Chairs, decor, tables

A Guide to Buying Modernist Furniture

Elsa Young

If you've picked up a copy of our May 2016 issue, you'll likely have noted that one of the homes we feature, a quirky 1960s flat owned by the discerning Frikkie Snyman and Braham van Wyk, is an ode to classic Mid-century Modern furniture. Because this pair has such a great eye for this style, we asked them to offer up a few tips for anyone sourcing Modernist furnishings.

1. know your stuff

  • As with any design movement, it's important to understand the style and how it originated.
  • Modernist design is represented by many movements and schools. Get to know the designers, their pieces and who holds the design rights.
  • Research prices online so that you know what to expect, but remember, you can still find bargains locally.
FrikkieHouse2 A early 1970s Tizio lamp by Richard Sapper for Artemide stands on a classic adjustable sidetable by Eileen Gray, a pioneer of the Modern Movement in architecture.

2. know what you're looking for

  • Ask yourself how the piece you plan on buying will fit with your existing furniture.
  • Know why you're buying the piece - is it to fill a specific spot or just because you love it?
  • Decide whether you want vintage or a newly manufactured piece, and remember that you also have the option between restored or unrestored when you buy vintage.
  • Decide whether you only want authorised originals.
  • Ask yourself whether you want the piece to be functional or mostly to be admired as an object.

3. look in unexpected places

We have a great resource of original Modernist pieces locally. We have found wonderful treasures in pawn and charity shops on our travels though small towns. Some online sellers also don't know the true value of what they're selling. Lastly, don't forget to look around in the store rooms of elderly relatives.
FrikkieHouse1 Frikkie and Braham sit at a table in their dining area. Just visible on the right is an Indian lota, the water vessel that is the subject of the famous essay by American Modernists Charles and Ray Eames.

4. be patient but decisive

Don't compromise if you don't find what you want straight away. That coveted piece will eventually come around, in your favourite colour if you're lucky. But when it comes around, don't hesitate, buy it even if it breaks the bank - you don't want to regret not getting the ultimate piece when you had the chance.

5. try these shops

  • Decade Midcentury Modern in Milpark, Johannesburg
  • Yesteryear antiques and collectibles
  • Jeremy Stephens, when you're feeling flush
  • Remember, most manufacturers have agents locally if you want to order new or rare pieces.
Main image: The main living area of Braham van Wyk and Frikkie Snyman's Bryanston home includes Mid-century classics such as the Noguchi coffee table and Le Corbusier LC2 couch.