preservation League.

    With so many vintage styles of Heywood-Wakefield furniture in the vintage resale market (since the furniture is so popular), how do you choose which styles to begin making again?

    Originally, I picked the ones that were the most popular, but over time, I concentrated more on what I thought people might consider useful, and may not be able to get shopping for vintage. For instance, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that our fastest-selling product is queen- and king-sized beds. These didn’t exist the the ’40s and ’50s.

    vintage desk

    M 926-Desk/Vanity

    retro living room

    Madeline living room set

    I also try to pick things that I can produce and sell at a price lower than the vintage. Our M 926 Desk/Vanity is a great example: a vintage one will set you back over $3000.00. Ours is $1795.00 at retail.

    vintage cabinet-bookcase

    M 326 Cabinet Bookcase

    A third category is items developed or adapted from the original with a nod to modern usage. I expanded the stock M 326 Cabinet Bookcase into a sort of entertainment center that maintains the vintage look. I re-configured M 395 Record Cabinet to look the same on the outside but to accommodate things people are more likely to have today. I made some of the cocktail and dining tables bigger, and brought out a taller version of the M 321 Bookcase. By the way, you can custom-order sizes from us in some cases — such as the Madeline series of sofas.

    Where are new Heywood-Wakefield furniture pieces made/how do the standards of construction compare with the original standards?

    That’s a question I love to answer. EVERYTHING WE MAKE IS 100% PRODUCED IN THE UNITED STATES, and in fact our factory is about six miles from the original factory. All the wood items come from here, and the upholstered goods from North Carolina, where in my opinion, the upholsterers can’t be beat. (The factory that builds our stuff has clients in Japan, where consumers are super-picky.)

    Since we got nothing when we bought the bankrupt company in the way of tooling, patterns, etc., we have reversed-engineered each piece by acquiring one, taking it apart and making our own patterns. Beginning about two years ago, we started using a CNC [computer-numerically-controlled] router to make the patterns, giving a uniformity of shapes and quality unachievable before — although many later and end stages of building the furniture still have to be done by hand. The CNC provides a real cost advantage that translates to a benefit for our customers. For example, the opening in our M 530 StyleMaster bed used to take about three hours to do, and would often have to be rejected if it didn’t come out well enough. The same thing takes 11 minutes on the CNC, and we get a perfect one every time. This helps us keep our prices down — and by the way, knowledgeable people in the furniture industry all consider our prices to be too low.

    Other important  aspects are these: We’ve redesigned the way dining table legs attach so that the tables look identical to the originals but are many times more stable and will not develop the “wobble” a lot of vintage tables show due to the old-fashioned “wood-on-wood” construction — a feature almost guaranteed to fail over time. (We use steel plates and bolts).  Gluing and finishing technology are orders of magnitude superior to what they were in the ’50s: you can pour a five-gallon pail of the kind of stripper vintage shops use to strip Heywood-Wakefield furniture over one of our pieces and leave it there overnight, with no effect.

    Another very important fact is that because we use a lighter-color finish, we have to use higher-rated lumber grades for our products. We pay extra at the saw mills for hand-selected “first cut” wood, then pay an additional fee to have these selected again for only the best grain pattern and color.  It’s expensive but we feel it’s worth it.

    But please note: I do not disparage the old furniture in any way. We are often stumped for days trying to figure out how they did some of the things they did, and I’m the first to say that the quality of the old stuff was incredibly high. I don’t say ours is higher, just that time does march on, and some things improve. In the meantime, we strive to match what came before.

    Regarding the wood species used, we note from the website’s FAQs:

    New Heywood-Wakefield, like old Heywood-Wakefield, is made from solid Northern Yellow Birch. There is a misconception among some people that Heywood-Wakefield furniture was made from maple, but except for some early 1930s styles, this is not the case.

    How do you replicate finishes on your new HW products to match the original methods/color of the vintage original pieces?

    We don’t. We realized right at the beginning that vintage finishes get exposed to all different sorts of conditions which have an effect on color, and that’s not to mention that there were differences in the old company’s finishes in the first place. If you’ve ever seen a piece of, say, Champagne, produced in Massachusetts in the 1940s, next to a piece from California in the same finish from the ’60s, often they’re not even close. To avoid the potential for numerous returns from dissatisfied customers, we came out with our own finish called Amber.

