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designer furniture: knock offs vs. the real thing

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What do you think of knock off modern classic furniture?

Happy ChairsI’m in love with modern design, especially modern furniture. My current most coveted purchase is a Louis Ghost Chair by Phillippe Starck for Kartell, which will go in my living room. Fortunately, the real thing costs about £135 ($270) which, for a modern design classic that I love, is pretty reasonable.

Some of my other furniture wants are a little less affordable in the official version. Take, for example, the Jacobsen Swan Chair designed for the SAS Radisson Copenhagen Hotel in the 1958. The licensed version is made by Fritz Hansen and costs about £1300 ($2600). However, in the UK you can get a knock off for about £300 to £400 ($600 to $800) from various online retailers.

There are quite a few people who get quite passionate about the undesirability of knock offs. Check out this post on Apartment Therapy, for example, where various people chime in about the (reasonably assumed) lack of quality on the knock off and that you should support the designer.

Part of me thinks that that I should think that buying a reproduction is a bit like condoning copyright theft. But I don’t. It’s not like people don’t buy reproduction Chippendale, and no one thinks that’s a problem. And, I’m never going to spend £1300 on an armchair, no matter how nice it is, even £350 is quite a lot of money, really.

Is it worse to market it blatantly as a knock off, or to make something very similar without acknowledging it’s origins?

Ikea make a stool. It’s called the Frosta stool, it retails for £8 in the UK. It bears a remarkable similarity to a birch stool by the Finnish designer Alvar Aalto, Stool 60. The designer version is better. It looks nicer, it’s made from solid wood, rather than veneer and particleboard.

But is the Aalto stool 15 times nicer? The genuine article sells for around £120 in the UK, a price point that could be affordable for me. But could you ever really justify it when the Ikea version is so much cheaper? And for those that say that Ikea furniture doesn’t last, if it only lasted 3-4 years, it would take between 45 and 60 years for the Aalto stool to work out more cost-effective. I know that the Aalto stool can last that long, but I’m not sure that I will, besides which I’ve had excellent Ikea furniture before now.

At the end of the day, I would like the satisfaction of knowing that I own the real thing, but I want reasonably priced beautiful furniture more. Paying more than a few hundred pounds for a single item (inflation adjusted in the future) is probably never going to feel like a good use of my money. What do you think?

Image by Larsz

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19 comments for “designer furniture: knock offs vs. the real thing”

  1. I not that really worried about furniture design. I’m more interested in basic functionality, which is probably why I bought most of our furniture off of a family member for pretty cheap.

    Posted by Fiscal Musings | February 26, 2008, 2:17 pm
  2. I think all furniture is a waste of money - the idea that “better quality” furniture will last longer and therefors is worth paying four times as much is ridiculous.

    There’s nothing wrong with buying furniture you like but there is no value in it.


    Posted by FourPillars | February 26, 2008, 5:56 pm
  3. I have problems with this too, while I would like to support the designer it is hard when they don’t market goods that the average person can afford. I think if it is a piece that you truly love and admire and you can afford the original then purchase it if it will make you happy (ie ghost chair- which I love, by the way, you have great taste) but if you only kind of like it, or you think the price is too high then I don’t really have an issue with getting a similar item at a lower price. I wonder if designers truly have a problem with knockoffs if they did surely they would work to produce items at a price that more people can afford, I imagine they get a fair bit of press and attention from the knockoffs.

    Posted by Looby | February 26, 2008, 6:15 pm
  4. I think buying “knock off” furniture is generally fine, as long as its not labeled as being the real thing, and as long as you can be sure that it wasn’t produced by the little tiny fingers of children in a third-world country.

    On the design side, if you want the real engineering that it takes to create a piece of minimalist furniture that is designed to last for a century, buy it from the designer at top dollar.

    The part that I don’t buy into is that good design should only be something that can be had in the homes of the wealthy elite. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you want that Mies van Der Rohe day bed but don’t have the $10,000 for it, I think its perfectly reasonable to buy a close approximation for a tenth of the cost.

    In the end, if the quality is less and the piece falls apart, you will eventually want the real thing anyway. Example: I have some knock-off furniture that works just fine, but my dining room table is the real thing - because I wanted a well-engineered table for something so central to our home life, and something that will last for the duration of our kids being at home, if not longer.

    Posted by metroknow | February 26, 2008, 6:28 pm
  5. Knockoffs do not have the same quality or resell value of an original. If you can live with those things, buy them!

