The Mid-Century Modern Chairs of My Dreams (And Yours)

Sometimes I'll get really caught up in buying inventory for the shop and tear through auctions and estate sales without really thinking about how much I'm spending. When the deals are good, I've gotta buy! Not buying merchandise at good prices is money lost, as far as I see it. But at the end of these buying sprees, it's necessary to come back to reality and pause for a bit. So I'll go on what I call a buying freeze.

When I'm on a buying freeze, I often turn to the Craigslist free section so I can keep bringing in inventory without the expense. A post the other day caught my eye when I saw an enormous industrial Vornado fan from the 1940s surrounded by a pile of junk. I had to have it. Here's the Vornado in the shop (it can be yours for $250):

The deal was you can have the fan, but you have to take all the junk with it. No problem! I love junk, and sure enough when I picked the load up, I found some more treasures. I also met John, and instantly, we clicked. John collects a lot, and he collects quality stuff. When he invited me into his home I was bombarded by awesome mid-century furniture and lighting.

John told me about some chairs he had in the attic. He climbed up and brought me down pieces of one. These chairs used a peg system for easy assembly and disassembly without the need for tools, which would have made shipping and storage super easy. The bones of these chairs looked great, and I saw the cushions separately. The whole set-up was quintessential mid-century modern with sexy curves and angles. I was interested, but decided to wait.

The next day John came into the shop for his first visit, and with him he brought a picture of those beautiful chairs, all assembled. I fell in love and had to have them. My buying freeze went out the window.

Mid-century modern furniture typically doesn't come cheap, and because I like to keep my prices low, I can get priced out pretty quickly. You won't find $2500 MCM credenzas or wall shelves or dressers in my shop - they're just out of my wheel house, and I don't want to be on that high end. So I approach furniture of this quality cautiously.

While I wanted a good deal, I also wanted John to profit from his investment into the chairs. So to start the negotiations, I asked him how much I would have to pay for him to double his money. "Honestly," he said, "I traded a case of 'Gansett for these." I joked then that two cases of Narragansett should do it.

So now I know that John doesn't have much money into these at all, and he seems to be eager to sell. In my head, I'm trying to figure out what I want to ask for them in the store. I figured they were probably worth about $200 each, but I wouldn't want to charge that much - I'm thinking more $100-$125 a piece. I try to double my money at least when I invest in inventory. In this case, I thought I might be able to do better - and the cheaper I get them, the less I can charge. So I throw out my first offer - "Would $20 a piece buy them, John?" He ponders it for a millisecond and almost immediately says sure.

And just like that, they're in the shop:

I picked them up in parts, and assembled them when I got back to the store. I had a seat for a brief moment, and they were wicked comfortable. But I don't allow myself to fall in love with stuff I bring into the store. I get to own it for a while, enjoy it, and find it a new home. So I got to work posting these on Instagram...

...And sold them almost immediately.

My asking price ended up being $80 each, but I offered the pair for $150. Things do have an inherent value, and I try to balance maximizing that value for myself, while offering my customers a great deal. In this case I skewed more on the deal side, because I was eager to get a return on my investment.

The buyer asked if I could do any better on my price, and I was incredibly reluctant because I thought $150 for the pair was very fair. Also, I had just posted them and didn't expect them to last long. But the buyer was local to Somerville, and he had been into the shop before, so hey, whats another $10 to make a repeat customer feel valued? So I ended up getting $140 for the chairs.

With a quick $100 profit off my investment of $40, I would say this exception to my buying freeze was well worth it, and it connected me with some high end inventory I may not usually have the opportunity to bring into the shop. It also introduced me to John, who I think will be a great source for inventory in the future.

A day later the buyer listed the chairs on Craigslist for $400 each, and it looks like they sold! Hey that's the nature of the business. Things get passed along in the antique world from one dealer to the next, and we all take a bite along the way. The price grows each time an item changes hands until its market value is realized and the item finds its forever home. That value might change over time, and the owner may bring their item back on the market eventually. So there's hope for these chairs to be yours someday! What the price will be then is a different story.

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