    Before we bought the trademark, I re-finished hundreds of vintage pieces, and in the process I developed what I thought was a very attractive finish. If you strip and refinish old Heywood-Wakefield and refinish it in what most people call a “natural” finish, you will get a color very close to ours. Since many people do this, our finish fits in well with what they already have. But it’s important to note that a lot of our customers — maybe even a majority — are not vintage HW owners at all, but simply people who found us and like the style, and vintage owners are willing to accept differences, or simply re-finish their stuff to match ours, which I often work with their re-finishers to do.

    We also offer custom color service. This means we’ll match anything: walnut, teak, mahogany… but only the color. The wood will still have its characteristic grain pattern.

    retro vintage bedWhy did you choose to revive the Kohinoor bed over other styles — what makes you think this style is a winner?

    Honestly, I just had a feeling. Kohinoor is a great style, and I had noticed more and more of it being offered for sale. Since as I said, our beds are our best-sellers, I wanted another bed in the line. We used to make the Sculptura as well, which didn’t really do so well, although I think that was due to a bad picture that made the finish look lousy. But in the case of the Kohinoor, it looks like I was right; it’s been selling well right from the initial availability. And actually, we’ll probably bring back the Sculptura before the end of the year.

    Leonard also wanted to add:

    Right from the start, we’ve had great respect for the old company. I was fortunate to meet and spend a lot of time with Joe Carr, Heywood-Wakefield’s last in-house designer, inventor of the famous Butterfly Dining Table. When we started I got innumerable calls and letters (no e-mail then!) from people who had worked for Heywood-Wakefield, or whose parents had. I spent a lot of time in Gardner at the museum, and made some good friends with people who had known the Heywood family all their lives (the Wakefields were from a different town). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time, resources or, I’m sorry to say, the foresight to take notes and assembly the information from people, many of whom have died since we started. It would have made a great book.

    We’ve been building this furniture just a few miles from the original factory since the beginning, and with our move two years ago to a newer, larger and more modern facility in Winchendon, only a few miles from Gardner, and with the US economy showing signs of finally improving, we expect to be able to do some creative things we’ve talked about for some time. This would include the introduction of some vintage styles (as we did with the Kohinoor bed), a “parts department” for people who need replacement chair arms, drawer pulls, table legs and so forth, as well as some new ideas, like round mirrors and furniture specifically designed for new trends in home entertainment.

    In addition, I expect our quality and speed of order fulfillment to keep going up. My partner in the new factory is genuinely interested in our  Heywood-Wakefield renaissance effort, and is one of the most talented and conscientious people I’ve every worked with.  He has a tremendous feel for what he does; he likes the styles, and we work very well together. The best part is that it’s still a family operation; the plant is big enough to be modern and efficient but small enough that you will meet and interact with the principals any time you visit.

    Leonard, thanks for taking the time to familiarize us with the new generation of this classic furniture line. It is always nice to see a quality, made in America product with vintage flair.

    And indeed, we think your prices are very reasonable — a deal, even!

    For more information about the company, or to see their furniture offerings, visit their website Heywood-Wakefield.com

    [Disclosure / Pam notes: Heywood-Wakefield recently signed on as an advertiser to Retro Renovation. This story is not included as part of the deal, though. We just like the story. Read here to learn how we make money on this blog.]

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    Comments

    1. Janet in CT says:

      This is a wonderful story! I had just noticed this summer on this site that Heywood-Wakefield was back in production and it was such a surprise and a thrill to find out. My father was a dealer back in the day and we were so deeply saddened when they closed the doors. I own one piece right now, a beautiful twin sized colonial four poster bed which for some reason I wanted in the antique white. Before I had the money to buy more pieces, they closed, to my deep chagrin. I love seeing the new pieces; it is great to be able to get a big bed for your old set, not just a full or twin. What foresight to get back into the beautiful contemporary design!

      • Janet – I’d sure like to hear from you about your father’s dealership. When you have a moment, will you please use the “contact” form on our web site to send me whatever information you’d like to share and perhaps a personal e-mail address? Thanks, – Leonard Riforgiato

    2. Melissa L. says:

      I was really excited to see this furniture being offered and at such reasonable prices. I love the Stylemaster bed and went to the website to order one for my spare bedroom. However, my mattress/boxspring is a full size and only kings/queens are offered. Like many mid-century houses, my bedrooms are pretty small and large beds overpower the rooms. Hopefully, as the economy improves they’ll be able to offer smaller sizes as well!