    Posted by RacerX | February 26, 2008, 6:48 pm
  6. I’m a bit off a furniture nut, and I’m also torn between having the real thing and buying a knock off. That said, I adore Ikea, they have a lot of designers working on their things too I figure.

    I have been dreaming of Eames dining chairs with the eiffel bases (with carvers at the ends of course) for some time now…

    Posted by debtdieter | February 26, 2008, 8:18 pm
  7. @Looby:
    It sounds a bit odd, but one of the things that I like is that a lot of the designers of the mid-century and earlier stuff that I like are dead, so it’s not like they’ll benefit if I purchase it anyway. And I bet designers get a lot of attention from the knock offs.

    Quite a lot of the knock off furniture in the UK is marketed as “from the original design”, whereas the real stuff is always licensed - if you know, you can tell from the description, not just the price.
    Absolutely if you want to be sure that it’ll last a century, you need to get the stuff that was well designed (not merely beautiful) and also well made - I’m honestly not so bothered, and I completely agree that good design belongs outside the elite.

    I’ve honestly never thought of buying furniture for the resale value - if I really love something, I can’t imagine wanting to resell it :)

    They would look awesome. I don’t know about Australia, but over here those chairs aren’t so expensive that they need be totally out of reach - a bit too expensive for me, I’m also picturing them with a long table, something I don’t have room for.

    Posted by plonkee | February 26, 2008, 8:33 pm
  8. Whoa! You got a ghost chair for $270? Great galloping ZOT! That’s an awesome price–couldn’t touch one for twice that around here.

    But for a while you could get a cool knock-off at Target for about $25. :-)

    The markup on furniture is such a rip. But I don’t enjoy living with junk. So, I own fewer pieces, but of the highest quality I can afford.

    There IS a difference. When we came back to the States after 10 years in the Middle East, my mother bought a whole houseful of solid birch furniture. It’s still attractive and in excellent condition almost 50 years later — and I couldn’t touch anything comparable today. In those days, wood was cheaper and quality case goods were always made of solid wood. To see what a similar product would cost, in cherry, check out the Thomas Moser website, where you can see stuff with similar design and construction.

    Posted by Funny about Money | February 27, 2008, 1:42 pm
  9. What furniture you get sort of depends on whether you have a cat or not and whether they express themselves with your furniture.

    Posted by Llama for brains | February 27, 2008, 2:25 pm
  10. Well I haven’t got the Ghost chair yet, but they are about $270 over here. I hope they are the real thing, I haven’t seen them for more than the equivalent of $300 anywhere.

    At the moment I’m remarkably hardy with furniture, I like it to look beautiful, be comfortable, and fit for purpose. It doesn’t need to last forever necessarily - but then none of my furniture is old enough to have started to wear out.

    @Llama for brains:
    I don’t have any cats, but I can see how they affect your furniture choices.

    Posted by plonkee | February 27, 2008, 4:36 pm
  11. Ikea makes lots of wonderful modern design but I don’t think they copied them, Mostly designer furnitures are costly even with the great design many people cant afford them so I think thats why they result on buying knock off.

    Posted by Modern Chairs Designer | December 17, 2008, 3:53 am
  12. I don’t know. I’ve bought modern classic reproductions from http://www.ModLinesByDesign.com and really liked the quality. I think just like anything, the decision to purchase reproduction vs the real thing is an intensely personal decision. Many people would like to own the originals, but simply cannot afford to. What I think is blatantly wrong is when companies try to disguise someone else’s design as their own by changing the name completely and not crediting the original designer. I think it’s fine otherwise as long as the company states that their product is a reproduction. Just my 2 cents.

    Posted by Delana | March 12, 2009, 2:05 am
  13. I love replica furniture and just visited a cool website with replica furniture http://www.sokol.com.au

    Posted by Simon Jacobs | October 25, 2009, 11:52 am
  14. We are the professioanl modern classic furniture manufactory ,and we have nice disign and good quality and good price for all client .if you interest in it please check my company website .www.haudea.com.which you can fine more products information .
    So if you you have ay question please feel free to contact me .

    Best regards

    Posted by Jacky | May 19, 2010, 11:59 am
  15. The info provided on these modern-looking chairs and the color schemes that they come in are interesting. The tips provided about the differences between the original pieces and knock-offs were helpful. Thanks.

    Posted by La Z Boy Furniture | July 29, 2010, 3:33 pm
  16. A modern look seems to becoming more and more popular. The simple and clean appearance of furniture makes it easy to put into almost any room. Thanks for the post.

    Posted by One Second Needles | November 22, 2010, 3:13 pm

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