The Timeless Look of Streamline Furniture

April 28, 2020

Written by Art Petrosemolo

One of the hidden benefits of being a feature writer for the media is learning about stuff you have absolutely no idea about…. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about what my editor called Quarantine Baking and what I dubbed Boredom Baking. I know nearly nothing about baking and it was fun to research and get help from my colleagues like blue ribbon baker Amy Witmer, Nature’s Yoke recipe coordinator Dawn Nolt, historical baker Linda Zeigler and my trusted Amish housewife friend Rose Stoltzfus.

Scott Miller pointed you to the story in one of his posts and I was surprised mid-week when the Food editor of the LNP daily saw the story and ran it as the front page of the Food section April 15.

If baking was new to me, the lead my Lancaster Farming editor dropped on me one week ago was even further afield. She asked me to write about something you probably know more about than I did – Heywood-Wakefield mid-century modern furniture.

First I thought Heywood-Wakefield was a proper name and probably the man who designed furniture. It didn’t take me too long to discover that the name is a combination of two early 19th century furniture companies: Heywood and Wakefield.

In a very short time, I researched both companies and made contacts with two experts, one of whom I had a family connection with…… It is a small world.

Both furniture companies specialized in constructing wicker and rattan furniture popular at the time. They merged in 1897 and remained a quality, old-line, manufacturer of hardwood furniture with headquarters in Gardner, Mass., the furniture capital of the East.

Like many furniture makers of the time, they also specialized in dark wood, what was called Colonial type furniture and was popular in many of our parents and grandparents homes.

Well in the early 1930s, Heywood-Wakefield took a leap of faith as its designers began to sketch some new looks from the Art Deco age of the early 20th century and came up with a streamline furniture design that actually kick-started the mid-century modern look.

I began looking at online photos of the soft cornered, light colored birch furniture with the look of Airstream trailers or the Century Limited train out of Chicago and was hooked.

The line caught on and was extremely popular post-WWII with couples who furnished their homes with the new design. It remained popular well into the 1960s when the cost of manufacturing high quality furniture in the United States became prohibitive and styles began to change. Heywood-Wakefield closed its doors in 1981 but a Florida furniture company who had been selling vintage pieces of the Heywood-Wakefield furniture, bought the rights to the name and today manufactures a number of pieces from the original line.

Well, I was getting pretty hyped on Heywood-Wakefield mid-century modern, streamline, furniture and needed some experts to round out my furniture education and research. My estate sales company friend in Connecticut who I had profiled for Lancaster Farming a month ago pointed me to Dr. Lori Verderame, known professionally as Dr. Lori. She is a Penn State PhD, author, museum curator, History Channel TV personality and travels nationally with an antique-appraising roadshow.

She grew up in my hometown of New Haven, Conn. When I emailed her I asked her if she was any relation to the late Red Verderame, a New Haven and New England high school basketball coaching legend. It turned out she was his niece.

My father who was a well-known high school basketball player in New Haven and a school principal for his career was a good friend of Red. And in 1963 Red and I lived in the same, small hotel in Cairo, Egypt for the summer while he gave basketball clinics and I worked with Egyptian swimmers getting ready for the Pan Am games. It truly is a small world.

Dr. Lori was a huge help in explaining how vintage Heywood-Wakefield furniture is verified today and its market value and she has become a friend and a resource for future stories.

I also found Chris Parody in Maryland who collects, refinishes and sells vintage Heywood-Wakefield furniture and he sent me some lovely photos of vintage pieces. So lovely, in fact, that I am in the market for a Heywood-Wakefield Aristocrat chair (pre-1950) that I might purchase for my man cave/office.

The story was filed and will appear in Lancaster Farming within the next couple of weeks. Sure, I’ll update you next month on what I have learned. So, I said to myself, what will my editor throw at me next? Her next suggestion pleased me as I have a little, learned knowledge on the subject. I am off in the next week or so to Burpee Seed headquarters in Warminster, Pa., to learn what it takes to keep all us home gardeners in seeds. Maybe I’ll come back with samples. Stay well. Stay safe.

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