3 Tips for Mid-Century Modern Collectors

One of the great pleasures of visiting the McKenzie Residence in our September 2012 story "Borrego Springs Eternal," is owner Stacey Chapman Paton's collection of mid-century furniture and decor.
Text by

Paton has always had an eye for design: "From age five I have been really into cars. You could show me a hubcap and I'd know what it's from," she reports. Though her tastes run through pottery, vintage clothing, posters, and jazz, her collector's instincts have never abated. Here are three tips from a master shopper on how to get your collection of vintage goods underway.

1. Read Up

Paton has specialized in pottery and objets throughout her collecting career, though this pair of posters by Victor Vasarely carries this vignette in the bedroom.

"First, find something you're interested in, find out who the maker is, then read everything you can about it. How much do they sell for, are there fakes, when did they start making reproductions? As you get to know a particular object you'll start to see what they tend to cost, how authentic they are, etc. I look up what I'm after on Ebay, on Etsy, sites like 1stDibs, and then specialty sites, too. It's so much easier to research things now with the Internet. Before, I'd spend hours paging through old magazines to learn about mid-century products. During college I'd study at the library and then sit going through old Life magazines and California Home and Design looking at the stories and the ads.

2. Join In

"Next, seek out other people who are interested in what you are. If you've got a relationship with a local dealer or shopkeeper who knows what he's talking about you can really learn from him. Sometimes you'll be in a shop and come across this klatch of people all talking about some end of mid-century design. I'll often keep browsing but do my best to overhear what they're saying. Look for people who are really knowledgeable. Here in San Diego we have an organization called the Save Our Heritage Organization and they've got a whole branch dedicated to mid-century design. Get to know people like that and then when you go over to their homes you'll see what they have and get another history lesson.

3. Seek More

"Finally, look beyond the stuff that you've seen. Mid-century modern is so much broader that you're marketed to believe. All the Eames furniture is great, but there's so much more. Start by taking a really broad approach to your collection, whatever it is, and then you can dial in on what really gets you. Find design books and periodicals from the era (ideally non-American); they can really open you up. Besides, if you are able to jump on board a particular object or designer that isn't really hot yet, your collection won't be screamingly expensive. Stay ahead of the curve."

Armchair, 1953. Ash, black enameled metal, upholstered. By Pierre Guariche.


Last Updated

Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.