Have you ever stumbled upon a cool, retro-looking patio set at a garage sale or thrift store but weren’t sure if it was a true vintage find or just a knock-off? Well, you’re not alone!
Mid-century modern wrought iron patio furniture by Woodard is highly coveted by collectors and designers for its iconic style, quality construction, and timeless appeal. But with so many look-alikes out there, it can be tricky figuring out if you’ve scored an authentic vintage Woodard set or just an imposter.
That’s where this guide comes in! I’ll give you an inside look at the history of this classic American furniture brand and teach you all the telltale signs of real vintage Woodard so you can snag these gems when you see them.
Let’s dive in and turn you into a bonafide Woodard expert!
A Brief History of Woodard Patio Furniture
To understand what makes vintage Woodard patio sets so special, you first need to know a bit about the company’s origins.
Woodard’s furniture legacy stretches all the way back to the 1860s when the Woodard Brothers began crafting outdoor furniture from pine in Michigan. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that the company pivoted to using wrought iron and aluminum to create the iconic patio sets they’re now famous for.
This switch was prompted by material shortages and skyrocketing wood prices during the Great Depression. Under the leadership of visionaries like company president Lee Woodard and chief designer Russell Woodard, Woodard’s artisans began expertly hand-crafting intricate, yet extremely durable, metal outdoor furniture.
Lee and Russell’s designs defined the Mid-century modern aesthetic with their space-age silhouettes, fluid lines, woven textures and playful motifs. As the postwar suburban housing boom took off in the 1950s, Woodard’s collections gained tremendous popularity for bringing style and comfort to the burgeoning backyard patio culture.
Even today, Woodard is acclaimed for building heirloom-quality, made-in-America outdoor furniture that can withstand decades of backyard barbecues and poolside lounging in any climate.
But those vintage pieces from Woodard’s heyday in the 40s-60s have become highly coveted collector’s items for their perfect blend of retro charm and flawless craftsmanship. They just don’t make ’em like they used to!
Identifying Features of Authentic Vintage Woodard
So now that you know what the Woodard name stands for, how do you confidently determine if that cool old patio set you spotted is the real deal? Here are the distinctive traits to look for in genuine vintage Woodard furniture:
Materials: Built to Last
Authentic vintage Woodard sets will be constructed from heavy-gauge steel, wrought iron, or cast aluminum. This ensures they can withstand heavy use and outdoor elements for decades. Welded joints and metal framing confirm their vintage cred.
Later Woodard collections incorporated aluminum tubing and resin wicker, so those materials indicate a newer piece.
Ever since their early days, Woodard marked their creations with identifying tags that proclaim “Woodard Quality Furniture.”
Vintage paper labels were glued onto the undersides of chairs and tables. Usually they featured the company logo and address along with a handwritten ID number.
Metal labels with the Woodard name were eventually welded directly onto the frame. You may need to peek under cushions to find these engraved ID tags.
And for their most discerning clients, Woodard added a personal touch by embossing family names right into the furniture’s castings. Finding one of these custom orders is like discovering buried treasure!
Genuine vintage Woodard stands out for its intricate scrolling, woven textures, and almost whimsical flourishes that echo the atomic era’s space-age optimism.
Graceful metalwork that looks like the wings of birds in flight is a signature Woodard touch. Exacting joinery and smooth, rounded edges reflect expert metal shaping skills that are rare today.
Hidden comfort features like flexing springs and swivel rockers reveal how Woodard perfected ergonomics decades ahead of their time.
And assembled with meticulous precision, their chairs and tables feel sturdy and substantial in a way that knock-offs never match.
The Mid-century Look
Woodard’s vintage patio designs embody mid-century style with their breezy, open silhouettes and eye-catching combinations of materials and colors.
Look for playful starburst motifs, three-legged tables, bold contrasting hues on chair cushions, and slim, almost spindly proportions that give a lighthearted, space-age vibe.
Some collections mimic natural forms like butterflies or daisies. While others display a futuristic kitschiness with atomic starbursts and Sputnik curves.
When you spot these hallmarks of the iconic “Woodard look,” you can be sure it’s the real deal.
Signs of Age
Part of the appeal of vintage Woodard patio furniture is its charming patina and well-worn warmth that comes from decades of summers spent poolside.
Subtle rust speckling on chair and table legs adds character. Faded, cracking powdercoat paint is another indicator of vintage age, versus a newer glossy finish.
Replacement cushions in fresh sunny colors may have been added over the years. But look underneath – original vinyl or mesh strapping means your set has vintage bones.
