We welcome Julian Goldklang as our guest curator for vintage mid century modern furniture. Under his business moniker, Mid Century Mobler, Goldklang has traveled to both England and Denmark to import authentic vintage pieces, in addition to scouring the West Coast for enviable finds. His superlative taste in furniture is matched by his knowledge of era designs and his warm, good-natured personality.
Your business is located in San Francisco. Did you grow up in California?
I did! I grew up just north of San Francisco in Marin County. I’ve moved away from the Bay area a few times, but I’ll always consider it my home, and the home base for Mid Century Mobler.
How did you get into collecting mid century modern furniture?
In high school, I bought a 1958 Pontiac Starchief that needed a lot of work. You could actually see into the car from the outside from all the holes in the roof. But I fixed it up, got it running. The headliner had these little stars imprinted in it. Everything was covered in chrome. There were little compartments and knobs and switches and pointless accessories you could add on to it. And I think that’s why I became so attracted to other elements of design from that era: furniture, architecture, etc. There was this unique opulence and hope that’s reflected in all design of the late 1950s and early 1960s that you don’t see anywhere else. I guess collecting furniture from that era is a way to sort of time travel and live in that period of time.
Do you have any specialties, or areas of interest in your collection?
I love anything that’s reminiscent of the late 1950s Atomic Age, so I’m most attracted to any kind of design with that aesthetic. My favorite piece in my personal collection is an Adrian Pearsall for Craft Associates couch. It’s still got the original wacky floral back cushions and red wool upholstery on it, along with the original Craft Associates tags.
What are the aspects of mid century modern design that most appeal to you?
I would say the most appealing aspects of mid century design for me, personally, are its simplicity and understated functionality. There’s also a lot of quirky additions that were added to pieces that you just don’t see anymore. I have a drop leaf desk by Arne Vodder with a sliding drawer cabinet which can be positioned on either the left or right side of the desk to better suit your working habits. Credenzas used to come with mirrored and lighted bars. Some of them even had warming trays built into them. Furniture back then was something you bought and used and loved, instead of a space to stash your clothes, and then toss when you move in a year. I think a lot of effort and care went into the design and manufacturer of a lot of these pieces as well, which has its own unique appeal.
We are interested in the three woods most commonly used to construct furniture of this era—teak, walnut and rosewood. What do you think makes these woods so appealing? Why were they used so extensively?
In terms of teak, Danish designers tended to favor it because of its durability and overall functionality. It also has this glow to in that’s unmatched by a lot of other woods. Brazillian rosewood was also commonly used by Danish designers because of its resilience to most everyday use – it’s an extremely hard wood, and super rich in color and grain as well. Both of these had to be imported to Denmark, since neither teak or rosewood grows there. Americans constructed nearly everything in black walnut, since it’s harvested and processed right here in the USA. It was much more affordable to produce, especially since most large furniture manufacturers like Broyhill and Lane were located in Virginia and North Carolina, where a lot of walnut is harvested. Teak is still imported and used for new productions of classic designs. Currently, Brazilian rosewood is listed as endangered, and no longer used.
What is the best way to care for vintage pieces? Specifically, do you have any tips for enhancing or maintaining the wood finish?
I always encourage my customers to stay away from cheap drug store products like Pledge, since they tend to have solvents and other chemicals that will degrade the finish of your piece over time. One of my favorite products is Howard Feed-N-Wax, which is basically just orange oil plus beeswax. It’s great for rehydrating wood, and won’t damage the original finish over time. It also smells great.
Do you have favorite designers or furniture makers you look for?
I like organic design, but I also like things that are one of a kind, so I tend to lean more towards designers like Adrian Pearsall, who melded modern and atomic design in interesting ways. I’m a big fan of the space race, as I mentioned earlier, so any kind of design that’s reflective of that tends to grab my attention. As far as Danish designers go, I love the organic nature of anything by Kurt Ostervig or Arne Vodder. I also love designers that don’t get a lot of attention. Sergio Rodrigues is becoming a new favorite, as well as anything out of Brazil in the early 1960s.
You have traveled to England and Denmark to source authentic mid century furniture. Would you say it is becoming even more collectible and/or rare?
I would say yes, definitely. Although many designs are still being produced today, the number of original pieces from the 1950s and 1960s has decreased. There’s no longer an abundance like there was in the mid to late ‘80s. A lot of stuff was literally thrown away in the last 20 years. Mid century design is almost everywhere you look these days, which has made the demand for it go up quite a bit.
How do English, Danish, and American designs compare?
Most English and American designs take aesthetics from modern Danish design. A lot of the elements you see in English and American designs – curved wood handles, tapered legs, etc. – were originally found in Danish pieces, which in turn inspired a lot of American and English designs. I think the English designed pieces are closest to Danish design, especially from manufacturers like G Plan, in the fact that they used a lot of teak, and actually had designers like Kofod Larsen designing pieces for them in the early ‘60s. American designs are reflective of Danish modernism to some extent, but we tended to use mostly walnut in our construction (as that’s what was available to us in mass quantities). American design also tends to have a physically larger scale, which was probably done to accommodate the American lifestyle and aesthetic of “bigger is better.”
As a collector of mid century modern design, are there any stories from the history of the movement that have inspired you?
One of my favorite stories comes from one of my favorite designers. Craft Associates, which was formed by Adrian Pearsall and his brother Richard in the early 1950s, started out in the basement of Adrian’s mother-in-law’s apartment. He would spend every free hour he had hand-crafting furniture in the basement while his wife Dorie typed up purchase orders and scheduled trips to NYC and Philadelphia to meet with department store buyers. He eventually grew the company over the next decade, and Craft Associates eventually became a household name, until it was sold to Lane in 1969.
It’s always fun to hear how people you admire got their start, and it’s equally impressive when you know they built their empire from scratch, from their own hard work, blood, sweat and tears.