Restored, vintage Stanley Furniture Heritage collection — An interview with Randy Wells — 22+ photos

Stanley-vintage-furniture-piecesToday: The first public look at Stanley Furniture’s second Heritage Collection – 22 pieces of vintage, mid-century modern Stanley furniture collected and refurbished by the company that will be unveiled tomorrow (Jan. 26) at the Las Vegas Furniture Market. 

Pat Holbrook and Deborah Fitzgerald of Stanley Furniture

Pat Holbrook and Deborah Fitzgerald, two of the six craftspeople in charge of reburbishing the 60+ pieces of vintage Stanley Furniture in the Heritage Collection. Randy Wells said, “Pat leads the team, and Deborah is one of the master finishers. She and Ada, who is in the next picture, are artists. Pure and simple.”

This is gorgeous eye candy with a lovely story: Authentic Stanley case goods were hunted from vintage stores across the U.S., delivered to Stanley’s offices in Virginia, then pounced on by a team of longtime employees all gifted in furniture repair and restoration. Each piece was completely dissembled and refurbished and now will be displayed and sold to decorators and retailers at the Las Vegas industry show.

stanley furniture starburst buffetBut the eye candy does not come thrift-shop cheap: When these pieces are unveiled tomorrow, price tags will start at about $4,000 for a chair… $6,000 for a dresser. The attention to detail was “extraordinary”, said Randy Wells, Stanley’s newish VP of Branding and Creative Development. The upholstery is top-of-the-line – some of it, by Hermes. In today’s industry, Stanley Furniture is positioned to appeal to affluent consumers. The focus is quality, legacy – and these restorations were created to underscore those elements of the brand.

stanley heritage bowtie dresserTo prepare for this sneak peek, I spoke with Wells earlier this week. He was already in Las Vegas, gearing up for the Market. I quizzed him on the genesis of this collection… I asked for his help identifying Stanley’s most important mid-century modern furniture collections… and in this story, I ponder the future for mid mod at Stanley.

Basic background: The Stanley Furniture Heritage Collection

This second Stanley Furniture Heritage Collection features 22 freshly restored, one-of-a-kind pieces manufactured by Stanley Furniture between 1950 and 1969. Beginning this past October, all the pieces were sourced, purchased and transported to Stanley’s facility in Martinsville, Virginia, where they were restored. This project followed on the success of the first Heritage Collection, 40 similarly restored pieces that were unveiled and sold in fall 2013.

“During the restoration process, all pieces were completely dismantled and stripped of their original finish before being rebuilt,” Stanley’s news release says. “Period-correct paint colors and finishes were developed exclusively for this collection, many of which look the same as the first time they left the Stanley Furniture factory. All hardware is original and, wherever possible, components were restored rather than replaced.”

stanley-furniture-spade-handleAbove: The piece above came from my friend Becky at Circa Berkshires in Pittsfield, Mass. Just as refinished here, the originals she sold to Stanley had white lacquer drawer fronts. Gorgeous!

The genesis of the Heritage Collection

Stanley Furniture has been in the business for 90 years, and in the 1950s and 1960s, the company was busy designing, manufacturing and selling beautiful case goods (wood furniture) to fast-growing America. Wells said that when he joined Stanley in March 2012, one of his first goals was to immerse himself in the company’s historical “brand persona… personality”. “I want to make sure that the things that we are doing represent who we are as a company to the core, over 90 years,” he said. Already enthusiastic about the clean lines and scale of mid-century modern furniture, he purchased a few vintage pieces from eBay and brought them to the Stanley offices to “live with”.

Finnline chestAbove: The Finnline piece above and below came from Circa Berkshires, too!

