Canadian Cool: Russell Spanner

Because we do so much DIY here on styleNorth I get a fair amount of mail from people like Iris who was looking for advice on how to spruce up a Russell Spanner table she was lucky enough to find. Iris was hoping to locate Howard’s Restore-A-Finish (now available at Home Depot) but some investigation revealed that the product gets underneath existing finishes which may or may not have been a problem.

In the end, Iris elected to renew the set with some Scott’s Liquid Gold. “It worked out great except for a few spots that were a tad stained to begin with. I suppose I can get a professional to sand it down and re-stain it but right now, I’m digging the little imperfections.”

What really interested me about our correspondence was Iris’s reluctance to reveal how much she paid for the set at Toronto’s The Painted Table (1716 Queen Street West), a reputable, and in my opinion, fairly priced vintage shop. “I’ve been hemming and hawing about the price I paid since the set was not in peak condition and the Russell Spanner set at GUFF (after the jump) was half the price. But I figure, I can’t get something like this at The Brick. And, again, I was in LOVE with the shape.” Iris allows that she paid somewhere north of $1,000 for the set.

In my Home Show talk about buying vintage furnishings I noted that the best quality vintage furniture inevitably comes with the highest price tags but is also the most likely to escalate in value. As long as the item’s provenance can be confirmed, a costly purchase is likely to hold and gain value as the years tick along, provided you take good care of it.

In this particular case, Russell Spanner was a Canadian furniture designer who worked in the 1950s. Spanner’s designs caught on and were ultimately sold in Eaton’s and Simpson’s department stores. Because of that general availability you’d think they’d be easier to find today, but they are not. Spanner’s dining sets and lounge chairs are about as close as Canadian vintage furniture comes to iconic status; his pieces are highly collectible and as we Canadians gain confidence in our own domestic design, my guess is that Russell Spanner will be ever more sought after.

So Iris, I think you did well to buy the set, which is a later-era design, more curvy and sophisticated than the hard angles Spanner was known for. I also admire you for putting your taste and passion ahead of your pocketbook; I’m not sure who said it but if you buy the best, you cry only once. Your colour scheme with the soft blue and pops of bright yellow and red is also marvelous! How about a full scale house tour?

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Friday, October 23, 2009 by Chris
This post was written by - who has written 849 posts on styleNorth.

23 Comments For This Post

  1. Lin Says:

    These exquisite Spanner pieces are very hard to find but worth every penny if you stumble across one. In 1990 the Power Plant held an exhibition of Spanner’s furniture from 1950-53, curated by Toronto artist Robert Fones, who also wrote the superb accompanying catalogue that Chris has linked to here (click on the first reference to Spanner’s name).

  2. Karen Says:

    Simple and very sexy.
    Very Cool and happy to know they’re Canadian.

  3. Jenn Says:

    Love the look! My condo is exactly in that configuration and I have been trying to track down the perfect table/ chairs to fit there for months now. I will add this one to my inspiration file.

  4. Jackie Says:

    Beautiful dining set. The profile is exquisite.

    Thank you for the historical background of the pieces. Such talent in Canada, past and present.

  5. Iris Says:

    Thanks Chris! I came across that same link on Russell Spanner earlier, when I just purchased my set, and I’m amused to find out that he had a habit of jumping up and down his furniture to prove how structurally sound they are! I certainly won’t do that with my set. But what a quirky character!

  6. Lin Says:

    The actual catalogue has tons of pictures and shows all the various lines. Well worth perusing if you get a chance.

  7. Matt Says:

    I love the table!!!! A nice side board in a red or white and a funky graphic painting on top of it and youve got a great space to put on HOUSE & Home!!!!

    Its a beauty!!!

  8. Don Spanner Says:

    Iris: What a delight to see the care you’ve taken of this furniture. Russell Spanner was my uncle and I grew up with a lot of his designs in our family home. It’s wonderful to see them resurrected. Btw, the black chair with the white leather seat was known as his “Catalina” series.


  9. Rosanna Says:

    I have the Catalina dining set and was thinking of selling it. Do you know how much I can ask? It’s in excellent condition. The only thing is that the seats don’t have the white leather anymore. They were reupolstered with cream fabric. This set was given to me by a family friend about 9 years ago. I had no idea who designed it and how well known it was until now! I did some research on vintage dining sets and stumbled across this! I need a larger dining set as it only fits 4 so regrettably I have to sell it. Should I approach a vintage shop in downtown TO or just list it on the internet??

