Digging Modern: A Kagan Design, Lost and Found
This story goes back about 13 years to when my exposure to midcentury design had just started to develop. At the time, there was a local monthly antiques show that I would regularly attend. Every few years, I would feel the need to set up a space—despite the fact that setting up a booth is always difficult, because shopping is so much more fun than selling.
On one such occasion, I had been out shopping most of the day and had returned to set up my space, but felt the need to get back out there. You know, to make another quick trip around to see who and what had arrived, as that “one piece” could have shown up. I have a good friend, Marc, with whom I shared warehouse space, who was also setting up at the market. As I made my late-day trip around the market, Marc called, saying, “Buddy, did you see this crazy rocking chair over here?”
Obviously, the rush was on, as something had shown up that sounded like it could very well be that “one great thing.” What I found was a beautiful rocking chair, like nothing I had ever seen in person before. The frame was so sculptural, with the rockers joining the arms in a fishtail design—I knew this had to be something special. It had been poorly reupholstered, but the more I looked at the form, the more it started to give me the feeling of something I may have seen in an auction catalog or online.
The chair’s dealer had dropped off his merchandise and would not be returning until the following morning, when all of the crowds would come rushing in—including a few modern collectors that I knew would be in attendance. Up to that point, I had put together a modest collection of auction catalogs, so upon arriving back home that evening, I studied them like the morning paper.
I had taken some good photos of the piece and studied the details. After comparing photos, I determined it was indeed a poorly reupholstered Vladimir Kagan Contour rocking chair in walnut.
The dealer had given Marc a price, so I got in early the next morning, taped a big “sold” sign on the chair and made sure not to venture far from the space—as this iconic rocker could not get away. The vendor showed up about a half hour before the show opened, and he was in shock that someone had placed a sold sign on this rough, poorly upholstered rocking chair that he wanted so much money for. After a short discussion, I handed over a stack of bills and took the chair.
When my wife, Tina, and I moved it into our then-townhouse, the rocking chair looked huge. Several months had gone by, and I suggested to her that we sell it. Tina was not at all in favor of this idea, so we continued to hold onto it. The walnut was bleached-looking, telling us that the rocking chair had been exposed to direct sunlight for many years. I had the frame refinished, and with a mild stripping of the finish and minimal sanding, the walnut came back to life beautifully.
We purchased our midcentury home three years ago, and we suddenly had the perfect space for the rocker—so the time to pick a fabric and get it recovered correctly had finally come. We went to our friends at Modern Fabrics in Charlotte, North Carolina, who had the perfect piece of fabric to complete our iconic Vladimir Kagan Contour rocking chair.
Kagan and Other Keepers
About the Author
Chad Baker is a knowledgable midcentury enthusiast who has been digging for mid mod treasure for more than 10 years. As a result, he has a plethora of stories about rescuing, restoring and scoring great finds. Along with his wife, Tina, Chad lives in a stunning North Carolina home that the couple has lovingly preserved. For more on Chad, visit antiquefanparts.com.