Finnline triple dresserAdmiring the quality and longevity of the vintage pieces they’d acquired – and recognizing the current revival of mid-century modern style — Wells said that he and colleague Cameron Lindsay, Marketing Projects Manager, bought a few more pieces and “started tinkering with the idea of restoring stuff our own.”

randy wells stanley furniture

Randy Wells, at the entrance to the Stanley Furniture Las Vegas Showroom, now complete

The idea simmered on a back burner. Then, a few months later, the flame reignited after Wells spent five weeks in Las Vegas with six Stanley craftspeople to complete a new company showroom there. These six members of the team had longtime experience in fine furniture construction and restoration – their full-time jobs back in Virginia were doing repairs and some finishing work to new pieces headed to retail stores. Working with them daily to finish the showroom, Wells said he could see that their talent and skills would make an in-house restoration project possible. “They were doing everything from repairing, carpentry, tearing wallpaper down, fixing things… I spent so much time with them day in and out and watched what they did with the showroom with no tools. They could flat out build or finish anything – it’s unbelievable what they can do.” It was clear, “Even though we now manufacture in Indonesia, we still have all the talent along with all the materials to dismantle and restore furniture 100%,” Wells said. Props to the six team members: Pat Holbrook, Dennis Branch, Deborah Fitzgerald, Ada Hemrick, John McCoy and Juan Silva.

So the plan started to solidify: Stanley would engage these expert employees to refurbish vintage pieces and use the pieces to showcase Stanley’s history as part of celebrations of it 90th anniversary year, 2014.

According to Wells, it is virtually unheard of in today’s furniture industry for an original manufacture to restore vintage pieces to like-new standards. An automobile enthusiast, Wells was aware of programs like this from Ferrari – which restores customers’ vintage cars in their Italian factory. He said that luggage maker Louis Vuitton and watch maker Vacheron Constantin both have ongoing programs, too. “Doing it at the factory adds a level of authenticity you can get no place else,” he said.

“Large furniture companies like ours never sold used furniture,” Wells said. “It was odd notion in our industry.” But the time was right, so management signed off and the program was a “go”.

ada hemrick stanley furniture

“This is Ada Hemrick….the other artist!” Wells said.

The Stanley team quickly carved out a small section of their Virginia warehouse and repair facility for the project. To find the best possible vintage Stanley pieces to start with, Wells and Lindsay scoured eBay and etsy and used word of mouth to make connections throughout the world of vintage, mid-century modern furniture. “It’s a tight knit community,” Wells said, and folks he talked with were generous in helping Stanley find sources.

dennis branch stanley furniture

“This is Dennis Branch – He is the master craftsman that did all the case work and carpentry. He makes MacGvyer look like a cub scout,” Wells said.

Restoration took place over the summer and fall of 2013, and Stanley rolled out its first Heritage Collection — 40 pieces –at the famous High Point (North Carolina) Market in October.

‘Halo effect’ on the Stanley Furniture brand

But there was even more to the idea, Wells admits. A marketer, he suspected that putting beautiful vintage pieces of Stanley furniture alongside new pieces would cast a “halo” effect on the brand.

Consumers buy expensive furniture with the idea that it will last forever – that their family pieces will be handed down to their children and grandchildren. Putting beautiful 50-year-old examples out there would be a great way to make the point that Stanley furniture is built to last.

stanley furniture knollwood buffetstanley furniture mix and match china cabinet“As a group, the Heritage Collection is the most expensive, most exclusive furniture Stanley has ever made,” Wells told me. “When you bring to market a 1954 piece completely restored — extraordinarily special – it’s a wonderful tool for communicating the honest-to-goodness, rock solid value of buying furniture from a company that’s been around for 90 years…. Made well and loved well by several generations of people.”

The glitzy program also would be a draw at the important industry trade shows where they would be rolled out. The first collection of 40 pieces at High Point “was a smash hit,” Wells said. “We could have sold each piece 10 times.”

Based on the success at the October High Point Market, the Stanley team decided to acquire more pieces to restore, then display and sell at the January Las Vegas Market as well. Goodness, in Las Vegas and on the West Coast, they are even more mid-century modern crazy than on the East Coast. I can only guess this next batch of 22 pieces will go even faster.

I quizzed Wells, and he clarified that the audience for these famous Markets are interior designers and retailers. Manufacturers “put on a show” to wholesale their collections — and to make big noise about what’s new — to trade professionals and retailers. Interior designers come to buy pieces for their clients and projects. Even more importantly, retailers look at the lineup and put in orders for their stores. Many of the one-of-a-kind Heritage Collection pieces will be snapped up by interior designers.  But retailers also purchase some pieces as “wow” pieces to help draw attention to the new Stanley Furniture pieces in their stores, Wells said.

