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The Vintage Design Cheatsheet – Names You Should Be Searching To Find The Pieces You Really Want

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: 7 tips for creating a unique home you really love

Right now, what do you miss most? For me, it’s the flea market. (Also, my mom. Hi mom!) Guys, I miss the Rose Bowl. I miss Long Beach. And it’s not even the looking, or the haggling, or the buying — it’s the million-mile trek back to my too-small sedan with whatever impossibly enormous and heavy item I’d picked up. I miss when I could write off “carried a ribbon chandelier half a mile” or “didn’t cry when the hanging wire from an oil painting cut into my hands” as my workout for the day. 

But guess what: I can still exercise MY BIG OL’ BRAIN (which is good, because I absolutely have not exercised the rest of my body once in the past 5 weeks). I’ve been filling my vintage void with online vintage window shopping (paging Chairish, Etsy, eBay, et. al) but I figured that we could all use a quick brush up on what we should actually be searching for, right? 

So here we go — I’m going to take this afternoon to introduce you to a few masters of 20th-century design. It’s a quick crash course in vocabulary so you can optimize your furniture sourcing, based on the styles you already love. 

I’m sharing one sentence (-ish, because guys, I’ve been alone for a really long time and am feeling kinda chatty) about the designers you should add to your daily searches, plus the names of their most iconic pieces. You’ll recognize a few; it’ll be like putting a name to a face. 

I’m also linking up some incredible vintage scores AND some affordable, modern alternatives. (Because let’s be honest: sometimes, vintage is cheaper…and sometimes, it’s just not. I’m on a budget. I need the look for less, and that’s okay! Sometimes I just wanna google “Kagan sofa” and click on the Crate and Barrel link for the similar, inspired-by piece. I’m human. Basically, if you can afford the real deal, please do that, but if not I don’t think you should be punished.) It’s a quick and dirty design dictionary — like 8-minute abs, but for your noggin. LET’S GO. 

For Modern Glam Lovers

photo by david tsay | from: find your style: luxe and glam

You love: Lacquer. Bling from chrome or brass. Bright, contrasting colors. Statement mirrors. Luxe fabrics. Graphic wallpapers. Chandeliers. Velvet. Jewel tones.

You should search for:

  • Charles Hollis-Jones: The definitive search for lucite fans. These acrylic and brass coffee tables are all modern takes on Mr. H-J.
  • Karl Springer: Do you love waterfall benches and consoles? Thank Karl. (I have a bench like this at my dining table and yes, I do love it. Thanks Karl!)
  • Verner Panton: Panton is the OG mastermind behind those iconic plastic S-shaped chairs. The official ones aren’t wildly unaffordable, but this set of 4 “Panton-style” chairs cost less than the price of 1 brand-name chair and the colors offered are VERY CUTE.
  • Milo Baughman: Baughman is prolific because he designed across a TON of styles (everything from mid-century to Memphis!), but he’s currently most popular for his Parsons chairs and brass cantilever dining chairs, which I’m sure you’ve seen on Instagram at least once. This is a good name to throw into Craigslist or Marketplace once in a while, just to see what comes up.

For Mid-Century Modern Lovers

Photo by mike garten for ehd | from: dining room rules

You love: Warm wood finishes. Geometric patterns. Molded plastic chairs or tables. Low, long credenzas. Bar carts. Tapered legs. Brass accents. Streamlined sofas.

You should search for:

  • Ray and Charles Eames: Gotta love a husband and wife duo, right? They’re best known for their eponymous Eames chair (our very own Bowser has an Eames-style chair in her living room!) but their hang-it-all (and it’s more affordable versions) holds its own as one of the cutest tiny entryway solutions of all time.
  • Eero Saarinen: This guy was a NUT about table legs. I’m serious. Saarinen invented the pedestal (AKA tulip) base to address the “ugly, confusing, unrestful world” underneath chairs and tables. He also called it a “slum of legs.” I hope to one day care about anything as much as this guy cared about furniture legs. Saarinen tables are SUPER high quality — Em has one of his vintage coffee tables in the Mountain House family room — but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ikea sells a similar dining table version for under 200 bucks. (Saarinen is also the mastermind behind the Womb Chair which did, in fact, have legs.)
  • Paul McCobb: Okay, now I’m going to sound like the nut, but I can identify a McCobb in the wild by searching out the classic mid-century shapes with more “aggressive” and “angular” spindles. See this chair and this desk as evidence. You can see it too, right?
  • George Nelson: Best known for the marshmallow sofa, but we’re most in love with his bubble pendants — Velinda has one in her living room. Affordable versions of these pop up on Craigslist all the time because honestly, it’s just confusing to identify lighting. Keep an eye out!
  • Adrian Pearsall: If you wanted to find something like Emily’s OG blue sofa, you’d look for something “in the manner of” or “in the style of” Pearsall. You can spot his most popular work by the walnut bases and/or the gondola shape.

