Historical Hunter

Lloyd Fadem bought his first piece of modern art in 1973. Before long, Fadem had expanded his search beyond artwork, beginning his lifelong obsession with collecting Mid-century Modern furniture, lighting and clocks by top designers of the era.
After three decades, Fadem had amassed an impressive array of classic mid-century pieces and was looking for just the right place to showcase his collection. So in 2006, when he discovered a mint-condition mid-century style home for sale in Tulsa, he “had to have it.”

“I was just the third owner, and the house was still in its original condition,” says Fadem. The residence, designed by Tulsa architect Doug Wixon in 1967, is more than 5,000 square feet, and includes five bedrooms, six baths and three spacious living areas created in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra, with large expanses of glass blending the exterior with the interior.

Initially, Fadem added a coat of paint, including splashes of bright orange, typical of the period, and installed maple wood floors throughout. But the architectural aficionado had a vision. So he purchased pallets of Tennessee Crab Orchard sandstone, famously used in numerous Wright projects, then spent three summers breaking the stone by hand to replace all the red brick originally used both on the exterior and the interior of the home.  

The renovation continued with assistance from Fadem’s wife Margaret, founder of Margaret Ferrell Design. “She created a more sophisticated, modern look,” says Fadem. The brightly painted walls are gone, and now the focus is on the art and vintage furnishings.

One of Fadem’s prized finds is a Tugendhat chair designed in 1930 by Mies van der Rohe…

“Margaret selected fabrics from residential lines such as Schumacher and S. Harris to replace some of the commercial materials typically used,” adds Fadem.

Ferrell redesigned the kitchen using Caesarstone countertops and glass tile running vertically up the wall. Fifty-year-old mint condition vintage shelving is from the Royal System by Cado, a Danish furniture company. The barstools are the 1950s classic Harry Bertoia design produced by Knoll.

The home is a virtual museum of classic Mid-century Modern furniture. One of Fadem’s prized finds is a Tugendhat chair designed in 1930 by Mies van der Rohe for the Fritz and Grete Tugendhat Villa in Brno, Czechoslovakia. The Marshmallow sofa designed in 1954 by Irving Harper and manufactured by Herman Miller is perhaps the most iconic of the modern furniture styles.

Fadem searches for items worldwide and has made several finds on eBay. But he’s also been lucky closer to home. He purchased his burl wood and stainless executive desk manufactured by The Pace Collection from the estate of Tulsa oilman Doyle Cotton. And for $750, he rescued an original Harvey Probber sofa from a local recreational center. Restored, the sofa could fetch several thousand dollars. And he found an original Robert Sonneman lamp and a George Nelson bubble lamp stored at a friend’s business since 1969.

Fadem’s home office also includes a chair that ultimately spurred Fadem to open his own upholstery business. “I wanted to reupholster a vintage Eames bucket chair,” explains Fadem. But he couldn’t find anyone who could do the heating, stretching and molding that the chair required. So he and a partner set up Retro Redo, and Fadem was the first customer. “Now we get Mid-century Modern furniture from all over the world sent to Tulsa,” he adds.

So is Fadem’s collection complete? “Absolutely not,” he laughs. “I love the hunt too much to stop.” And he’s convinced the next mid-century gem is out there waiting to be found.