  10. Chris Says:

    If you go with a dealer you’ll receive about half of the final selling price. You’re better to sell it at auction (try Waddington’s) or online. Send Waddington’s a few pics with as much info about the set as you’ve got and see what kind of estimate they give you.
    I also recommend If you don’t get a buyer there then try Craigslist but price it realistically, $1,000 – $1,500 depending on vintage and condition. Good luck!

  11. Rosanna Says:

    Thanks for your quick reply Chris. I also have a buffet that is black with the maple sliding doors/drawers. It seems to match the dining set. Do you know if this could be a Spanner design also? It’s hard to find out. I could send you a pic.

  12. Karen Says:

    I have a Catalina dining room set that I inherited from my aunt and uncle. I just love it! At one time, they had the sideboard at one time (the one that Rosanna describes), but got rid of it around thirty years ago (darn it!). The one they had (if memory serves me right) didn’t have maple doors though, I seem to recall that it had white doors with holes drilled in them, like peg-board.

  13. Jay Says:

    I just recently purchased a Catalina Sideboard, Server and Chest of drawers. They have the maple sliding doors and drawer fronts. The cabinets themselves are in a brown finish. I wanted the black versinons but have never come across any to buy, so i just went with the brown with the idea of doing a black finish myself (i know, I know, i can hear the purists screaming “no!” from here).
    I have seen pictures of the black, but never one in person. Is the black (it is called ebony in the Spanner catalogues i have seen), a painted finish that hides the grain or is it more like stain that you can see the wood grain in still? Any advice/info/pictures would be appreciated.

  14. Diane (nee Spanner) Says:

    I would like to get in touch with ‘Don’, who must be my first cousin. I am the first daughter of Russell, but my parents were divorced in the late ’40s. Was your Dad Herb or Doug? I have the desk mentioned in the book Spanner in the Works…..originally black with bird’s eye maple handles.

  15. Mary Says:

    I have the black pasedena table, 4 black catalina side chairs with the original white leatherette seat covers and the black maple buffet with sliding doors and drawers. All are paint finished so no grain shows through. My set needs some work and I was wondering whether it would be a problem to have them repaired and refinished in black?

    My parents had a set so I grew up with similar furniture. I have always noticed that the finish was a bit sticky – hands especially when holding onto a chair back seem to easily almost melt the top layer of the finish. this is true on my current set and I remember the same experience when growing up. Does anyone know why that is?


  16. John Says:

    Russell Spanner was my uncle. I have a house full of his furniture as do my two sisters. It is really nice to see his life’s work being celebrated. Thanks!

  17. Don Spanner Says:

    Hi Diane. Please do get in touch with me. You are indeed my long lost cousin and I would love to re-connect. You can email me at dspanner (at)

    Looking very forward to hearing from you!!


    p.s. A thank-you to Style North should we re-unite!

  18. Diane (nee Spanner) Says:

    John (Feb.20) I have re-connected with Don, and I guess you are part of this long lost family too. Who were your parents? Herb? Gloria?

  19. Jasmine Artis-Longhurst Says:

    My husband and I bought two of the Spanner chairs at auction recently. One black with white leather seats and one in all white. They are stunning! We have redecorate to accommodate them. So worth it!

  20. Franco Says:

    Hi there,

    Do you have any info about the chairs in the photo? You mentioned that the table is a Russell Spanner but, what about those amazing chairs?? They’re fantastic?

    All the best,

  21. Mark in Toronto Says:

    I have an excellent 4 seat dining set in B & W and I’m looking for a buyer in the Toronto area who will redo as original…condition is pretty good on chairs (usable as is, 2 have issues with white seat covering) but the black and cork finish dining table surface needs redo. The set is listed on Kijiji for $750 but those interested with means to do it over right I will be pleased to sell to for $500. Mark 416 938 2489

  22. Mark in Toronto Says:

    I have an excellent 4 seat dining set in B & W and I’m looking for a buyer in the Toronto area who will redo as original…condition is pretty good on chairs (usable as is, 2 have issues with white seat covering) but the black and cork finish dining table surface needs redo. The set is listed on Kijiji for $750 but those interested with means to do it over right I will be pleased to sell to for $500.

    Mark 416 938 2489

  23. Trixy in SF Says:

    Thank you for the great piece on Spanner! I just bought two chairs attributed to Spanner here in San Francisco. I am not sure they are originals. Do you know if Spanner marked his pieces or is there another way to verify if they are originals? Many thanks in advance!

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