For Minimalist and Scandi Lovers

photo by kelly merchant | from: a greenhouse makeover with ‘the frame’

You love: White surfaces. Light toned woods. Clean lines. Wintry comforts. Streamlined beds. Spare floating shelves. Diffused light. Simple legs. Multifunctional pieces. Natural materials.

You should search for:

  • Arne Norell: If you’re in the market for a leather safari chair, throw an eBay alert on ‘Norell.’ There are slightly more affordable alternatives, but we’re loyalists over here: you’ve seen these chairs in this living room and in the Mountain House. (I’ve sat in Em’s Inca chair and can confirm that it is worth the investment.)
  • Isamu Noguchi: Finally, a name for the coffee table with two wood pieces and a kidney-shaped top! Just an FYI: I see Noguchi-style tables on Craigslist all the time, but they’re usually listed as like, a “wood and glass coffee table.” He is also VERY famous for his paper lamps. Both Jess and Mel chose this beauty to light up in their homes. But if the price tag is too high then you can find similar options at places like IKEA.
  • Hans Wegner: ICONIC. The guy behind the wishbone chair and the Papa Bear chair. (If you’re looking for a more affordable dining room option, this Target version scratches the same itch.)
  • Alvar Aalto: If you’re ever on Jeopardy, Aalto is the inventor of bent plywood furniture. WHO KNEW?! If you see curved wood stools like this anywhere, it’s because Aalto figured it out (he had the patent and everything).

For Contemporary and Industrial Lovers

photo by tessa neustdt | from: eclectic traditional bedroom reveal

You love: Neutral, masculine color palates. Low, simple sofas. Glass tables. Chrome or nickel finishes. Simple pendants with exposed bulbs. Subway tile.

You should search for:

  • Le Corbusier: He’s best known for his leather sofas or chairs with a tubular chrome surround AND for his chaise lounge chairs. Sometimes they come in cowhide, too, which is fun!
  • Mies van der Rohe: van der Rohe is the designer of the Barcelona chair AND daybed. These last two guys are BIG on leather seating and chrome bases. (Fun fact: when you google ‘Barcelona daybed,’ this Article daybed comes up. It’s 1/10th the price and it’s updated all-leather design seems like it could work in most homes — this is the value of knowing the names, y’all!)
  • Harry Bertoia: The inventor of the eponymous Bertoia chair, AKA the chair that makes you look like a freshly-grilled hot dog when you stand up (it’s a grid pattern).
  • Warren Platner: If you see a circular, metal base that cinches about three-quarters of the way up before expanding again, it’s a Platner-style piece. Example A: Emily’s old side table.

For Bohemian Lovers

photo by david tsay | from: find your style: global

You love: Earth tones. Texture. Teak, rattan, and bamboo. Hanging plants. Handmade accents. Worn rugs. Intricate patterns. Hand-dyed linens and fabrics.

You should search for:

  • Gabriella Crespi: If you’re on the hunt for pencil reed or rattan, no one did it better than Gabriella. (Someone please buy these headboards. They’re like the tropical version of Emily’s new wicker headboards and I love them.)
  • Paul Frankl: This guy was actually an Art Deco designer, but most of his surviving pieces are very Boho — lots of bamboo, rattan, and pretzel shapes. You’ll definitely recognize one of these sofa bases from at least one neighborhood grandparent’s home (in the best way!) and I can almost guarantee that you’ve scrolled past one of these listings before. Diamonds in the rough, people!
  • Franco Albini: Best known for his ottomans. Here’s a slightly more affordable version that you’ll feel comfortable throwing your feet up on.
  • Lou Hodges: Lou worked a TON with oak and made a lot of fun cantilevered end and coffee tables. Original pieces are still relatively affordable and they’re about to have a huge moment — we wrote about it here — so it’s worth investing in now.