      • Mary Elizabeth says:

        I totally sympathize, Melissa. Our new queen-size bed barely fits in the master BR of our 1950s ranch; we got it because the wood frame of our old one wouldn’t fit at all. Master bedrooms in the modest mid-century houses weren’t much bigger than the other rooms. In our guest BR, we put a vintage 1950s double-size, neocolonial maple four-poster, and the proportions are just right so that we can get a small bedside table on each side. Our guests who are used to sleeping in queen and king-sized beds sometimes comment on the narrowness of the bed: “Is that a queen? It seems smaller than our bed at home.” We tell them unfortunately only a double will fit, but there are two lovely B&B’s in town with queen beds if they prefer that, and we hear no more about it. :-)

        By the way, I don’t hear too much on this site from people who collect the 1950s neocolonial furniture and accessories, which were ubiquitous where I grew up (New England) and highly prized by the young post-war families who lived in colonial style ranches and capes. Some literature I’ve read on home decoration in the ’50s disparage it as “pseudocolonial.” Like those who preferred the modern style, the folks who liked neocolonial were likely rebelling against their parents’ Victorian hand-me-downs.) If you like that style, you can get good quality pieces at estate sales, furniture consignment shops, and even Goodwill. There are even new pieces being made. And the older pieces are proportioned to fit in smaller post-war houses.

        • Robin, NV says:

          I defend colonial decor every chance I get. It was very common in the homes I knew as a kid, especially around the bicentennial. I agree that it gets a lot less attention than the mid mod stuff but there are definitely a few of us who recognize its mid century authenticity. And we snap up nice finds at thrift stores for a song! :)

          After reading everyone’s comments about small bedrooms, I feel fortunate that my king size bed fits in my bedroom with no problem at all. But then there’s the tiny spare bedroom that definitely won’t handle anything bigger than a full sized bed.

        • In 1976 Heywood-Wakefield published a book called “The 150th Anniversary Heywood-Wakefield Early American Company”. This book featured stories on four lines HW produced in these styles: Old Colony; Publick House; Country Roads (part of something called the Man’s Castle Collection); and Old Colony Pine. The book turns up fairly frequently for sale on eBay so interested people can look there and perhaps acquire a copy. It’s 130+ pages so there’s quite a bit there.

    3. Such a great story! I’ve always loved this furniture and am glad to know it’s still being made AND still in the USA. Time to refurnish my new home … ;)

    4. My wife and I purchased a new king size dog bone bed from HW. Leonard dealt with me personally and was great to work with. I had to wait a few weeks and then it shipped from the factory. Excellent craftsmanship and had no problems with anything at all setting it up. The finish matches very, very well with the original champagne that’s on two original HW nightstands and two HW dressers we have as well. We look forward to doing business with HW again.

    5. Intrigued by the comment that you can’t strip your new surface off the wood.

      • He’s not saying you can’t strip it at all; he’s saying the stripper that works on vintage HW won’t do it.

      • I’ve been refinishing vintage H/W for about 11 years with a wipe on toned varnish that is really close to the original finish in both the wheat and champagne for both my pieces and customers items. I recently stripped the finish off one of the new H/W king beds at the request of a customer that I’d done some of the vintage pieces for. This would be the last time I strip one of the new pieces!. It’s doable but certainly not recommended!. The new finish is just about impenatrable and it will likely be close enough so you won’t see too much of a difference. If you’d like your dealer/refinisher to refinish in some of the finishes you currently have in house I’d look into ordering bare wood from the factory.

