Retro-Spective: Affordable Vintage Furniture in Traverse City
Feb 23, 2012
Last fall I was doing my usual quick spin through sprawling Wilson Antiques in Traverse City. I follow a pattern that seldom changes, allowing me to see everything I like within a frenzied 20 minutes if I'm pressed for time. I was halfway through my route, on the second floor, when I hopped up that little extra flight of stairs and stopped dead in my vintage-loving tracks. Before me lay a thoughtful display of Midcentury Modern beauty: a gorgeous teak wall unit served as a backdrop for colorful textiles, shapely chairs, clean-lined tables, and interesting accessories. I felt as though I should sit and stay awhile.
Lingering and sit-testing is indeed encouraged by the booth's owner, Erin Attwood Lane, whose keen eye and sheer love of vintage led her to open Retro-Spective in the four-floor antiques mall on Union Street. I met her there one morning while she was rearranging the shop after selling the beautiful wall unit. We grabbed a table for two next door at the always-welcoming Cousin Jenny's to do two of my favorite things: drink tea and talk vintage.
Erin didn't set out to become a vintage dealer. She set out to become a zoologist, earning degrees in zoology from both MSU and U of M. She developed her career in the field but took a different direction when she moved back to the Traverse City area to be closer to family. She now works in real estate and lives on a farm in Maple City with her husband, Vic, and 3-1/2-year-old daughter, Robin.
Diane Kolak: How and when did you discover your love of vintage furniture?
Erin Attwood Lane: When I was growing up, my mom filled the house with Victorian antiques. We never bought anything new. I always liked the look of older furniture, and the good craftsmanship. But I prefer the cleaner lines of Midcentury antiques to the fancier Victorian stuff.
DK: When did you open shop?
EAL: I just happened upon the space last fall , so I put dibs on it and got it. It's an ideal setup because I don't have to constantly work there, and it has good exposure downtown. I sell pieces I've found on my own, some that I've refinished or painted, and I sell on consignment, too.
DK: What's your criteria for items you buy for the shop?
EAL: I go for the more affordable pieces, the things other dealers might pass up because they don't have a designer label. There are a lot of Mid-Mod pieces that have solid construction and beautiful design, but they were mid-range pieces back in the day. Now, they're more attainable than the big names like Eames, Jacobsen, Wegner, and the like.
DK: Do you find most of your vintage furniture around Traverse City and Leelanau?
EAL: Yes, with an occasional trip to Grand Rapids.
DK: What are some of the names you look for, that fit that profile for quality and moderate price?
EAL: Drexel, Kroehler, Garrison, Dixie, Lane… there are a lot. Half the fun is scouring and spotting the finds, especially when people just think it's Grandma's tired old furniture.
DK: Do you think there's a growing appreciation in Northern Michigan for furniture from the 50s, 60s, and 70s?
EAL: I do. When I'm working at Wilson's, I can spot my customers. They're fairly young and hip, maybe wearing a funky outfit. This used to be everyone's furniture, but now it's being appreciated by a more stylish set of people.
DK: What's your personal favorite item in the booth right now?
EAL: There's a Broyhill Brasilia credenza that I just found. It has beautiful curves and a mix of walnut and pecan woods. I might accentuate that with a new finish.
To buy this vintage Broyhill Brasilia credenza, email Erin at Retro-Spective.
DK: What sells the fastest?
EAL: I haven't been in business really long enough to say, but I sell a lot of smalls [small accessories and knick-knacks]. It's an easy, affordable way for people to add personality to a room.
DK: You revamp a lot of what you find. How do you decide what to refinish and what to leave as found?
EAL: It's the finish. As long as it adds to the charm and history, I'll keep it. But some things are worth more pretty. I sell more to people buying for their own homes than I do to collectors, so often it's best to refinish and present a piece in its best light. I use a soy-based stripper so it's better for the environment.
DK: Where do you get your design and color inspiration?
EAL: From the era. Google Images is my best friend! I can find original ads for some of the furniture and see what colors the company originally offered. Old fabrics are very inspiring, too.
DK: Are you ever tempted to keep pieces in your inventory?
EAL: All the time! And I do. Right now I'm using a chrome dining set and a black lacquered buffet in my house. Robin has a vintage rainbow afghan and a lot of old books and old art.
DK: What's your dream find?
EAL: I haven't set that goal. I get excited enough finding something I like that's not being appreciated. I know I can find someone who will love it.
DK: Do you have any tips for decorating with MCM furniture and accessories?
EAL: I like to juxtapose it with modern color. A bright, fun wall with Mid-Mod pieces against it is beautiful.
DK: Midcentury Mod has been really hot for a long time now. Do you think it's here to stay? If not, what's next?
EAL: I'd like to think it's here to stay, but everything is cyclical. Mid-Mod appeals to a lot of people who want to simplify their homes and lives. It's a classic simplicity that I don't think will ever go out of style. I'm not sure what's next. I just keep buying things I like, whether or not they're from my favorite era.
The inventory at Retro-Spective changes often. Stop by Erin's booth on the second floor of Wilson Antiques at 123 South Union Street in Traverse City. Wilson's recently expanded to a second location at the former House of Denmark building in Acme, across from East Grand Traverse Bay. Out of town? Connect with Retro-Spective on Facebook, where you'll find timely updates and lots of photos of Erin's finds and projects.
Need a little help integrating vintage furniture into your home's design plan or achieving a look inspired by your favorite era? I can help. Just email me. —Diane Kolak
TAGS: erin attwood lane leelanau traverse city wilson antiques mall retrospective retro-spective vintage midcentury modern furniture 1950s 1960s 1970s decorating with vintage furniture
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