Collectible vintage Stanley Furniture from the 1950s and 1960s

I asked Wells about the relative market position of Stanley Furniture in the mid-century time frame. He admits that he is not a historian, but said he believes that Stanley Furniture was at or above the price and quality of Drexel and American of Martinsville, and was a notch above Broyhill. He also notes the high quality of all these vintage pieces, “The veneers were thicker, wood was more plentiful, and you had wonderful craftsmen.”

Can we help Stanley rediscover the name of this iconic collection!Wells said that in terms of choosing items for the Heritage Collection, “We found things that we liked” – pieces with “great design, great scale.” It also sounds like this became a process of discovery in terms of identifying “the most collectible” vintage Stanley Furniture collections. Wells says that furniture in the Heritage collection came from these vintage lines:

    • The mid-century line with the big flat spade-shaped handles is the most iconic vintage Stanley line, Wells said. He says that Stanley does not know the name of this collection – all the drawings and catalogs from this collection burned an office fire in the 1990s. Hey readers, can we help Stanley with this question? What was this furniture collection called??
    • Finnline Collection
    • American Forum Collection
    • Theme II Collection
    • American Crown Collection
    • Knollwood Collection
    • Mix ‘n Match Collection
    • Occasional Chairs Collection

stanley furniture su casa party chairI don’t think the 1970s (?) 1980s (?) Su Casa party chair (above) came from any of the collections on the bulleted list. “I like to find an ugly duckling and turn it into something special,” Wells told me. Cool. And woot: He told me he found these chairs in Tampa. Hey, could it be they came from Jackie and Todd of Furnish Me Vintage, I ask? Yes! No surprise, you can see it in the lines, these Su Casa party chairs were originally dark stained oak with black leather (pleather?) upholstery. The Stanley team re-imagined them for today with a white lacquer finish and Hermes upholstery. “If I’m only going to restore four things, I’ll put Hermes fabric on them all day long,” Wells said. Yes, these swans now will sell for $4,000 each.

stanley heritage theme II triple dresserI also quizzed Wells on the use of white lacquer in general across the restorations. He said that on about 70% of the Heritage Collection, the original factory finish was replicated. For example, the pieces with the spade handles came original from the factory with the wood/white lacquer combinations finish — and this was the way Stanley restored them. On about 30% of the collection, Wells said, “We fooled around” with the finish. Why? “We just liked it.” Hey, I can accept that!

What’s next for the Heritage Collection and for a mid-century inspired line at Stanley?

Wells says that, for now, there is no plan to continue with the Heritage Collection or to start an in-house restoration program for customers’ pieces. He admits: The program is extraordinarily time consuming and expensive. He says, “We’ll respond to customer demand,” but again, says there is no firm plan so far.

As part of our discussion, I also point out the irony that Stanley today does not have a collection of mid-century inspired furniture. Of course, Wells does not need me to point out this irony. He is well aware. Could it be that the Heritage Collection project also was an exploration and that Stanley is working on a line of mid century modern style furniture? I don’t even want to ask him – I worked a long time in corporate America, and I know that manufacturers are necessarily very competitive and don’t want to tip their hand or speculate about future product introduction.

Me, I would not be surprised to see such a mid-century-modern-inspired collection coming. Stanley today has a large line of collections all relevant in the large, mainstream consumer marketplace. I count 28 current collections, including the new Coastal Living, also being unveiled in Las Vegas. It seems like there would be room for some mid mod in the lineup, especially considering Stanley’s history. That said, I would not expect faithful reproductions of vintage Stanley pieces. (1) There are likely enough authentic vintage pieces around to make that a difficult proposition, especially as purists will wait it out to find the real deal anyway. And (2), it’s been my experience that major manufacturers tend to “re-interpret” their classics for today’s larger market as necessary: These are big companies (Stanley is public, NASDAQ-registered), and they need to make their new-product development profitable, which is generally going to mean it must appeal to the larger mainstream and current tastes. So, we’ll see. To be sure, I’ve asked the PR folks for Stanley and Wells if, when and if something is announced, we want the news first!

Many thanks to Randy Wells and Stanley Furniture for sharing this story and photos with us. Nicely done, mid mod fans!

