If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

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Vintage furniture
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Shopping thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales can be overwhelming. With the sheer volume of stuff, how do you know where to start? How do you spot gems amid all the junk?

As a professional reseller who has been combing through thrift stores for the better part of 30 years, I can help. If you’re ready to cut your shopping time in half, score bigger bargains or walk away with brag-worthy finds you can flip for cash, read on.

From hard-to-find household items to resale money-makers, everything featured in my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” series qualifies as a BOLO (“be on the lookout” for) item. When you find it, buy it!

Featured find: Heywood-Wakefield’s Streamline Modern furniture

In the 1930s, Heywood-Wakefield Co. launched a line of affordable, high-style indoor furniture dubbed “Streamline Modern.” Crafted of either solid maple or Northern yellow birch, the sleek new pieces brought the Art Deco and Modernism aesthetic to middle-class homes across America.

Though the company went through bankruptcy in the late 1970s, the brand was acquired by South Beach Furniture Co. in the early 1990s. The revived Heywood-Wakefield line of iconic midcentury-style furniture is in production once again, and it’s more popular than ever.

For sharp-eyed shoppers, vintage Heywood-Wakefield can still be found in the wild. On a recent picking trip across the Midwest, I toured an old farmhouse and spotted two dust-covered Heywood-Wakefield nightstands. I purchased the pair for $60 and flipped them for $400.

Why buy it?

Heywood-Wakefield’s Streamline Modern furniture is decidedly midcentury, but not in a trendy or gimmicky way. Pieces stand the test of time because the scale is right, the clean lines complement nearly any interior design style, and the quality is top-notch.

Heywood-Wakefield is one of the valuable vintage brands mentioned in my article “10 Secrets to Finding Quality Secondhand Furniture.” After all, you just can’t beat good bones, strong joints and solid wood construction.

The resale market appears to agree. One Heywood-Wakefield birch desk from the 1950s sold for $1,400 on eBay, and a generations-old pair of end tables brought $800. On Etsy, this swivel vanity stool from the 1940s is for sale for $895.

Pro tip: Don’t pass up Heywood-Wakefield pieces in rough shape. Many furniture refinishers are creating new income streams by filming the restoration process and sharing videos like this one on YouTube.

What to look for

Until 1949, Heywood-Wakefield used various paper tags to identify their pieces. These labels typically read, “Fine Furniture by Heywood-Wakefield, Established 1826, Gardner, Mass.” (The earlier 1826 date refers to the founding of Heywood Brothers, a precursor to the Heywood-Wakefield Co.)

Furniture produced in 1949 or later features a logo that’s burned or branded into the wood. Look for a circle encasing the profile of an eagle. A rectangle across the eagle’s chest contains the “Heywood-Wakefield” name in uppercase letters.

The mark can be found on the underside of tables and chairs. On nightstands, dressers and desks, look for the brand on the inside of upper drawers, usually on the left side panel.

Heywood-Wakefield pieces are also identifiable by the handful of finishes used. Usually light in color, the company’s standard varnishes include:

  • Amber: a ruddy, maple color
  • Bleached: a light blond tone
  • Wheat: a pale yellow
  • Champagne: a pale pink or blush tone
  • Platinum: a mix of blond and light gray
  • Westwood: a nearly transparent finish with a subtle honey color

Pro tip: Think you’ve found a piece of Heywood-Wakefield furniture, but there’s no brand or paper label? Take a look at the screws. Starting around 1940, the company used Phillips-head screws almost exclusively.

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