Hot Rod Modern

by George Schwab

One of the most enduring aspects of mid century American culture is the idea of the hot rod automobile. When the boys came home from the war they were looking for transportation. They were tired of walking from one end of Europe and Asia to the other end. They didn’t have much money, so they bought old cars from the ‘20s and ‘30s, fixed them up with the mechanical skills they learned during the war and personalized them with their own special touches. Thus began America’s fascination with hot rods.

I don’t think it would be unfair to say that, in general, they hot rodded Fords and Chevys and not Cadillacs and Lincolns. I’m sure there were exceptions as when these higher end cars were in bad shape and couldn’t be returned to their original condition economically. Again, I’m sure there were exceptions but you never see Dusenbergs, Cords, Auburns and the other, very high end autos, hot rodded. It was usually much more desirable to restore these vehicles to their original luxurious condition.

In this blog I want to make the argument that we, in the 21st century, can do the same thing only with Mid Century Modern furniture. We can hot rod it.

The design of this chair resembles the work of Peter Hvit, and comes from a dining room set rarely seen on the market. It has been recently refinished and reupholstered with pony hide.

Now I don’t propose that we take beautiful examples of Adrian Pearsall's work or Finn Juhl's work, tear it apart and turn it into a hot rod. I believe that it is much more feasible and aesthetically responsible to restore it to its original condition and preserve its mid century beauty. But there are many pieces out there in poor or marginal condition that could be modified in a tasteful way so that they could continue to be handsome and functional in our interior environments.

The above chair is an excellent example. When we bought this arm chair it was in very marginal condition. The joints were loose, the finish was terrible and the upholstered seat was extremely ratty. We stripped the finish off and repaired the joinery. With the finish off we saw that the linear parts of the chair were made of oak and the back made of walnut plywood. Envisioning the final product, we decided to stain the oak very lightly so that the contrast in the grain was dramatized and to stain the teak plywood darker to give the overall piece the drama that was achieved in the oak grain. We knew that some of the most iconic mid century pieces were upholstered with “pony hide” so we opted to reupholster the chair similarly.

I believe that we achieved a spectacular result. We took a seedy, rundown, kind of ordinary armchair and made it into a fabulous piece of Mid Century furniture that would be an outstanding occasional chair and a focal point in any room.

I think that this idea of “hot rodding” appropriate Mid Century Modern furniture is a very interesting idea. It’s not for every piece but I think that the judicious selection of examples for transformation and restrained thinking about design can expand the pool of examples of beautiful Mid Century furniture.Duesenberg

If you have thoughts about this notion of “hot rodding” modern furniture, please reply on our Facebook page and see if we can flesh out the idea together.