For ’80s and Postmodern Lovers

photos by genevieve garruppo | from: an epic gallery wall with ‘the frame’

You love: Organic shapes. Glass and brass. Pop art. Geometric patterns with an art deco bend. Rounded upholstered furniture. Luxe fabrics. Neon lighting.

You should search for:

  • Vladimir Kagan: Lately, Kagan is best known for his curved sofas (Bilbao) and chairs (Nautilus). It’s a great time to go on a Craigslist hunt…but like I said in the intro, there are some good modern options available that don’t require reupholstery. Sometimes going new is just easier, y’all.
  • Joe Colombo: If you’re at a flea market and you see a storage trolley made out of plastic, it’s probably a Colombo piece. He also designed for Kartell (which produced all those fun, round, plastic storage nightstands you may be seeing all over design IG right now).
  • Eero Aarnio: Think Saarinen, but FUN. (Read: Fiberglass and plastic, but in whimsy shapes like circles and screws. Aarnio invented the Ball chair, which I know you’ve seen!)
  • Gaetano Pesce: Basically, the guy behind the Up chair series (I featured one in a post last week — look for red and white stripes) and a lot of exciting resin vessels. He also made a giant stool/chair/sculpture shaped like a foot that sells for absolutely INSANE amounts of money. Vintage is wild. Pesce is a delight.

OH BOY. That’s it for my cheat sheet. I hope this was helpful — maybe you’ve found some new designers to search for on Pinterest, or maybe you’ve finally nailed down the name of a piece that you’ve seen on the site a couple times…or maybe, you just needed a warm-up to get you back into your vintage hunting headspace (that’s me!). EITHER WAY, I’d love to hear from you — what designers do YOU search for? What’s your style? What other designers and pieces should we all know by name? LET’S CHAT, please!

Opening Image Credits: Design by Michael Keck | Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: 7 Tips For Creating A Unique Home You REALLY Love

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3 years ago

So interesting, a lot of names I hadn’t heared of! Though a little bit more pictures would have been helpful. 🙂

Emily Rodman
3 years ago

This is really great – do you have any recommendation for those of us that love traditional style?

3 years ago
Reply to  Emily Rodman

Not sure if this is traditional but you may like Thonet. He is known for being the inventor of bentwood furniture (almost a century before Alvar Aalto patented the technique). I adore his Model 209 armchair with caning. His most famous chair is Thonet #14 cafe chair.

Natalie Bowers
3 years ago
Reply to  Emily Rodman

Yes! Please! I was so excited to see this title and scrolled down looking for my old standby but alas, nada… please Emily? Vintage traditional would be aaaaawesome!

3 years ago

Great post! Have the feeling I’ll be referring to it a lot in the future:)

3 years ago

Really loved this post, learned a lot about what to search for, and how to identify things that I find on marketplace/CL.

3 years ago

It’s “Mies” van der Rohe, not “Miles.”

3 years ago

So, the chairs in the midcentury example photo. I love them! Any insight on designer/where to find them/what to search?

3 years ago

Thank you so much! I love the chairs and now I love you!

3 years ago
Reply to  Jessie

Those chairs are da bomb, BUY THEM RIGHT NOW!

3 years ago

A wealth of information and links!! Thanks for this.

3 years ago

Great post. I love how much you share.

3 years ago

It would be great to do a post about how to find similar (not knockoff) pieces. I always want something “in the style of” so-and-so but it’s hard to find that using Google SEO!

3 years ago

Love this! So many searches to do now.

3 years ago

Thanks to you guys (an old post about craigslist) I founded a perfect like new pair of Parsons for 50 bucks. I love you and thanks for share your knowledge with us.

3 years ago


3 years ago

I am seriously loving all this Covid-19 content! Great job, EHD team!

