Mid-Century Modern, American Style: A Heywood-Wakefield History
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
Out with the mahogany, in with the light woods. Out with the ornamental scrolls and carved wood designs, in with sleek lines and sharp pops of color. Since the early 2010s, the prominent styles that dominated antique stores began to lose their popularity quickly. As a younger crowd left college, moved into bigger cities and towns, and developed their own style distinct from their parents, the styles of antiquity took a plunge into obsolescence, while mid-century modern vintage home decor took off before many antique dealers could see what was happening.
But it happened, and today, it is still happening. The trend toward mid-century furniture has only increased in the past decade, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping. While we at Yesterday’s News pride ourselves on having pieces from every era and style, we would be blind if we ignored the trend and didn’t keep our eyes peeled for attractive, mid-century furniture while we are on the prowl. But what exactly is mid-century
modern, and why is it so dang popular?
This week, we acquired a rare mid-century piece made by the famous furniture designer, Heywood-Wakefield. We thought we’d do a little digging, and show you the history of mid-century through the lens of their company history. Shall we?
The origin: Heywood Wakefield
Have you heard of Heywood-Wakefield furniture? If you’re a vintage furniture buff, it’s likely you have. If not, here’s the lowdown: they were one of the biggest furniture companies for decades, especially in the 1940s and ‘50s. Despite their uptick in popularity during the mid-1900s, this highly sought after and collectible furniture company has been around as a single company since 1897 – merging the Heywood brothers, established in 1826, and the Wakefield Company, established in 1855. Established in Gardener, Massachusetts – the company grew to be the main distributor of furniture used in schools and courthouses across the country.
Over the years, Heywood-Wakefield acquired multiple other companies, including the Washburn-Haywood chair company in 1916, Oregon Chair Company in 1920, and Lloyd Manufacturing Company in 1921. In its early decades of their company, the firm thrived by crafting affordable and hugely popular wicker pieces in traditional and historical styles. Their early success and wide-spread influence on American furnishing would not end at the turn of the century, however. With the Great Depression, this home-grown furniture company would have to apply its adaptability and continued expertise in craftsmanship to keep the company alive – which it did – for decades to come.
The 1950s and the mid-century modern boom
The tides changed for Heywood-Wakefield following the 1925 Paris Exposition. This event invited countries from across the West to promote and tout their innovative furniture styles and techniques, but America had none. At the time, American furniture companies had been busy making unoriginal and old-fashioned reproductions of 18th and 19th-century “old colony” furniture. With this international embarrassment, Heywood-Wakefield began their fixation on developing a modern style in the 1930s. Starting with sleek, streamlined, light colored furniture, their desire to excite and invigorate the global market only surged after World War II.
The company was an innovator in the Mid-Century Modern style during the 1950s, and this is what they are recognized and known for. Their mid-century furniture was being bought across the country and placed into homes across American suburbs, epitomizing modernity, simplicity, and efficiency through simple design principles in the furniture itself. While the style remained relatively unseen and unheard of for a few decades, the 1980s marked the resurgence of its popularity, and the beginning of its collectibility.
Associated with a post-war period of prosperity, imagination, and whimsically logical design, Heywood Wakefield furniture became a highly sought after piece of American history and entered the consciousness of the second-hand furniture business with speed and dexterity.
Company’s end and its contemporary popularity
By the late 1960s, their high-quality methods proved to be too costly, and the popular styles had changed quite a bit. In 1979, the once-prosperous company went out of business, filing for bankruptcy – ending an over century-long success story. While the success of Heywood-Wakefield’s new production may have fallen along the wayside, the already-made furniture pieces became collectible as early as 1984, just a mere 5 years after the company went bankrupt!
Instead of falling down the cracks of forgotten history, the rich, light, modern furniture picked up quickly where it left off, going from a popular new furniture brand to a highly sought after collectible brand.
Heywood-Wakefield’s trademark was bought by Leonard Riforgiato and his business partner in 1992, restarting production of furniture in good ol’ Gardner, MA, The company continues to make everything in their two manufacturing centers in Massachusetts and North Carolina, priding themselves on continuing the tradition of hands-on craftsmanship and 100% American-made furniture. While the company remains active once again today, it is really the old stuff that antique dealers and home-decorators are looking for. Simply out of nostalgia or wanting the “real thing” the market has become flooded with a demand that seems to never run dry, at least not anytime soon.
At Yesterday’s News, we know that these pieces can be a needle in the haystack to find, so we are excited to show you the piece we just acquired.
As can be seen in our most recent Instagram post, we’ve acquired a rare Heywood-Wakefield 1960s Teak Wood and Faux Leather lounge chair and ottoman, designed by Shawn Patrick Knight. This set of two is a piece rarely found in such excellent condition, with a beautiful wood frame on a metal swivel base. It’s black vinyl upholstery with box stitch and button tufting makes it a serious looking office piece, with all of the leisure and comfort of a living room lounge chair. Check out our Instagram to see our asking price, and be sure to send us a DM if you are interested in owning this unique and priceless piece!
Written by: Helaina Ferraioli and Sofia Levy