Mid-Century Furniture Question

My little mid-century blog got it's first reader question. I'm so excited, so let's jump right in.
I recently "discovered" mid-century furniture, even through I'm old enough to have lived thru that era. My daughter just bought her first house (built in 1966) and, as a designer in a previous life, I've enjoyed scrounging for cheap mid-century furniture to rehab for her. We just came across a little credenza for holding records. Remember those?

My question: It is laminated with veneer that is peeling on the sides and on the roll-type doors. Do you suggest keeping it in it's present state and rehabbing the veneer or just filling and painting over it? How valuable are these vintage pieces? I got it for nine dollars!

There are actually a few questions packed in there, so let's take them one by one. And please remember that I'm a novice who loves mid-century design and furniture. I don't have any experience buying or selling mid-century furniture professionally - just my own purchasing record and craigslist selling experiences. And I have even less experience rehabbing pieces.

How valuable are vintage pieces?
The most truthful answer I can give is: It depends on the piece. There are some pieces of mid-century or vintage furniture that really aren't worth the wood they're made with. And there are others that would sell for prices that include multiple commas. Price is usually determined by the quality of the piece and the designer or maker, which, much of the time, go hand-in-hand.

In my experience, a quality credenza will usually run you a few hundred dollars, depending on the style and how well designed it is. If it's from a known line or sought after designer, you could easily get in the thousand(s) land.

However, with Paula's piece, there's a tip that it might not be the highest quality, or by a known furniture designer. High quality mid-century furniture usually doesn't have veneer on it, instead it's made of solid wood. That being said, a large part of mid-century furniture design was experimenting with new materials and ways of building. Where would Eames chairs be without fiberglass?

Paula, I'd suggest looking for a designer or makers mark. On credenza's they tend to be in one of the drawers or on the back. Sometimes they're hidden on the bottom of a drawer or on the bottom of the piece. If you find something research the maker and you should be able to track down some info about the piece.

If you don't find anything, it would further lead me to believe that the piece isn't worth all that much to a collector. However, $9 for any mid-century piece that's still functional is a steal, high quality or not. And the most important thing is that you and your daughter liked it enough to add it to her home. Nice find.

Do you suggest keeping it in it's present state and rehabbing the veneer or just filling and painting over it?
Assuming that you don't find anything about the designer or maker of the piece, and it isn't some highly sought after piece of vintage furniture, I'd say do whatever is going to look best, both for the piece and where it lives in the home. Even if it is some highly collected piece, it's yours to do whatever you want with.

I tend to lean towards rehab over painting, but I've never rehabbed veneer. From my understanding it's a giant pain in the ass. I typically steer away from pieces with damaged veneer for this reason. However if you wanted to look into the process of rehabbing wood veneer there are some instructions here and videos here. You could have it professionally rehabbed, but that's going to cost you more than you paid for the piece.

Painting veneer can be just as big of a pain. Veneer is essentially a laminate on top of the furniture and isn't meant to be painted, but that's not to say it can't be done. You can get some instructions on the process here and here.

If you can live with it as is, that's going to be the easiest and least time consuming option (which I supposed could be said for any rehab project). If the veneer is still fully intact and just lifting up from the piece you could just glue it back down. If that's the case, that's definitely the way I would go, because all other options are going to require a decent amount of time and effort.

I hope that helps, Paula. And if any other readers out there have questions, send them my way (midcenturyaustin@gmail.com) and I'll do my best to answer them.


  1. https://images.craigslist.org/00L0L_92SSrNazkXr_1200x900.jpg

    I bought this chair at an estate sale today. It was in a bedroom that had a Kipp Stewart bedroom set. Do you think it is also made by the same designer? I can't seem to find anything about it online. Thank you.

    1. It's a nice chair, but it's hard to say. I can't find anything about it online either. Just because it was in the same room as a Kipp Stewart bedroom set at an estate sale doesn't mean it's a Kipp Stewart. I've seen Broyhill dressers with the wrong mirror attached to them at estate sales. Kipp Stewart seems pretty well documented online, and if you can't find this as an example anywhere it makes me start thinking that maybe it's not the same designer.