See all the furniture 1000 pixels wide. To view the gallery click on an image — move backward or forward in the slide show using the arrows under each image — you can start at any image:

Get our retrolicious free newsletter.

Newsletter-sign-up-2NMAS

Comments

  1. Mary Elizabeth says

    An interesting project. These are beautiful pieces, and they give me fresh ideas for refinishing projects. The staff on the project are very talented furniture craftspeople. As the granddaughter of a cabinet maker, all I can say is it is too bad the new stuff is made overseas.

  2. cheryl says

    I need a respirator! Great ideas for the Stanley I scored yesterday for resale, if I was keeping it, I would def re-do for my kitchen!!!!!

  3. says

    I own the Stanley hutch, but mine’s brown. It’s really nice and has great lines. Downside is that it weighs 5 million lbs. My mother bought it for me on the occasion of my first home, and my husband and his friends were none too happy when they realized this slim piece wasn’t light at all:) Thanks for this cool story!

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      Chrissy, the reason these older pieces of furniture are so heavy is that they are made of wood and plywood, not MDF or hardboard with laminate veneers. Wish they had shown us more than the workers posing with the finished pieces–I’d have liked to see something of the construction, wouldn’t you?

  4. says

    What beautiful eye candy and a great story! I’ve been kicking myself for not buying the Stanley console that was available to me from the original owners of my home. I hope they bring a mid mod line to fruition.

  5. Panzyzz says

    What an exciting story! It is an extremely well thought out plan and will drive the point home to buyers that Stanley is built to last. Heywood Wakefield should have thought of that as their furniture is very well made also. Exploring the interest in midcentury is a given, IMHO and restoring vintage pieces that have already made it 50 years? You won’t find run of the mill cookie cutter furniture made today in 50 years to restore. Thanks for this Saturday story!

  6. pyrexmaniac says

    I picked up a 72 inch credenza with inlaid “hourglass” designs on the doors and the aluminum “bullseye” pulls. It was topped by a hutch with black wrought iron base, and a sliding door section on top with a checkerboard inlay. I bought these about ten years ago and am finally puttting them to use in my home…..now I have a better appreciation for them. Thanks for sharing!

  7. pam kueber says

    READERS, please be nice. I am getting comments from some folks who do not like that some of these pieces were painted. Please read the story — Randy says that 70% of the refinishing was done to replicate the original pieces — in some cases, the white lacquer was THE ORIGINAL FINISH.

    A key rule of commenting here is: No one can be made to feel bad for their decisions.

    This Stanley program was done with great thoughtfulness, love, and attention to detail. This blog is about LOVE — not about judging others for their decisions and approaches.

    I will quickly delete any comments that are unkind. If you want to frame your opinion in a NICE way, I will approve it, if it meets my “be kind” “be nice” test. <3

    Perhaps some time soon I will make “change original finish or not” a standalone topic. But that’s not today’s story.

    Okay, and here’s one more thought: This blog must be 90% (at least) about the nifty thrifty hard way cheap and cheerful mid century modest way of doin’ things. ‘Cuz that’s mostly what I’m into. But on occasion, I am gonna write about the spendy. I am reminded of Grete Lihotzky with this request. She did low cost housing for the masses for most of her life. She did the famous Frankfurt Kitchens — among the touchstones of the birth of the modern kitchen. She was a god. Honored on her 100th birthday, she was reported to have said to the effect, ‘Just once I’d like to have designed a house for someone with money.’

  8. Carole says

    Those were the days when furniture was made to last, quality workmanship made to pass down through the generations. This is a very cool program!

    It’s unfortunate that the average buyer will never be able to afford one of these pieces, even though I’m sure they’re worth every penny for the refurbishing that goes into them.

  9. says

    I enjoyed reading this and “pinning” those favorite pieces while sitting at my 1960s wrought iron patio table and chairs in 70 degree weather. Glad I’ve kept this set all these years.

  10. indianamodern says

    I would very much like to see some of the negative comments. All I see is praise. Wouldn’t it be more fair to see BOTH sides? What’s wrong with a little constructive criticism? In all fairness and “love”, I would love to read comments from those who don’t necessarily think this is a good idea, and their reasons for feeling the way they do. THANKS!!

