Mid Century Modern Furniture Fans Boost Sales of Akron’s Sweet Modern

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This is not your grandmother’s davenport.

Well, it could actually be your grandma’s couch, or at least someone else’s.

Stepping into Sweet Modern’s second floor showroom in downtown Akron is like stepping back in time. The furniture and furnishings in the showroom date back to the late 1940s and early 1970s.

The furniture is in perfect condition and looks new.

It’s brand new – well sort of.

All the furniture and a warehouse filled with other relics from a bygone era across town all started as a hobby for an Akron couple.

Sweet Modern founders Ronald Higgins and Adam Krutko began acquiring mid-century modern furniture as a hobby to furnish their own home in Highland Square.

Higgins said they enjoy looking for the style of furniture known for its classic clean design and durability.

But they soon realized that finding furniture mostly made in America was a lot like finding a needle in a thrift store or a real estate sale.

And once you’ve found a room to your liking, restoring it to its former glory took muscle and ingenuity.

“It’s a long process,” Higgins said. “We made a lot of mistakes with our furniture in the beginning.”

But they found few or no places specializing in the restoration of such pieces.

The couple figured there must be soul mates, so they started their own local business selling their spare treasures online.

Soon Higgins, who owns a website development company that rents space in a large apartment building on East Market and North Summit streets, decided to start using some of their unused space to return the furniture they would find.

He thought he had a lot of open space, given that the building once housed a bowling alley and billiard hall.

Much to their surprise, Higgins said, they found a number of people shared their furnishing tastes, as customers began to venture out once the business opened to the public. end of 2018.

And instead of just releasing the furniture they found, Higgins said, they brought in a handful of laborers to completely restore the pieces to their original condition.

The formula of only selling fully restored parts has been a perfect formula.

Stripped, fully restored

But this restoration work is not a simple task.

The wooden chairs are completely stripped of raw wood, glued, repaired and then restored.

Sofas and upholstered chairs also descended to the wooden frames.

They are trying to save everything they can and even make beds for animal shelters in the Akron area using the old foam padding that still has life and leftover padding.

Structural repairs are carried out on chairs and sofas if necessary, then new foam padding is attached, as well as new fabric upholstery.

This can be a tedious process that takes days or even weeks, and it’s all done in a workshop tucked away not far from the second floor showroom.

But what makes the furniture of this era so special, aside from their design, is the craftsmanship that was used in the making of each piece.

These pieces of furniture at the time, Higgins said, weren’t cheap and were built to last.

Buying a sofa was a big purchase for a family, and that’s why a lot of these pieces have been hanging around for so long.

One of those sofas may have started life in someone’s living room, then found itself relegated to the basement and eventually to a college dorm, only to return home.

“When Grandma bought this piece of furniture, she never intended to get rid of it in three or five years,” Higgins said. “She bought it to last a lifetime.”

So when grandmother dies, the sofa is usually still in the family home.

And that’s where Sweet Modern comes in.

Krutko said that sometimes a family member will recognize that a room they own is a great example of mid-century modern furniture and contact the store to see if they are interested in acquiring it.

But Krutko points out that for every 10 calls they receive, only one is an ideal candidate to be restored and come to the sales area.

They also have a network of so-called pickers across the country who keep a close watch on this furniture and contact them when they find a special room on the sidewalk or at a yard sale or real estate sale.

Venture out, find treasures

Sometimes Higgins and Krutko venture out on their own.

They did this recently when a family moved their parents’ estate to Mount Vernon, north of Columbus.

Higgins doesn’t like the word hoarder, but this particular house was home to many collectors. He said they found a treasure trove of mid-century modern furniture in near mint condition hidden under boxes of other treasures and knick-knacks from a collector’s life.

“This house was packed,” Higgins said. “It was exciting for us because every time we discovered something there was another dream piece of furniture.”

Sometimes they even find a hidden gem inside a barn, such as a room they are in the process of restoring, as it suffered water damage after being put away and forgotten.

