Sale of the Mid Century

Photographs by Roy Ritchie

Before money, people bartered. Shoppers could swap three chickens for a rug, two goats for a llama, and so forth. It was something like a Mesopotamian version of Let’s Make a Deal. Once money entered the marketplace, people turned to the art of price negotiation — or haggling. But, sadly, neither is welcome at the mall. These days, if you want to strike a deal, you have to go to a garage sale, a corporate boardroom, or Morocco. Dean and Kelly Elliott prefer estate sales.

Nearly every Saturday, they choose three or four to attend, get in the car, and keep their fingers crossed. “That’s part of the fun and part of the frustration of going to estate sales,” Kelly says, sitting in the shag-carpeted living room of their perfectly preserved Southfield ranch. “We can go to three on a Saturday and find nothing; and you’ve just walked through a dusty, moldy basement. So it’s hit or miss.”

For them, though, it seems more hit than miss. After buying their thoroughly modern home last year, the Elliotts filled it with furniture and accessories true to the home’s 1960s style. From cookbooks to couches, they’ve compiled an impressive collection of vintage finds largely by regularly scouring the classifieds and employing a few secrets of savvy shopping: They’re not afraid to walk away from an item they love with a price they don’t, and they don’t buy anything in poor condition.

“If you added everything up,” Dean says, “all the furniture, not including artwork — we probably paid not even $1,200. We’ve managed to get this really great furniture for a great rate. There’s a lot of modern stuff around here.”

And in Southfield, there’s an unexpected abundance of affordable space-age housing. The Elliotts’ home — built in 1963 — was lovingly preserved by its previous two owners and, as a result, is a bit of a time capsule. Loaded with custom features, Travertine marble, designer light fixtures, and style, the home was unaltered and in remarkable shape. “We looked at this house in May of 2006 and loved it,” Kelly says. “It’s kind of like A Clockwork Orange meets The Brady Bunch.”

And although that combination might not make it on the big screen, it worked for the Elliotts. “If somebody else came in, they’d rip all of this out,” Kelly says. “I almost feel like it’s a museum and we’re the curators.” Judging from the pristine condition of their vintage décor and obvious savvy for acquisition, it seems they’re up to the task.