    • pam kueber says

      I welcome such comments as long as they are framed in a kind / civil / nice way. Again the key rule is: No one can be made to feel bad for their decisions. I think it can be done. Let’s see!

    • Party says

      If you own it you can do what you want to it. Paint it or hit it with a sledge hammer.

      We don’t need to pass negative judgement every time somebody paints a piece of furniture. There are other websites that will let you do that.

  11. John says

    Hi Pam,

    I own three of the Finnline pieces, the two featured in your article plus the matching bookcase headboard that goes along with them. Also the long, low dresser comes with a beautiful mirror which I have too. The best part is I picked up all three pieces second hand in Springfield,MA for $100.00!! They are truly beautiful and very heavy and still in great shape after all these years!!

    It is possible to fine beautiful examples of MCM furniture on the cheap. It just takes time and a keen eye.

    John aka AtomicHipster

    • pam kueber says

      Heck to the yeah, we live in an awesome region for finding this stuff, don’t we, John? (I can only imagine the treasures in St. Louis!) Almost every estate sale I go to has beautiful vintage casegoods — bedroom sets and dining room sets, in particular, very well maintained, and very very affordable — because the sellers NEED to move this stuff. I have always noted that: Big pieces of vintage furniture are the very best value among ‘collectibles’ — because they can’t be ‘collected’ (like tchotchkes). You only need so many bedroom and dining room sets — this limits the competition. The biggest competition today are dealers and pickers, but even they are tentative, because this stuff is BIG.

      • Patty says

        I’ve seen awesome stuff at thrift shops in St Louis for $30.

        Didn’t need it, no truck or very strong ready to carry guys or I would have flipped easily on Craigslist.

  12. Carolyn says

    I love these pieces. They provide fabulous inspiration! The prices are high, but it sounds like you are essentially buying a new, one of a kind piece of furniture- they probably come with white glove delivery, etc. not exactly the kind of service you get at your local thrift store/estate sale, CL seller.
    These will be bought by designers and decorators and most likely NOT end up in mid-century modest homes. It’s worth noting that for the most part they are one-off pieces- no sets. Many modern day decorators shun matchy-matchy sets, but I think that they are a hallmark of American MCM decorating and true to the era in that sense- if Tim & Sue in 1962 needed a new bed they likely bought a new dresser, chest and nightstands as well, all from the same collection. We have seen ads advertising what this would cost if you bought Lane, Broyhill, etc. Promotions were run, etc.

    These high end restorations are not only priced so that the typical buyer could not afford to outfit a whole room in coordinating pieces at once time, but that is not how high end decorators and designers work any longer- scratch the high end, when was the last time you saw any HGTV decorator buy a whole “set?”
    Not a criticism by any means, just wanted to point this out.

    Also as someone who has been dragged through the mud for painting portions of some MCM pieces, it is worth noting that even though these pieces are solid and heavy and built to last they likely weren’t super expensive originally and many were made with veneers, which though can be replaced/restored by experts, it typically isn’t something the home hobbyist can successfully manage on his or her home. I would rather see something painted/lacquered with restraint and thought and get another decade or 2 of use vs. seeing it end up in the landfill.

  13. says

    I like seeing what they’ve done with the furniture. I would have enjoyed seeing some before and after pictures, as I’m sure they didn’t take pristine examples to do this. Any collector knows that the true value is in the original finish. No matter what you do it will affect the value, whether painting or refinishing it will never be valued the same as pristine original from the factory finish, so may as well have fun with it.

    There are also different collectors. There are those that enjoy spending hours a day going to garage sales and finding bargains to keep or refinish and resell. Then there are those that find pleasure in spending those hours making deals and lots of money and are more than happy to pay someone a little bit more to search pieces out for them. It’s what makes the world go round.

    I often seen people brag about how cheap they’ve bought something, but I’ve never seen anyone brag about how cheap they’ve sold it. This is a perfect post to show that if you find something in poor condition you can still make it into something special.

    • pam kueber says

      Thank you, BungalowBill, for that nice comment — I know you are a professional so I appreciate the perspective. Another reason that I liked doing this story was to call attention to vintage Stanley pieces. I’ve been blogging for six+ years now, and I have not seen their mid mod pieces spotlighted. It’s interesting to see the designs and the variety.

