The One That Got Away: The Vintage Buy I Didn’t Make That Still Haunts Me

published Aug 8, 2017
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(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

Most people have a tale of “the one that got away.” For some, it might be a previous relationship that ended abruptly, or maybe a solemn story of unrequited love. But for me, it was a set of vintage chairs; Marcel Breuer Cesca caned dining chairs to be exact.

Reliving the memory of the fateful day where I idiotically let these slip through my grip is painful, but it’s a saga worth telling, if only to help those that come after me never make a similar mistake.

It all started as an innocent text from a friend early on a fall Sunday a few years back (I know it was fall because I can remember mocking another friend I was with at the time for her second pumpkin spice latte of the day). “Look at these chairs! You need these chairs!” said friend A, sharing a link with me to an Instagram post from a local thrift store that was trying to offload a ton of inventory in preparation for a move. In the post was a photo of a set of chairs: tubular, cantilevered beauties I recognized as Knoll’s Cesca side chair. Thinking they were likely fakes, and frankly, not in need of any new dining chairs (I already had a set currently in use, plus another set waiting in the wings for me to refinish and decide to keep or sell), I didn’t give much thought to them.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

But a few hours later, I couldn’t stop thinking about the chairs. Even if they were fakes, I really loved them, and had been itching to bring some caned pieces into my home. The chairs I did have were a more formal Louis XVI-style that I purchased when I was deep into my French phase, but I certainly wouldn’t shed any tears saying goodbye to them in place of something a little sleeker. So I decided to look back at that Instagram post. “How much are they? What condition are they in?” I wrote my friend, as if she knew anything more about these pieces than was dictated by the seller. “I know nothing more than you know…but ask!” she encouraged me.

So, ask I did. I DMed the thrift store in hopes of getting some more information that would turn me off the chairs (again, I really didn’t need any more dining room chairs), but instead I got answers that made my eyes light up. “$60 for a set of six. Caning is intact on all the chairs, just a little wear and tear on the chrome frame.”

SIXTY DOLLARS?!?!? For six chairs? I didn’t care if they were dollhouse furniture at that point, that was a crazy steal and my heart started beating a little faster; the way it does when I turn the corner at a HomeGoods and spot a fabulous upholstered bench, but also spot someone else spotting it and wondering how far I’ll go to make sure they don’t steal it from under my nose.

“Could you tell me anything about the chairs? Do you know the designer? Where they came from?” I asked further, except now in retrospect realizing I should have just shut up and driven as fast as I could to pick them up.

“No, sorry. Do you want the chairs or not?”

“Yes!” I replied, at this point wide-eyed and nearly outside my body, buzzing with the idea of getting six vintage dining chairs for $60. “I could possibly pick them up Monday or Tuesday evening! Where are you located?” I messaged back to the seller eagerly. As I waited for their response, I tried to figure out how I was going to explain bringing a THIRD set of dining chairs into the house to my S.O. He’s pretty supportive of my furniture hoarding tendencies, but everyone has their limit. The wheels started churning in my brain…I could sell the set I had and refinish the other set to sell, plus, this set had two extra chairs that would come in handy should I have a dinner party for six…he’s a practical, logical man, he’ll understand why this is a better solution, surely (and in fact, he did).

It would be another few hours before I heard back from the seller (enough time to look up everything I could on how to spot authentic Cesca chairs…not that it mattered, I was going to buy the set regardless, but these are things I like to know). But finally, the answer came:

“You need to come get them tonight. I cannot hold them any longer and will be giving them to Goodwill if no one buys them by tomorrow.” Upon hearing this, I felt a little disheartened. It was late in the day already, and the warehouse where they were being stored was over an hour away. I also hadn’t even thought through how I’d get six chairs home (figuring I could work it out in the next day or two), and it was definitely too late to rent a van or truck at that point. Plus…were they worth all that effort? The deal I had palpitations over just hours prior suddenly didn’t feel so exciting anymore. The doldrums of Sunday night started to wash over me. “But I need to go to the grocery store/I have work I have to finish/I need to cook dinner/I’m tired and just want to relax…”

I didn’t care if they were dollhouse furniture at that point, that was a crazy steal and my heart started beating a little faster.

“Come on, we’ll take both our SUVs up there and we can get them home that way!” said my super supportive (enabling?) pumpkin spice-latte-sipping friend. Chewing on the idea, I suddenly felt drained. Maybe it was me coming down from the high of a bargain, but I decided at that moment that if the seller wasn’t willing to hold the chairs for even just one more day, they just weren’t for me.

“Sorry, I’m going to have to pass” I wrote them, not hearing anything more from that point on.

I carried on with my Sunday, trying to forget the chairs that never were. The following day, I woke up in a panic, realizing I had made a grave mistake; wondering if I should call into work to go on a chair-saving pilgrimage to the Goodwill an hour north of me…in search of those Cescas (or “Cescas” because I will never know if they were authentic or not). But alas, I never did that.

Three years later, and I’ve never forgiven myself for not figuring out a way to get those chairs that fated Sunday night. I certainly do not remember what I made for dinner that evening, and likely, I didn’t even finish the work I intended to…but what I can’t forget is the constant sting of remembering the ones that got away.