3 years ago

So funny. Now that I would have the time to reno things, find myself replaying all the really great furniture and decor items I sold/Good Willed/consigned in the past because it needed the right spot/repair/new look. Oh, to have some of it back now.

I weirdly revisit in my mind really great decor items I passed over in filled-to-the-brim vintage stores because I wasn’t sure back then an eclectic range of styles would work. Thanks to the EH team, I now see they do. Odd, how particular items stick in your brain even though they were only in your life for a minute or two before your eye traveled to the next treasure.

Since I am waiting to move once possible, I lay awake at night revisiting all those really great things I have boxed up: new/vintage/handed down heirlooms/”just because” quirkiness. They fill me with joy even though I can’t see them!

Thanks for the terminology education.

3 years ago

Love this post!!!

3 years ago

Love this post!

3 years ago

One of the most useful posts EHD has ever created!! So much good info!

3 years ago

It is MIES van der Rohe.

3 years ago

I purchased a Vladimir Kagan swivel chair and ottoman from Chairish – made an offer and got it (including shipping) for about what an ordinary new chair would sell for. Never hesitate to make a lowball offer. Best furniture investment I’ve ever made.

Roberta Davis
3 years ago

A good reference book to the designers of iconic chairs is… 1000 Chairs!

Karen M-A
3 years ago

What a great collection of info. I pressed on a ton of links, and was amazed at the history lesson. Thanks so much!

3 years ago

Excellent and helpful post. Thanks for all the insights! 🙂 What I do think is a pity, though, is that you promote knock-offs. Target’s “Amish” dining chair is just a cheap copy of the original CH24 Wishbone chair produced by Carl Hansen in Denmark and has nothing to do with “craftsmanship” as they claim on their website.

Please don’t get me wrong! I totally get that originals are often pretty expensive – I can not afford one either. But I think your audience would profit more from alternative design options and affordable brands which offer unique designs and do not copy renowned makers.

3 years ago

Absolutely loved this! Thank you for teaching us a bit about a few designers and their styles, Caitlin! Would love to see more content like this – perhaps just focusing on one style or even just one designer so we see more pictures and really get to know them. Having not gone to design school, the history of design and trends over the decades are really interesting to me, but not something I know a lot about. Thank you!!

3 years ago

Adding to Bohemian:
– Mario Lopez Torres (1970s whimsical/sculptural furniture, lighting and decor made with rattan/wicker with a lot of tropical and animal motifs)
– Arthur Umanoff (1950-60s wood/rattan/wrought iron/leather chairs, bar carts, etageres, wine racks, etc, mid century lines with a somewhat rustic feel)
– Pedro Friedeberg (1960s-today, creator of the original carved wood hand chair, there’s also a lot of carved butterfly chairs and psychedelic/surrealist-esque stuff, stand alone statement pieces)

80s/Post Modern:
-Ettore Sottsass (Memphis Milano aka Memphis Design Movement architect and designer, most recently known for the Ultrafragola mirror but has many, many post modern 80s iconic pieces with bright colors and bold lines, also please search his architecture in India that looks like a Wes Anderson set)

Mid Century Modern:
-Gio Ponti (mid century Italian designer and architect, so many chairs that fans of Jonathan Adler, including myself, will love)

3 years ago

Also a nut that can spot a Paul McCobb in the wild! But my eye is all thanks to my boyfriend who is one of the biggest Paul McCobb collectors in the world. Literally, he has a museum exhibit opening next year featuring all Paul. He has taught me a lot about mid century designers and we play a game called, “Who Designed That Chair?” lol You would clearing do well at that game too Caitlin!

3 years ago

Coming in SUPER late to the discussion, but what about Le Corbusier? Jean Prouve? Edward Wormley?

3 years ago

I’m surprised you didn’t mention Sottsass, De Lucchi, or any of the Memphis gang in the postmodern section! I find there’s a greater range and variety of their pieces available online and more copycats attributed to their design aesthetic than some of the others mentioned.

3 years ago

This is SO helpful! Thank you so much for writing this, Caitlin!

3 years ago

Art class for the day – check! Thanks for the lesson! Great post.

3 years ago

Traditional, please ! 1920s, Art Deco !

3 years ago

This is the best post EVER!