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Stacy Downs, McClatchy Newspapers, Published April 05 2012

Take your time when buying midcentury furniture, expert advises

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Rod Parks, owner of Retro Inferno, a vintage modern home furnishings store, in Kansas City, shares information on modern furniture and his home, designed by Bruce Goff. His store’s website is retroinferno.com

Q In recent years, the world has gone crazy for midcentury modern. What should people know before they invest in a piece?

A People should know that it is an investment and to take their time before buying. It’s helpful to know the difference between original productions of furniture, reissues and licensed reproductions. Original pieces are going to appreciate in value over time. For example, an original Eames lounge chair and ottoman in rosewood keeps going up. A reissue or licensed reproduction is still a good piece of furniture, but the value won’t necessarily go up. Consequently, you can get a good value on used reissues and licensed reproductions.

Q What about inexpensive reproductions of modern furniture?

A You see a lot of Chinese reproductions of modern furniture for $500 or $600 and they initially look decent. But the metal tubing is thinner, and you don’t know what the labor conditions are where they were constructed. It’s like buying a “Prada” handbag on Canal Street in Manhattan.

Q What are some of the differences between new and vintage classic modern pieces?

A On an Eames molded chair, the originals were in fiberglass. You can see the fibers in the material. New ones are made with recyclable plastic.

Q What got you interested in modern furniture?

A I bought a George Nelson desk from an estate sale 17 or 18 years ago. I liked the mix of materials: white laminate on top, walnut cabinetry and brushed steel tubular legs. I liked how the top seemed to float. I didn’t know who George Nelson or Herman Miller was. I just thought it looked cool. It was a piece of art that moved me.

Q And now you seem to know designer names, even obscure ones. Is that important?

A Yes, by knowing who the designer is, it adds inherent value. It’s an assurance that the design will get better to your eye rather than regretting it down the road.

Q Two years ago, you moved to the Bruce Goff-designed house near the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. What’s it been like?

A It’s a magical place. It’s phenomenal. It’s not that big, about 3,000 square feet, but it has a lot of information and surprises.

Q The house comes with a lot of built-in furniture. As a person who collects furniture, has that limited your self-expression?

A Not really. I try to keep it as original as I can. I’ve satisfied my design cravings by displaying art, and I’ve found similar furniture pieces that the original family, the Nicols, used in the house.

Q How do you know the pieces are similar? From photographs?

A No, when the Nicols put the house on the market about 15 years ago, I remembered acrylic chairs inside, and I loved them. They were Erwine and Estelle Laverne’s “Lily” chairs in their “Invisible” series. And I remembered the Salterini outdoor furniture so I tracked those down. They seem made for the house.

I couldn’t initially afford the house the first time it came on the market. One of my friends told me “you’re living in the coolest house in Kansas City.” I think so, and I feel lucky.