I read an article recently in the Age newspaper on copy furniture. I often get asked if I hate the glut of copy furniture that has saturated the Australian market in recent years, with a kind of expectation that I should be a purist. I can honestly say there is a market for everything and you can even put forward a case to say that it actually promotes the visual language of design. Antiques always lived side by side with repro furniture and now a new generation see 20th century furniture the same way -some want real some want new. That said real vintage is often cheaper than copies still unlike antiques.
The copies can swamp the market and make the real items less valuable like in the case of Grant Featherston pieces and some of the Hans Wegner designs but purists can usually tell the difference and living with real iconic pieces just has a feel that copies can’t give. Nothing beats telling your friends the piece they admire is genuine.
Not everyone can buy a Fritz Hansen officially licensed series 7 chair but there are a variety of look a likes of varying quality for cheap prices. The only issues I have is with poor quality, we repair lots of these Chinese made copies and are starting to get a handle on which ones seem to be the good and the bad. The worst were a chair that had the seat pad base made out of chipboard off cuts stapled together and was only held together with the reconstituted leather upholstery and lots of Hans Wegner chairs with tenons so short they are unrepairable. Hopefully this will give you some information on what to look for. Some signs of poor build quality we have found that should be avoided are-
Laminated pieces making up legs and larger sections of wood. This shows that they are economising and can be a sign that short tenons and other cheats are likely.
Chairs like series 7 Jacobsens need to be sat in as the cheap ones don’t have enough curve in the backs and plastic Eames chairs can have funny rakes to the seating position.
Look out for leather that is too glossy- this is usually reconstituted leather or vinyl coating over a mash of leather scraps- we sell this as “real leather” in Australia top hide is the real term for proper leather.
Poorly finished timber work that has a thick sprayed finish is usually hiding something.
Cheap upholstery fabrics that are very synthetic looking will pill very quickly so look out for wool ones if possible.
Poor lines, overly thick legs, over stuffed upholstery aren’t quality issues but make a copy harder to enjoy.
Plastic chairs often crack or separate from their metal bases- buy fibreglass copies if possible.
Copied furniture probably is truer to the ideals of 20th century modernists than having their products licensed and priced to remain exclusive to a few wealthier people. The idea was to get good design to the masses through mass production, unfortunately the copy industry is more than likely exploiting third world labour to meet these ideals.