Like a favorite pair of faded jeans, these gently aged touches add nostalgia and approachability that new furniture lacks. Celebrate them as proof your Woodard set has been lovingly lived-in.
Tips for Verifying Authenticity
Once you spot patio furniture with that unmistakable Woodard style, use these pro tips to confirm it’s the genuine article before bringing it home:
Inspect All Markings
Turn chairs upside down and peek under cushions in search of any engraved, stamped or glued manufacturer labels. Capture any numbers or logos you find for cross-checking later.
Use a flashlight to illuminate dark metal crevices – decades of re-painting can disguise identifying marks. Look closely for even subtle embossing in the metalwork.
With an authentic vintage Woodard tag, you’ve hit gold. But don’t rule it out if markings aren’t visible – they may have worn off after years of outdoor use.
Assess Construction Quality
Heft chairs upside down and examine their undersides. High quality wrought iron or aluminum with full-circumference welds at every joint indicates sturdy vintage construction.
Examine table legs and bases for the same seamless welding and overlapping metal joints that avoid weak points.
Locate swivel and rocking mechanisms. Buttery smooth motion that still works flawlessly after 60+ years proves superb original engineering.
Give it a shake – vintage Woodard’s hefty, balanced construction should make the entire set feel solid and stable. Flimsy sets with plastic parts are definitely imitators.
Compare Design Details
Pull up Google images of iconic Woodard collections like the Butterfly, Vineyard, Strap, and La Cresta designs. Study their signature shapes and decorative motifs.
Does that shell-backed chair or spiral-curlicue table match photos of authentic sets? Use design similarities to bolster conclusions about vintage origins.
Key details like swooping aluminum tubing on chair backs, five-legged spider tables, and retractable umbrella holes are vintage Woodard calling cards.
Woodard keeps detailed records at their Owosso, MI headquarters with specifications for every patio set ever produced.
Reach out to their customer service team with any markings, tags or identifying numbers from a set you’re evaluating. They can often provide the exact production year and model to conclusively identify vintage Woodard furniture.
Combine their confirmation with your own inspection findings for air-tight authentication.
Where to Find Authentic Vintage Woodard Sets
Once you know what real vintage Woodard looks like, where do you track it down? Here are some top sourcing tips:
Independent vintage stores and mid-century modern specialists are your best bet for curated selections of authentic Woodard patio antiques.
Though pricier than other sources, you can trust their keen-eyed buyers to weed out fakes. The premium ensures you’re getting “the good stuff.”
When the parents of baby boomers downsize or leave their heirs gorgeous vintage Woodard sets, you can scoop them up at estate sales for a song.
These treasures have often been cherished by a single family for decades. Estate pieces may need some TLC, but bargain prices offset restoration costs.
Classifieds and Facebook Marketplace
Regular folks who don’t know what their old patio sets are worth sometimes offer vintage Woodard in online classifieds for super cheap.
Nose around local online listings for people selling hand-me-down “old metal patio furniture” at giveaway prices. With some cleaning and repairs, you can transform neglected gems.
Though known for finer antique furniture, some old-school antique shops and malls also offer weathered Woodard patio collections priced to move.
These small business owners appreciate true vintage construction but may undervalue these pieces compared to hyped mid-century collectibles. Know what to look for and make an offer!
Garage and Yard Sales
Keep your eyes peeled at neighborhood yard sales – you never know when that holy grail vintage Woodard set will turn up half-forgotten in someone’s carport.
Check listing photos or visit pre-sale to confirm if any metal patio furniture looks worth investigating further. BYOF (bring your own flashlight) and magnifying glass!
Buyer Beware – Spotting Fakes
The popularity of Mid-century modern style has spawned some very convincing knock-offs of iconic Woodard designs. Here are some dead giveaways you’re dealing with a fake:
- Made from thin tubular metal, not solid steel or cast aluminum
- Lightweight in the hand with hollow, tin-can feel
- Plastic or nylon glides instead of metal feet
- Visible adhesive or epoxy instead of welded joints
- Rounded edges on metal parts instead of smooth integrated bends
- Poor quality imitation wicker that’s rigid and crunchy
- Missing tags, markings or any verifiable ID
- Branding embossing that looks irregular or sloppy
While these modern reproductions lack vintage Woodard’s tank-like build quality and charming signs of age, they can still be great lightweight and affordable patio options. Just know what you’re getting before you buy.
The vintage Woodard hunting is all about informed discernment. Once you know what to look for, you can score amazing deals on these Mid-century icons built to give joy for generations.
I hope these insider tips turn you into a bonafide Woodard patio pro. Now get out there and start your hunt for the perfect vintage set to make your outdoor oasis complete! Let me know if you spot any gems!