Mid Century Mobler is a vintage furniture store in San Francisco specializing in Danish and American mid-century modern furniture. Well, a store that currently runs out of shipping containers to keep costs (and prices) down, which also adds an air of chic and exclusivity to the situation, like that secret bar that doesn't have a sign.
This time on Vintage Views, we talk to Julian Goldklang, owner of Mid Century Mobler.
Tell us a little bit about Mid Century Mobler. How did you get started selling mid-century furniture?
I’ve always been attracted to design from the late 1950’s / early 1960’s. Since estate and garage sales are some of the best places to find pieces of that era, I used to spend every free Friday and Saturday I had hitting places that promised anything from the atomic age. If there weren’t any sales going on that day, or I’d been to all of them already, I’d start driving around the nearest Eichler neighborhood (we have a few of here in the Bay Area), which were all built in the early 1960s. One Saturday morning, I came across a sale offering a complete, mint condition Broyhill Brasilia bedroom set with the original tags, a Lane living room set, and a couple other random pieces all for $100. I didn’t need any of it, but couldn’t pass up a deal that good. I brought it all home, piled it up in my dining room and started selling it on Craigslist. That really gave me the bug and I spent every free minute I had looking for new pieces to buy at garage sales, flea markets and online. Eventually, I had furniture stacked to the ceiling of my one-bedroom San Francisco apartment, which is when my roommate kindly suggested that he was going to murder me if I kept using the dining room as a storage unit.
Where do you find your pieces? Rumor has it you do some importing from overseas.
I travel to England and Denmark about every two months to put together a container to ship back to San Francisco. Pieces are found all over the country. I spend about two to three weeks traveling around to estates, flea markets and various sales to acquire unique pieces to ship back. It’s time consuming and a bit of a logistical nightmare to coordinate shipping all that stuff to a central location for packing when you’re overseas, but it’s well worth it when the container arrives back in the States.
You started selling out of a garage in San Francisco. Are you still selling out of the garage?
I did! After moving everything out of my apartment, I found a one-car garage in the middle of the city that served as Mid Century Mobler’s headquarters for about a year and a half. Other than the fact it leaked like crazy whenever it rained, or when the upstairs neighbors over watered their plants, it worked out really well, and was a great place to launch the business from. I’m a proponent of keeping a low overhead when starting a new venture, and a leaky one-car garage was about as inexpensive as you could get. After a while, we were selling more furniture than we had available, so I had to find a way to get a larger inventory.
I figured since the few Danish modern pieces I was finding locally were probably more available in Denmark, it only seemed like the next logical step to start shipping from overseas. Right before the first container arrived, I realized there simply wasn’t enough space to keep everything, so I moved the business to the outskirts of the city, where I currently keep everything in a couple of 40 foot storage containers. Right now, I’m looking into moving everything into a 5000 square foot warehouse to make it easier for people to browse when they come by, and so we have a little easier access to everything.
You're one of the few vintage stores I know whose main avenue of selling is online. Why did you decide to focus online?
At first, it made the most sense to sell exclusively online to keep costs down, but as time went on, I realized that the majority of people these days do most of their shopping (including furniture shopping) online. Another factor that contributed to selling only online is that retail space is at a premium here in San Francisco. When I started looking around for a space that could work as a showroom, the prices on rent were so insanely high that it wasn’t even a possibility to get a retail space. At $3 to $4 a square foot, getting a 5000 square foot warehouse would have cost around $17,000 a month! By building out our online presence, we’ve been able to not worry about the financial overhead of a brick and mortar storefront, which I’m able to pass on to our customers by keeping our prices lower than a lot of traditional retailers.
You seem to have a particular love for Danish furniture. Any specific reason?
I feel like the Danish aesthetic is one that’s unmatched by the design and construction of pieces from any other country. Design runs in their blood and it’s something that can be realized when looking at their furniture, architecture or even their city planning. Everything is always very well thought out and well executed, and it’s easy to appreciate when you experience it in any form. It also looks really cool.
Do you have a most-requested type of furniture — either a specific line, type of wood or piece (desk, dresser etc)?
The line of furniture we get the most requests for is probably the Brasilia collection by Broyhill. I’m not sure if that’s because it’s the first picture you see when you go to our website or if it’s just because its growing popularity. Personally, I’m a huge fan of that line, so I love when we’re able to carry those pieces. The most requested type of furniture we get is for pairs of nightstands in teak or walnut. Pairs are tough to come by since they are frequently broken up over the course of their life.
How often do you get in new pieces?
I’m always looking for and finding new inventory locally, since all the American designed and manufactured pieces from the 1960s are still here in the US. I find they’re a nice supplement to the Danish and English designs. On average, I probably get in at least three to five new pieces a week locally, and about 200 to 300 new pieces when containers come in every other month.
What's your favorite piece to come through Mid Century Mobler?
One of my favorite pieces that came through the shop was this bent ply and walnut lounge chair covered in cobalt wool. It was probably designed and manufactured in California in the 1960s, but there were no definite markings anywhere on it. The whole seat was made to look like it was floating off the base, and the entire back was upholstered in the same blue wool. You could spot it from a mile away; it was very visually striking. I haven’t found another one since we sold it, and I get people asking about it (from a picture in our sold section) every other week or so.
And what's your favorite piece in your personal collection/your home?
My favorite piece in my collection is my Adrian Pearsall for Craft Associates couch. I found it at a flea market about two years ago for a song and couldn’t believe how well it was kept. It looked like someone bought it brand new in 1960, wrapped in plastic and stuck in the never-used guest room of a house that was hermetically sealed for 50 years. It’s still got the original wacky floral back cushions and red wool upholstery on it, along with the original Craft Associates tags.
Mid Century Mobler wants to offer readers of my little mid-century blog a 15% discount on all online orders. Shop at MidCenturyMobler.com and get 15% off all items using the discount code MFMC15.