      • We use a catalyzed conversion varnish which is really superior to lacquer for a number of reasons. First, it’s way more compliant with modern codes involving VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) which is not surprising given the level of concern today for the environment. Second, this finish is very much more protective of the wood itself, allowing far less degeneration of the original color due to UVs (Ultra Violet Rays) that cause furniture to darken over time. Of course, nothing known so far that will still show the wood can completely stop UV deterioration, but the cat varnishes beat lacquer by wide margins. As for the stripping, the toughness of the finish is due in part to the strength with which it adheres to the surface being sprayed, and this makes it hard to strip – especially from joints and crevasses. But this same fact makes our furniture stand up better under daily use. For example, standard nail polish remover often contains acetone, which is the main ingredient in a lot of furniture strippers. If one happens to be doing one’s nails at a vintage table sprayed with lacquer, and spills even a little, that nail polish remover will eat through the finish before it can be wiped up, and as anyone who has ever done that knows, nothing short of refinishing the entire table can repair it “invisibly”. But a cat varnish is impervious to this; you could leave it there overnight and clean it up the next morning and not know it happened. BTW, cat varnishes cost significantly more than lacquer, and are harder and more time-consuming to use. But we feel the combination of environmental friendliness, color protection and durability allow us to offer an additional benefit to our customers, and help us make the “Made in America” label on our boxes more than an empty slogan.

    6. What a great story. I purchased a stylemaster bed and skyliner night stand from them a few years ago, and could not be happier. The craftsmanship is top notch and I think the pieces look great with the vintage Heywood-Wakefield dresser I have in my bedroom. I loved reading this article and learning more about how they have lovingly revived the brand.

    7. We purchased a new Queen bed in the original or wishbone style. We love it, and Heywood was a pleasure to do business with.

      The simple platform style and the modest dimensions of the frame make our master bedroom look spacious and modern.

    8. This is a great story. I’ve been wondering about the process and the quality of contemporary HW, as well as why they chose the particular styles that they did. All answered here!

    9. nice story. I have a dresser & highboy from Heywood Wakefield, it’s in a wavy like design tho. I should send in pictures, but it’s in a spare bedroom covered with stuff :)
      I agree with the small bedroom situation, I am lucky that I have a huge master bedroom that accommodates a queen & armoire & chair & sidetable etc. However, I prefer my spare bedroom with the full size bed…the air circulation is much better and cooler to sleep.

    10. Oh my oh my! I WILL own a king size Kohinoor bed someday. What a gorgeous piece of furniture.

    11. We’ve loved HW for years and have collected a decent number (8) of pieces. Back in the 1970s I used to work in a furniture factory that made real wood furniture, all wood like HW. Real wood furniture these days is pricey and I’m not at all surprised that our vintage HW furniture held up so well. Our bedroom is a mix of Encore and Kohinoor (We have that bed!) in Champagne which is our favorite finish. Love, love, love it and its made to last.

    12. Though I have a bedroom large enough to accommodate a king or queen (very unusual in my 1950s bungalow neighborhood), I’ve stuck with a full-size HW Dogbone bed and Encore chest of drawers. However, I’m extremely tempted to get a larger bed from HW now. Great interview!

    13. Love Heywak – bought our Wishbone dining table from Leonard when he was in a little garage/warehouse in South Beach. Even after 22 years – still love the table.

    14. Joe Felice says:

      What’s not to love about this furniture?

    15. Thank you for posting this story. I ordered a bookcase from Heywood Wakefield about two years ago and was very pleased with the product and the company. I drove up to Gardner and picked up the piece right from the factory. It means a lot me to be to able to find quality furniture made in the USA and made in Massachusetts.

    16. I own a Heywood-Wakefield desk – I believe it was called a student desk. It belonged to my dad and, although I didn’t know anything about Heywood-Wakefield furniture at the time, it was the one thing I wanted his estate was settled. Quality craftsmanship and classic styling can’t be beat!

      It’s in decent shape but needs refinishing. I thought about darkening it to better coordinate with things I have now, but then I saw a photo of one that had dark stain and it looked horrible! Ruined!

      The top drawer runs the entire width of the desk, with two additional drawers on the left side, the bottom one about twice as deep as the one above it. (I’ve noticed that some models have three of these side drawers.) What I love most about it is the two bookshelves on the right end. I also have the matching dog-bone chair.

      I’m very pleased to see that Heywood-Wakefield is back in production here in the U.S. After checking out their website, that’s where I’ll go when I’m ready to buy new seating for my living room!

      • By the way, at the time I thought about re-staining the desk to a darker shade, it was before I knew that it was a Heywood-Wakefield or what HW is. Thank goodness I did some research first!

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