Today: 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.
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.
But 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.
To 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.”
Above: 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”.
Admiring 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.”
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”.
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.
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.
“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.”
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
I 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.
I 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!
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