Red Rider

Reproduction (copy) 20th century furniture


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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.


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Buying 20th century furniture on Ebay


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As a retailer and restorer I have a love hate relationship with ebay. Finding an item that has been listed in a less than obvious way or poorly identified can get you excited only to find everyone else had the same luck stumbling across it.

The other issue is condition, one persons good condition can be another’s disaster -I purchased a teak bureau once that was supposedly in good condition only to pick it up and have it falling to pieces carrying it back to the car. Overall it’s probably about half the furniture you buy turns out to have some fault that you were not expecting most often through naivety rather than dishonesty.

Ask the seller to check things like dining chairs for loose joints, cracks, finish faults, tears, seating straps etc. otherwise factor the cost of these repairs into what you are prepared to pay.

My advise would be to check the photos really well and look at all items with a sceptical eye. Obviously if you are selling the way to go is research what you have and post masses of really clear photos. Honest descriptions help the buyer and seller as no one likes  confrontation after a sale. Over all Ebay is a great way to find a true immediate value of an item. I also find you can have items sell for really bizarrely low prices and then get incredible prices for similar items at other times.

In my experience sunday night can be a great time to end as people are home but also if you have an ordinary item it can get lost in a crowd. Great items obviously always get a better response from punters but my tips to grab attention are

Great first picture- if the item is dark or non descript get something in the picture that is bright but in the same style. A red retro lamp on a sideboard for instance or bright cushions on a dark couch.

Set up a scene -with background dressing and pics from all angles and from differing distances. Put in an effort it all helps and shows you value the item.

List at a cheap start price- this method has backfired for me but has also worked really well. You get people emotionally attached to an item and they are less likely to want to miss out.

Add similar item titles like Parker or Fler in the title so you reach people that might be tempted by your item -not just people looking for your specific item, just make sure you say style or era so as not to misrepresent what you have. For example a person who loves Featherston may like Meadmore and Snelling so you would list as “Featherston chair- Meadmore, Snelling, Eames era” Make sure you use all your characters to get the maximum exposure to different searches.

Overall ebay has educated people on 20th century but has seen different pieces boom and others fall away. Some hot items go better than retail at times but can’t always be a reliable outcome. Otherwise we dealers would close our shops and just sell online. Ebay keeps us working harder to uncover our treasures but also saves some great items ending up as landfill. So many people say I was cleaning out the garage and I was about to throw it out but jumped on ebay and found it’s value. It means there is less cheap stock out there and more of it needs work if it is cheap but it is a great tool too. Less dealers sell stuff below what they are worth now too because they have access to the same tool.


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MONA and Hobart


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I recently came back from a short stay in Tasmania where we rented a house in Hobart for a few nights. I have felt a magnetic pull to MONA since listening to the hype that surrounded it from it’s inception so it was obviously a huge draw card for me. For those that haven’t been or caught any of the media it has attracted it goes something like a gambling genius built his own art museum in the shell of a Roy Grounds mid century building and filled it with the most controversial art works he could find.

While it has juxtaposed ancient relics from previous cultures with casts of female genitalia and a collection of cloaca machines with Wim Delvoye works including his anti consumer tattooed pig skins, it’s the architecture that is the most impressive art work. It has a Bond villains lair feel due to it’s subterranean gallery spaces while retaining the Roy Grounds building as a shop, cafe and foyer.

While it has a little bit of kistchness in the deliberately shocking art, self conscious playfulness and novelty technology use it is nonetheless an impressive achievement for Australia let alone Tasmania. And with it’s intense spaces adding an air of enveloping intensity to the works overall it adds up to an amazing experience.

Hobart itself was always a city of quaint Georgian stone buildings and pretty landscapes in my mind so I was impressed to find so many really good mid century buildings as well. The city itself is laid out on the hills overlooking the water so has the perfect aspect for glass walled fronts and protruding box shapes set subtly into the environment.

We found a great appartment  for sale in Battery Point with a fantastic curving front and Ernest Fooks style iron work. I was checking it out and came across an old guy with an immaculate  fluro lime Valiant, red and white tartan suit, fedora, aviators and a dandy cane. He was quite possibly the suavest man in the country and a very friendly guy.





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Recovering and reupholstery of 20th century furniture

General, Restoration

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A lot of people find selecting fabric for vintage pieces a source of anxiety but it should be made a little less stressful after reading this. The first thing you should do is work out what you are going to use the piece for. If it is just a feature chair in a bedroom it doesn’t need to be a commercial grade upholstery if it’s going to be a family couch it needs to be resilient.

Next you need to look at your  room and decide what other pieces you have and wether there are dominant colours or other pieces that may clash with any other upholstered objects. If you do have other colours in the room using a colour wheel to find a  complimentary colour is a good idea.

Next decide on a texture, for many 1960s pieces a chunky wool in bright solid colours was a nice contrast to the organic shapes or natural timber framework. For 1950s pieces a finer textured fabric and possibly even flecks or scribbly linear weaves look great. By the 1970s the smooth solid brights were popular.

Eames and Danish modern furniture often used hopsack weaves in bright primary colours, some of these are available still from Maharam Kvadrat in Australia.