They even found a piece of Akron’s story – an egg-like plastic chair that was briefly made in the city in the early 1970s – on a farm in Iowa.

The finest pieces are often found in older industrial cities – much like Akron and Detroit – where factories paid good wages not only to workers, but also to managers who bought quality furniture for their homes in the 1950s. and 1960.

Krutko said they try to deliver much of the furniture themselves to ensure it arrives safely, and then look for vintage furniture to bring back on the way home.

“We leave with a full truck and come back with a truck full of furniture,” he said.

For many, Higgins said, this furniture has played host to honeymooners, newborns, graduates and possibly parents mourning a lost grandparent who bought it in the first place.

“There are times when we pick up a piece of furniture, there are literally seller’s tears when we leave,” he said. “These pieces of furniture are a lesson in the history of the families who owned them and the cities in which they lived and which were booming at the time.”

Sofas that were originally purchased for between a few hundred dollars and up to $ 2,500 are now priced in the showroom ranging from $ 2,400 to $ 8,000 fully restored.

That might sound like a lot for a used sofa.

But Higgins points out that these sofas have already lasted over 50 years and now that they’ve been restored there’s no reason they won’t last another 50 years – and that’s even with kids jumping. above and parents falling asleep watching the Browns Game.

Pandemic shots, adjustments made

The business was just starting to take off when the pandemic hit.

Higgins and Krutko feared the worst as businesses closed for fear of spreading the virus and people curled up in their homes.

As clients delayed projects on the web design side of his business ventures, Higgins said, he moved those employees to the furniture side instead of laying them off.

The web designers set out to create an online inventory of every Sweet Modern piece of furniture, not only in the showroom and boutique, but also in a 10,000 square foot warehouse they rent out on East Voris Street. in Akron, where they hold an open house on the second Sunday of each month.

They feared all that work to move the bulk of the operation and online sales would be in vain because of the pandemic.

Higgins said the exact opposite happened.

It seems like all those sudden homeworkers wanted to modernize their home offices and homes and furnish them with high quality restored vintage furniture.

Sales driven by online orders have skyrocketed quickly, with each month surpassing the last.

And the rhythm of the furniture flowing into the warehouse and then immediately to the door of the workshop to be restored has not slowed down.

Higgins said the only negative impact from the pandemic has been a shortage of supplies such as chemicals and foam padding used in the restoration process. And like other businesses, they might use another employee or two or three to meet the demand for restored furniture.

Word spreads, business grows

As we talk about the business, Higgins said, so do the online subscribers on his website, https://sweetmodern.com/, and on social networks, with people who regularly check the new products in the warehouse and the work in progress in the workshop.

A new buying trend has also emerged.

Higgins said customers are interested in purchasing restored vintage furniture to furnish an entire home.

It seems that working from home has prompted some professionals to move away from small, high-priced apartments in big cities to buy large, low-cost old houses in smaller, more affordable towns like Akron – and they need furniture for them. fill in the new space.

Business has more than doubled since Sweet Modern’s first year, with no end in sight.

At any given time, there are between 500 and 1000 pieces of furniture in the warehouse waiting for the right buyer. And the wait for the furniture to be restored once a buyer chooses it is four to five months.

Some customers now even go to Akron and make private appointments to walk around the warehouse to choose the pieces they want to restore and then ship them to places like California or the Carolinas where some of the furniture has been. originally made.

Sweet Modern even receives requests from film producers interested in purchasing period pieces for the sets.

Higgins said what he loves most about the business is that he breathes new life into something that might otherwise have just been tossed to the curb.

“It was really the last generation of well-built furniture,” he said. “Most of the furniture made today is really disposable. There is still some good furniture made but it’s really, really expensive.”

Craig Webb, who remembers his Nana calling the sofa a davenport, can be reached at [email protected]

Details

What: Sweet Modern

Or: Showroom 2 N. Summit St. in downtown Akron. The warehouse (open to the public the second Sunday of the month) is located at 111 E. Voris St. in Akron.

For more: Visit sweetmodern.com


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