A Fine Line: Furniture Guru Thomas Hayes In the Hot Seat


Thomas Hayes crosses over from a naive ebay dealer to a design powerhouse. For the past decade, modern furniture dealer Thomas Hayes has been flying high, selling restored midcentury pieces from his celebrated gallery to clients that include Hollywood glitterati. Now Hayes is taking it a step further by launching a line of modern furniture that is so sympatico with the vintage items he sells, they look like they share a last name. All this springs from a chance encounter with an Eames chair.

Twelve years ago, a 26-year-old Hayes was scraping by selling antiques on eBay when he bought an Eames chair at an estate sale. “I didn’t know what it was, and I started researching it,” he says. “I was surprised that a seemingly stupid chair could have value.” The more he learned, the more intrigued he became. “Pretty soon, I was one of the few dealers specializing in midcentury modern furniture at that time,” he says. The newly minted furniture-phile then zeroed in on pieces created in Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s by José Zanine Caldas, Joaquim Tenreiro and Giuseppe Scapinelli, among others. Hayes began importing their work, and that’s where both the trouble and the inspiration began. “Things would get damaged in shipping,” he says. “And we would have to create a new drawer or door for repairs. At some point, we thought it would be just as easy to make a new piece.”

That idea led to a new line of furniture whose clean lines have roots in America’s craft movement and whose beautifully grained woods speak of the work of the Brazilian craftspeople Hayes admires. And, despite the fact that many of his pieces live comfortably beside famous midcentury furniture in the homes of his celebrity clients, Hayes remains unassuming. “I am really grateful to be making furniture I love,” he says.

That gratitude is coupled with an earnest humility. As the designer, who usually wears plaid shirts and jeans dusted with sawdust, says, “On the showroom floor, I’m often mistaken for a mover, and people ask me to carry things out to their car.”

This was originally published in California Home + Design’s Summer 2013 issue. Click here to subscribe.

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