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Beginnings: The South Beach Furniture Company

In 1992 a Miami Beach, Florida company named South Beach Furniture became the owner of Heywood-Wakefield. Here’s how it happened. As far back as the mid-seventies, the southern tip of Miami Beach, Florida, was attracting attention because of its wealth of architecturally significant hotels, apartment buildings and stores, a large number of which were built in the years immediately following a disastrous 1926 hurricane, which nearly leveled the young city. Many of these structures were erected in a style which came to be known as “Tropical Deco”, and in fact, this area today is the fabulous play-land now called “South Beach”.

In the early eighties, entrepreneurs began locating new businesses in the so-called “Art Deco District” of South Beach, and it was during this period that The South Beach Furniture Company was founded. Originally specializing in finding and restoring unusual or interesting furniture and decorative items from the Art Deco, ’40s and ’50s periods, Leonard Riforgiato, South Beach Furniture’s owner, soon noticed that a particular type of light-colored, solid-wood furniture would immediately find a buyer any time he was able to locate a piece for the store. This furniture was Heywood-Wakefield Modern, and South Beach Furniture quickly became the source for it in South Florida.

But as the word spread and vintage pieces became harder to find and increasingly expensive, Riforgiato realized it was time to find a way to manufacture the furniture again. Teaming up with partner Andrew Capitman, an investment banker, the company bought the remants of Heywood-Wakefield from bankruptcy court, re-registered the name and famous American Eagle logo, and set about looking for ways to bring back Modern.

(An interesting side-bar to the story of the partnership between Riforgiato and Capitman is that is was Andrew’s mother, the late Barbara Capitman, who was the driving force behind the creation of the Art Deco District, and in fact it was she who almost single-handedly bullied and cajoled the U.S. government into recognizing and protecting the Art Deco District, giving rise to what is today one of the most successful redevelopment efforts in the United States, and the only one entirely made up of Twentieth Century buildings).

In 1992, the new Heywood-Wakefield Company began research into available sources for the manufacture of solid wood furniture, and by 1993 the first pieces of newly-made Heywood-Wakefield Modern furntiure – now called Streamline – were produced. Since that time the line has grown to more than 35 items, with new pieces added about four times a year.