Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Trendspotting: Inspiration or Imitation?

The arrival the other day of the latest CB2 catalog, coupled with my recent post about West Elm's new offerings, got me thinking: At what point does furniture "inspired" by midcentury design classics cross the line to outright mimicry?

Consider these examples:

Top left: CB2's Odyssey Table ($149); top right: IKEA's Docksta Table ($149); bottom: Eero Saarinen's iconic 1956 Tulip Table ($3,150 at Design Within Reach).

Left: CB2's Tornado Table ($119); right: Warren Platner's 1966 Side Table ($662 at Highbrow Furniture).

Left: West Elm's Patterned Veneer Coffee Table ($349); right: Milo Baughman's Burl and Chrome Coffee Table ($3,400 at 1stdibs).

Top left: CB2's Hippie Arm Chair ($229); top right: West Elm's Round Back Chair ($199); bottom: Hans Wegner's 1949 Wishbone Chair ($499 at House of Copenhagen).

Left: CB2's Double Dip Lamp ($199); right: Achille Castiglioni's circa-1962 Arco Lamp ($2,448 at DWR).

Left: West Elm's Sphere Pendant ($99); right: George Nelson's 1947 Ball Lamp ($299 at Velocity Art and Design).

Left: West Elm's Molded Desk Chair ($149); right: Charles and Ray Eames' 1948 Molded Plastic Armchair ($279 at Highbrow Furniture).

Left: West Elm's Scoop Back Chair ($79); right: Arne Jacobsen's 1955 Series 7 Chair ($394 at Retro Modern).

Left: West Elm's Wire Mesh Occasional Chair ($229); right: Harry Bertoia's 1952 Side Chair ($483 at Hive Modern).

Left: West Elm's Modern Storage Console ($599); right: Paul McCobb's 1950 Planner Group Credenza ($1,000 on eBay).

Clearly, these mass-produced knockoffs are more than "inspired" by the originals. Is that theft, or flattery? Would you rather spend thousands of dollars for a vintage, signed original or a licensed repro, or a fraction of that for a decent (if somewhat dishonest) imitation?

Personally, I'm more in the gimme-the-knockoff camp than the nothing-but-the-real-stuff crowd. If I stumbled on a mint-condition Saarinen table at a garage sale for $100, I'd be all over it. But, barring that, I don't have $3,150 for a simple white table (and I'd think twice about dropping that kind of cash even if I did) -- so I own the $149 IKEA Docksta. I feel a tiny bit guilty about it, but I'm not losing sleep at night.

How about you?


Liza Lee Miller said...

I'm with you. The originals are lovely and I'd adore having one but budget and situation (two kids, a husband, and a dog -- all of whom are quite capable of ruining just about anything they set their minds too) lead me to believe that the knock-offs are the way to go for me.

Porcelain said...

I'm with you too! I'd love to be able to afford some of the originals and I'll probably save up for a few of the more attainable items (like an eames molded chair), but in the mean time i think a few pieces inspired by or vintage pieces that don't have the big names will be just fine.

jaime said...

i have a docksta, 2 reproduction Bertoia chairs with fake leather pads, and a Plycraft repro eames lounge. I have NO problem trying to save money. I mean, let's face it, I'm not independently wealthy. If I were, I'd have the real thing!

trendoffice said...

I can tell you from experience what is the practical result from these mass-produced knockoffs: I had recently a client who wanted a round table for her dining room and when I offered the Saarinen Tulip - my favourate - she said that it is like a simple plastic table from the cheap cafes! And so, we had to choose something much less beautiful, according to me.

katiedid said...

I do covet the real thing, esp. a Saarinen. (Maybe I'll get a little one). But I am putting the extra cash into the kids college fund. I'm with you.

Laura said...

I love my Saarinen table and am glad I decided against the reproduction. But, it's not about snobbery. The knock-offs just aren't as pretty. That said, if I had found a reproduction that satisfied me, I would have bought it instead. Bottom line, buy what you like.

modmom said...

i prefer all the originals, but i have the docksta kitchen table + livingroom table because my daughter does plays + colors, + i don't have have to worry about them.

casacaudill said...

i don't have the wallet to buy everything original, and even if i did, there's so much good design out there that i wouldn't be able to buy it all. with these "inspired by" pieces, i'm able to adorn my house with good design and i think that's what's important.

Jane Flanagan said...

For me the problem with the rip-offs isn't ethical as much as quality. IKEA products simply don't last. If I spent $3000 on a table and it didn't last I wouldn't be happy either. I prefer to spend as much as I can afford and get what I pay for. Sometimes that means I stretch to an investment piece, and sometimes that means I compromise and buy on the lower end. Making the distinction on every purchase is not a reality for most of us, and we deserve to live stylishly in the meantime!

Anders said...

is it possible to use your picture of the Saarinen table and knock-offs on our swedish forum http://www.precisensan.com/antikforum/?
Of course I will link to your page and the other great pictures.

Bonnie said...

I own both "inspired by" and original pieces. Sometimes because of the price, and sometimes because I don't want something delicate in that application. Another reason I sometimes by an inspired by is that I like it better. Take the West Elm's Modern Storage Console ($599) vs. Paul McCobb's 1950 Planner Group Credenza ($1,000 on eBay). I actually like the West Elm version better. In the case of Evo Noche: Satellite, Adjust, and Cage cases ($16 each) vs.
Urban Outfitters: Fancy Chandelier, Guitar and Amp, and Dreaming of Paris cases ($24 per pair) They are charging more, and I think its because they choose more accessible icons for their imagery. I would rather have a pillow case with a chandelier on it than a pillow case with a wrench on it. Not that I would haver either particularly.

J said...

Hi there,

I'm in love with the saarinen marble table and the version with a wooden top with black base. However, as a young design student the CB2 table, at $250, is a stretch. I was wondering, since I'm thinking of stretching for it, what your impression was of the quality when you went to the CB2 store in San Francisco. I'm in Texas, no where near a store, and worried it will feel cheap when it arrives in my apartment.

Leah said...

J -- I'd say the quality is on-par with West Elm and maybe a notch below regular Crate and Barrel stuff (but definitely better than IKEA).

See my post on the CB2 store here.


Sarah said...

Leah- I just found this post (and I've been reading for a long time)! I'm thinking about the IKEA Docksta Table but was wondering what you thought of the quality. I've heard some really mixed things. Of course I'd love an original Knoll and have been trolling Ebay etc. to find one. I did in fact find one, but it was only in okay condition. I'm very torn about whether to quit looking, bite the bullet and get the IKEA or keep searching. I guess overall I'm just concerned about the quality of the IKEA table. Any and all help you can provide will be helpful! Thanks! Oh, if you can please email me at: sarah.bradley5@gmail.com

Life Docket said...

i would love a real one. maybe one day. for now...


but i say do what you can afford.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry guys, those long gone designers would be proud of of how far we've come. When they created those masterpieces we now strive to obtain, they had in mind that they would create beautiful, practical, and most importantly, AFFORDABLE design for the masses. That's us! They had wanted their creations to copied and mass produced, but instead they were grabbed up by the elite, the rich and famous. Those designers, after being disillusioned and feeling thwarted in their lifetime, would be overjoyed knowing that their dreams came true after all.


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