From Mid-century to Modern
Celebrating 70 Years in 2018
Midcentury to Modern: Our History from 1948 to 2018
Priscilla Jane Scalbom, a single woman and recent college graduate with an Art Education degree, purchased this old stone building for $15,000 in 1948. The building, located on University Avenue, was on the outskirts of Madison at the time. She started a ceramic studio and gift shop on the main floor and lived upstairs.
She named her business Century House Pottery after the tavern that previously occupied the building.
Ms. Scalbom (who went by Jane) recruited an old classmate from Chicago Art Institute to join her ceramic studio. Her friend, Jane Gilbert, worked alongside her for about two years.
Soon after opening the studio, Jane Scalbom met Max Howell when he stopped by to see the studio. Max was also a ceramicist with goals of opening a studio in Madison. However, his plans were changed when he fell in love with Jane. The two were married on June 30, 1949 and Max joined the business.
These pictures were taken in 1950 and show Max and Jane sitting outside of The Century House.
Original Century House Pottery
Jane and Max ran the Century House Pottery studio and gift shop together. They lived on the top floor of the old stone house. They frequently made customized pieces for their loyal customers to celebrate special occasions such as new babies, anniversaries and weddings.
Over the years, we have recovered a number of original Century House Pottery pieces. This is a customized plate with rosemaling personalized for a couple’s anniversary or wedding.
Today, the old stone building remains at the heart of our business. It houses our Gift Shop and much of the interior remains intact.
In 1952, Max built an addition onto the house. Frank Nabbett designed this addition and others in the future. Here, Frank is shown with Max during the construction process.
This addition now serves as the front entrance of our gift shop.
Late 1950's - 1960's
During the later part of the 1950’s into the 1960’s, four more additions were built onto the old stone house to accommodate a growing family and business. The additions were carefully planned to harmonize with the original building.
In 1961, the Howells decided to build a house in Madison’s Sunset Hills neighborhood and devote the entire stone building to their business.
The top picture shows Max completing the 4th addition (1961). The bottom picture shows the completed 5th addition to the stone building (1967).
Original architectural drawings from Stuart William Gallagher, the architect, show the design of the 5th addition to the stone house.
The 5th addition increased display space in the store and added a storage room. Both spaces remain today and are used for the same purposes!
As the business grew, the Howells began to offer a wider variety of gifts, artwork, and home accessories. Slowly, they began to use imported Scandinavian tables and sideboards to display their products. This furniture found its own market in a customer base that appreciated quality and unique, contemporary design.
These pictures from 1961 are taken in a room that is now part of the second floor of our gift shop.
Summer of 1970
In the summer of 1970, Max and Jane opened the Howell Patio Shop, which sold baskets, hammocks, stoneware pots and more from the backyard of the stone house.
It was open “12 to 5pm Monday through Saturday on Sunny Summer Days”.
This picture shows The Century House before the widening of University Avenue, which happened in 1971 and 1972. 21 feet of frontage was taken to widen the road, which put the sidewalk about 1′ in front of the building.
The city originally wanted to take more frontage, which would have overlapped the front three feet of the building. The city and the Howells came to a compromise in order to save the historic building. The Howells received an Orchid Award from Capital Community Citizens for preserving the building.
A new front patio and entrance was created after the widening of University Avenue. Customers had a lot of difficulty getting into the store, so the original entrance was turned into a window and a new front door was created. The entrance to our gift shop remains very similar today!
In 1973, the Howell’s acquired the gas station next to their home and began remodeling it. They added a large space in the back for a warehouse and created more showroom space for their blooming Scandinavian furniture business. This building became known as “The Annex”. We still refer to it as “The Annex” today.
1970's - 2000's
Over the next 30 years, the annex building was expanded and adjacent properties were acquired to accommodate business growth.
This is a view of the main furniture showroom today after several additions and renovations.
In 2010, we opened a new furniture showroom on the north side of University Avenue. This location is referred to as our Home & Office furniture showroom.
Opening this new location allowed us to expand our offerings and feature some of our favorite modern and Scandinavian recliners, sleeper sofas, living room furniture and office furniture.
In our 70th year, we are excited to open an addition to our existing Home & Office showroom. The new space will feature office products for both residential and commercial environments.
With this new venture, we will bring The Century House aesthetic and quality to local commercial environments, such as offices, restaurants, bars and more.
We continue to import classic and modern Scandinavian products from several European countries, while we also continually add new and exciting furniture and accessory lines to our offerings.
New products, whether they’re from the United States, Canada or Denmark, must meet our high standards for exceptional design, smart functionality and quality materials.
Stop by our stores to experience the unique blend of the new with the old.