      • Mary Elizabeth says

        BungalowBill is so right. People collect vintage and antique furniture for different reasons. If you want to preserve its value for resale or donation to a museum, you might handle it differently than if you want it in your house as a useful piece of furniture that looks good to you. It’s the same thing with changes to the structure of your home. As much as we all love to see the “time capsule” houses, maintaining one is a chore. I think most of the people on this blog like to use their furniture and collections. Let’s face it, when it’s time for our houses and furniture to go up at estate auctions, chances are that they won’t be as valuable as we think they are.

        That being said, my grandfather, who built furniture and repaired antiques, schooled me well in furniture preservation and refinishing. His principle was to take care of the original finish, only repairing and refinishing when absolutely necessary. His rule of thumb was to “treat” a scratch or spot first to see if you can hide it. Another thing he did was to replace a missing or broken leg with wood from the same species and same vintage. i am proud that I have three pieces of his in my house, two of which have the original finish he put on and one of which has the repairs he made during the 1930s. But if I find the perfect Heywood Wakefield dining set, all dinged up and scratched to heck, I would definitely refinish it so it would look as close to the original as possible, but it would have a polyurethane coat to protect the wood.

  14. Nathanael Kitchen says

    I think its awesome. I agree that seeing them do the restorations would be very cool. I have started to strip a few pieces and while I will be trying to match the original stain I dont think there is anything wrong with playing around with paint colors. White is definitely very popular right now. I love the dresser with the darker stained triangles. I want one bad!!

  15. miyapiya says

    I love what they did with their collection of original midcentury furniture. I have been buying, refinishing and selling (also keeping lots for myself) victorian, mission and mcm furniture for 30 years. Bravo to Stanley for bringing these pieces to the designers and showing them how beautiful and useful the furniture from that era is. IMHO the only time you are hurting the value of the piece is if it is an original Nakashima, McCobb or Stickley. MCM is all about the Design or Designer if you want to resell. If you are buying a Stanley, Lane or Drexel you should do what you like and be proud of owning a great piece of furniture! Much better than the cardboard casegoods selling in stores today.

  16. Jay says

    What a surprise Monday Morning to find out there was a Saturday post! How neat to see these pieces and that a company takes pride in their product history. I once had a Stanley desk which I now know from these pictures was a Finnline – exact match to the dressers. Not sure if it was veneer but the drawer fronts were chipped. The top also seemed to be some type of lamination. In the late 70s before college, I worked at Wanamakers in Phila. and walking through the enormous furniture department I overheard a salesman telling a customer that Stanley was known to be a better quality brand for construction and finish.

  17. Christopher J says

    Has anyone figured out what the name of the white drawered, spade shaped handled line is? I’m dying to know…. I would like to hunt down these pieces…. I currently own the dresser w/ mirror and two end tables and would LOVE to add additional pieces!!

  18. Debi says

    Love these pieces! We have a Stanley bedroom set that we purchased in the late 70′s and still love it! It’s heavy and they are very large pieces. Would be a fortune to replace these days, too!

  19. Judy Sumpter says

    I just purchased a Mid century china cabinet with flatware drawers, 3 center drawers on bottom, and 2 doors. It is missing one knob. It’s a beautiful piece and I’d like to restore it. Do you know where I can get replacement hardware? Or if your company would be interested in restoring let me know and I can send pictures.

    Thank you,
    Judy

  20. Kate says

    I just bought a 6 drawer American forum dresser. Unfortunately, it is painted but I am going to refinish it. Can anyone tell me what kind of wood that style is? I’m thinking it’s walnut, but, I’m not certain.

    • pam kueber says

      Kate – use our Search box. We have the American Forum catalog on the site and it tells the wood…

      • Kate says

        Pam…

        Thank you for your timely response!!! Great job on all the work you’ve done !! Keep it up, it’s greatly appreciated! !!

        Kate

  21. says

    I realize this is an old article, but does anyone know the name of the line that the white buffet with the starburst pulls is from? It is pictured on the cart with Ada Hemrick standing next to it. I bought this piece at my local thrift store today and am having a heck of a time identifying it!! Thanks!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *