When Normand Mainville moved into the old wool warehouse on Congress Street in Fort Point Channel, the building had been empty for five years. It was December 1991 and FPC was populated by what he describes as “Only artists who looked like zombies. I think I became one of them,” he jokes.
That’s where Mainville first opened Machine Age, a stockade of vintage furniture dating from the ’20s to the ’80s that specializes in ’50s and ’60s, AKA midcentury modern. Mainville moved to Summer Street in 2006 and his old spot now houses one of the city’s most expensive restaurants: Menton. The days of zombies and cheap rent are long gone.
So are the days of finding beautiful mid-c mod bargains. Business from individual buyers and interior designers is booming, with highly collectible pieces now with high prices to match. Katie Rowley started helping Mainville part-time in 2003 and came on full-time in 2008 as Internet sales took off.
Rowley says that the mid-c mod trend spiked when the TV series “Mad Men” became popular.
“That brought a lot of new people to the market,” she says.
While Machine Age also stocks new furniture, original pieces still hold most appeal: “People want something with a story, something that has a presence,” says Mainville. “They want something more unique.”
As for present-day modernism, Mainville thinks that post-1980s furniture design has lacked character and definition: “What does 1990s furniture look like? You can’t identify a movement. There is no identity.”
Past is present
By designation, modernity can’t look to the past. Rowley thinks its present and future lies in better, less toxic materials. Mainville thinks its ideals of functionality will be a focus.
“People will look at smaller pieces that take up less space. The world is sizing down,” he says.