Check Out This Envy-Inducing Collection of Midcentury Modern Furniture
A creative couple collects authentic and celebrated furnishings from the post-war era.
By Rebecca L. Rhoades | Photography by Tony Hernandez
“Influences come from the strangest places,” Tony Hernandez says. For the professional photographer, who spends much of his time capturing the work of architects and designers, it was a childhood TV show that made the most impact on his style choices.
In one of the more memorable episodes of the 1970s hit comedy series “The Odd Couple,” Felix Unger decides to redecorate his apartment with an arrangement of brightly colored modernist furnishings and accessories. There’s a pair of swivel hand chairs in the manner of Pedro Friedeberg, Pierre Paulin’s iconic Ribbon and Tongue chairs, a trio of Vernen Panton Pantonova chairs, copious rainbow-hued plastic accent tables and a 1971 ChronoArt II clock. “That episode always stuck
in my head. Felix added all this great furniture, and I remember really liking it,” Tony explains. “Even as a 12-year-old, I knew that’s how I wanted to live.”
Today, he and his wife, Jamie, an art director and graphic designer, are avid collectors of midcentury modern goods. Although the couple’s North Phoenix home doesn’t approach the “future shock” that Felix’s did, a peek inside the otherwise unassuming stucco-and-clay-tile-roof 1987 tract house reveals a sleek, minimalist interior adorned with midcentury classics, historic pieces with proven provenances and colorful seating—all accented with original paintings and sculpture by Valley artists.
“We love art and, to us, furniture is art, too,” Tony says.
While the photographer always had an interest in the clean lines of 1950s and ’60s designs, he didn’t begin collecting in earnest until he started going to estate and yard sales with a coworker who, at the time, was into 1920s furnishings and decor and, later, more modern styles. Tony saw the outings as learning experiences. “His knowledge and his eye for items that you wouldn’t even look twice at was uncanny,” he recalls. “Through osmosis, I learned as much as I could, and then I began studying auction catalogs because they showcase all kinds of items and provide up-to-date pricing.”
The “education” paid off. The Hernandez’s home is filled with authentic pieces that, for the most part, were purchased for a song. There’s a bona fide Noguchi Table—which sits between a matching pair of Herman Miller 50th anniversary Eames Aluminum Group lounge chairs—that he got at a consignment shop for $250, along with a Paul Tuttle Anaconda coffee table that he scooped up for $89. A George Nelson accent table that came from the now-demolished Valley National Bank building in downtown Phoenix cost about $100. And the six chairs that surround the dining table are Massimo Vignelli Handkerchief chairs. Tony got the entire grouping, plus a seventh chair, for $300.
“I have a lot of respect for what Tony has done as far as finding some real cherry-picked pieces and putting his heart and soul into refurbishing them properly and accurately,” says Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning interior designer Tony Sutton, a close friend of the Hernandez’s who has worked with the photographer on numerous projects. “He is diligent about his historic research to verify authenticities and knowing the telltale signs that will determine if a piece is a true original or a later replica.”
All of the items, whether vintage or contemporary, are genuine. “We don’t believe in knockoffs,” Tony explains. “When something it knocked off, it has been changed a little bit. So you lose that initial perfect design. Buy the good stuff, and it will last longer and, over time, appreciate in value.”
Click here to read 6 Midcentury Designers You Should Know!
While some of the furnishings come and go—the couple resell many of their finds—one item holds a place of honor in their home: a 400-pound Carrara marble and chrome-plated steel dining table. Designed by William Katavolos, Ross Little and Douglas Kelly for Lavern International in 1953, the 5-foot-long showstopper came from the Valley estate of Hugh Horner, inventor of the “Blythe Spirit” fiberglass mannequin. “I love this table,” says Jamie. “It has such a simplicity and a lot of history, as well. I can only imagine the parties that went on around it.” Tony agrees. “It’s like a living thing, so it’s going to retain that energy. You can feel it. You’re always in a good mood when you’re at this table.”
Whether it’s a pair of Eames molded fiberglass armchairs, designed in 1948; an early ’50s Florence Knoll Formica bench; or a 1980s official MacTable, created specifically for use with the Apple II computer, the straightforward forms and minimalist designs of modernist furnishings offer a welcome break from the visual clutter of life.
“I can appreciate what I call serious furniture—the kind that gets hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction and has been around forever,” Tony says. “It’s beautiful, and it may even be more comfortable than what I have, but I think it just looks better when you get down to the bare bones. There are a lot of things when you wander around life that are visually offensive. With midcentury pieces, when you look around, your eye is pleased, and your brain can relax and say, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’”