Treasure: Michigan architect’s items for sale online

Khristi Zimmeth

Michigan-based modern architect Robert Metcalf produced more than 150 building projects in the Great Lakes State and Ohio, and enjoyed a 41-year-career as a professor and dean in architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan. He died in January at the age of 93.

Metcalf’s 1950s-era home in Ann Arbor, where he lived with his wife for more than 60 years, was filled with mid-century treasures, some of which are currently being auctioned by the online estate sale firm, EBTH (Everything but the House). The 299-item sale, which closes at 8 p.m. Saturday, includes some of the home’s original furnishings, including a round side table by George Nakashima, artwork and more.

EBTH (ebth.com) has been in the Detroit-area market since September 2016 and recently drew attention in the collecting world when it sold a number of early Barbies for a Belleville-based family. The site, which was founded by two estate-sale enthusiasts in 2007 after “a less than satisfying experience my family and I had with a local auction company,” according to co-founder Jacquie Denny, serves 27 markets across the country. It provides the same services as traditional estate sale companies, from sorting, photographing and cataloging to selling, packing, delivery and payment with one important difference, Denny says — they “reach a worldwide audience rather than a family’s local neighborhood,” and produce profits that she says are typically three to five times larger than conventional estate sale models.

Buyers benefit too, they say: everything starts at $1 regardless of value; there are no reserves or premiums, and you can bid — and more importantly, win — from anywhere in the world. Ann Arbor designer Maureen Hawley bought “art, some fabric and some small goods,” from the site for a rental she owns, and was won over. “Some of the items were so cool that I used them in my own house,” she says.

What sets EBTH apart? “We have a very broad, diversified bidder group to maximize revenue for a family — whether bidders collect rare sports memorabilia or simply love decorating their home with antique accent pieces,” Denny claims. Among the final prices for the Detroit-based Barbies, were $600 for a trio of original swimsuit Barbies and $1,200 for three hard-to-find 1960s editions.

On the day I visited the site (you must join the group to bid), there were four sales listed with a Detroit connection, including the Metcalf sale. I ogled some colorful antique rugs in Bloomfield Hills, and checked out some almost-too-good-to-be-true deals that included a Lladro with a high bid of $2 and a Coach bag for $1, with four remaining sale days.

As with eBay, you can narrow the search, which helps cut down the seemingly overwhelming number of items to scroll through. And while I’m not sure online estate sales and auctions will ever completely replace regular in-person sales for me — I like the ability to examine items completely before buying and love the thrill of an unexpected, serendipitous find — I have to admit I appreciate yet another option in my ongoing quest for affordable, quality antiques. You may, too.

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