It’s become normal to categorize all Mid Century Modern freestanding fireplaces as a Malm. But, did you know that Malm wasn’t the only company making these iconic fireplaces back in the 1960s? We spoke with vintage fireplace seller and enthusiast, Marnie Willkow of the Etsy shop Red Eye Vintage. She gave us the scoop on Malms and how they differ from similar MCM fireplace brands.
There were several companies making contemporary-style fireplaces during the mid century, but three deserve mention. “Malm is the catch-all phrase that everyone uses now,” says Marnie, “but there were three major makers in the 1960s: Malm, Preway and Majestic.”
Spot the Difference
The easiest way to tell them apart is to look for the company label, but you won’t always find one. “There’s only a 50% chance it will have a label,” says Marnie. If you don’t see a label, here are some distinguishing features of each brand:
- They will always have a pedestal base
- Usually you’ll find a label on it
- The most common colors: neutral, muted earth tones
- Made 8-10 different styles
- They only come in one style with three straight legs
- Usually has only one band around the neck
- The most common colors: red and orange
- Also have a pedestal base, but have the three-sided faceted front
- Usually has several bands on the neck
- The most common colors: red and red/orange
- Made 8 different styles
It’s not a perfect science, but these features can help you rule out certain brands and begin the research process to determine which brand the fireplace belongs to.
If you’re lucky enough to find one of these treasures, make sure you hold out for one in good condition. “All MCM fireplace brands made their products out of enamel steel with the exception of ceramic ones,” says Marnie. “The ones with a color have a porcelain enamel finish, like enamel cookware. Once the enamel is messed up, it’s hard to fix it, so I try to pick ones in great original condition.”
Try to find a fireplace in the color you want. The material they are made out of cannot easily be painted. “They come in several colors,” says Marnie. “The most common are orange and red with some green and yellow. Blue is the rarest and hardest to find since it wasn’t a popular color back then.”
The most popular question people ask Marnie is whether or not these fireplaces are safe to have outside. “People are concerned about putting them outside because they were intended for indoor use,” she says. “But I’ve had mine outside for over 5-6 years, and it’s held up well.” Just be sure to store it indoors in the winter if you live in a harsh climate.
Where are They Now?
Malm is still in business to this day. They’re making MCM-style fireplaces that are not much different from the ones they made in the 60s. Majestic is still in business as well, but they only produce modern day fireplaces now. Another company bought out Preway in the 80s, but you can still find them at flea markets, online and at estate sales. “Preways are my favorite,” says Marnie. “Customers will message me about specific brands, but I find when I talk to them, they’re confused about what they’re asking for and just want the Malm style in general.”
For more on Marnie and to see which fireplaces she has for sale, visit her Etsy shop Red Eye Vintage.
Read more about the featured fireplace in the Summer 2021 issue of Atomic Ranch.
If you’re thinking about owning one of these beauties, here are 5 places you can purchase them. And of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Mid Century Modern inspiration!