plonkee money an english-er's thoughts on personal finance

February 26, 2008

designer furniture: knock offs vs. the real thing

Filed under: shopping — Tags: , — plonkee @ 12:00 pm

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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