Cutting out pictures of pieces you love from magazines is a great way to work out what looks good, you can cut out textures and colours and even just colour combos that are similar to your own pieces.

When you have narrowed down to the way it will be used, colour range and texture you need to go to a supplier for fabric (it’s worth having the piece quoted by an upholsterer and go with a measurement for how much fabric is required). Warrick in Melbourne have an outlet in Collingwood that is open to the public.

Going in with these ideas already clear will save you from a bombardment of ideas that will hit when you go to a showroom. There are so many great fabrics in every colour and pattern so often people are overwhelmed by the thousands of other choices around them. Having a clear idea from the start helps get the desired effect.

Don’t get excited by something that is fashionable that doesn’t suit the furniture or your house. So many good pieces have been nannafied by Chintz, victoriana tapestry or 90s Aztec weaves. Don’t buy the cheap stuff in the sale racks unless it’s great. If you are going to the effort of recovering do it right the first time.

Next stop is the upholsterer -make sure you have the foam replaced if it needs it and straps and springs often need doing at the same time. be clear on what you are getting for the price and any detailing like double stitching, piping etc. is included.

I guess the number one tip is to have a clear idea in mind before you start the selection process, you always get a better result if you put time into research and clarifying your ideas.

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Restoring Fler and Parker furniture

General, Restoration

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I’m posting this topic in response to the one thing I get asked most about, How to restore these increasingly valuable pieces. Having been a restorer of furniture for a long time I have learnt some great techniques to help preserve these pieces. It could easily be used for any Danish or Danish modern, 20th century, or similar furniture.


There are some basic things to check before purchasing teak tables and cabinets:

-Are the large panel areas free from large or multiple chips and deep scratches

-Is the substrate (usually chip board / particle board) free from water damage- this shows up as expanded area

-Has someone before you sanded deeply showing signs that the veneer has been sanded through

-Is the finish original- sometimes dark stain is put over the original to hide damage or stains

-Are the trims still all attached.



– Metholated spirit

-Rags (cotton)

-Steel wool  grade 2 and 00

-Sandpaper  180, 240 and 320 grit

-Sanding block

-Shellac, Danish oil, teak oil etc.depending on desired product

-Brush (optional)

-coloured furniture wax crayons (optional)

If any of these things are present it will be difficult to achieve a perfect result. If you are thinking of purchasing furniture with any of these faults be careful as you probably won’t get your desired result. If you are happy to have a few faults and don’t pay too much they can still be good furniture.

The way I would start any piece of 20th century teak furniture would be to wash the piece down with mentholated spirits with a grade 2 steel wool, this dislodges the grime and original shellac or cellulose lacquer. The liquid needs to be wiped up with cotton rag before it resets.

Leave the piece to dry and then lightly  hand sand the surface with the grain using a 180 grit sand paper. Repeat the process using 240 the 320 grit paper on a hard sanding block. Never use an electric sander if you are not a pro- it is too easy to sand through the thin veneer (sometimes not even 1 mm thick).

When you have got to this point it is worth washing the surface down with Metho again and you should see something similar to your final colour, but any remaining finish should show up as a different colour. Be careful that lighter colour isn’t over sanding through the veneer and never heavily sand a dent or scratch. Small scratches can be raised by wiping a wet cloth over the area for very short periods – never leave them wet as it will ruin the veneer.

Once you have your surface ready you need to choose a finish, Shellac is the traditional finish but is not as resilient as modern urethanes but is easier to repair if it goes wrong. A “hard” shellac is available and is a good option as are some Danish oils which are a urethane based product. The best way to apply the new finish is with a folded rag soaked and rung out then applied with the grain evenly. If your brave and steady use a brush -sash cutters are good.

At this point you should be able to see any chips etc. these can be filled with a wax crayon melted into the small hole etc. This should be done between the coats of finish to seal the wax in. If you do the wax on raw wood it can soak in and stain the area.

It should only need a couple of coats to achieve a nice satin effect. If using shellac it is worth cutting back the surface with a grade 00 steel wool between coats. A good way to protect the surface is to then wipe over with Natural teak oil, a thin oil that builds up slowly but is a good protective coat and dusts off the cutting back dust.

Please use this as a guide and is only intended to show how we do it -any one attempting their own restoration should follow the manufacturers instructions on the cans. Always wear protection when doing any restoration work and do so at your own risk, we take no responsibility for damage or injury caused.

Good luck and I will post more on repairing these pieces in the near future.

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Hello world!


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Welcome to my first post. I hope you keep an eye out for my infrequent posts and that  I can add some insight into the world of vintage design and decorative arts. I have been an avid collector and dealer since I was at high school and was selling my opp shop and Camberwell market finds to the Chapel Street dealers so that I could head to Greville street and buy clothes at Route 66. While the term “vintage style” covers a huge range of styles and eras, my personal preference is for mid-century modern design and vintage industrial pieces reappropriated for modern living. I have a great love for pop and trash culture also so I’m always on the look out for the ironic as well as the iconic. Kitsch and retro touches can add a great sense of warmth and humour when used sparingly. One of the best things about vintage furniture and home wares is the evocative colours, fabrics and textures. I am always on the look out for interesting ways to use vintage pieces so contact me if you have any ideas or links.

Josh Freeman

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