Charles and Ray Eames were to midcentury furniture design what VW was to car design - mass produced for functionality in everyday use whilst being aesthetically pleasing.
The Eames philosophy was to create furniture affordable to the masses, with the exception of their lounge chair and ottoman which has always commanded a premium since its design and launch in 1956.
The Eames designed lounge chair and ottoman has two main licensed reproduction sellers today: Vitra AG for Europe and Herman Miller for the USA. It carries a price tag of over £7,000GBP plus at current pricing here in the UK.
We say 'licensed reproduction', as unless you are lucky enough to find a vintage 1960s or 1970s chair in a garage sale or on Ebay, then it is, technically, a reproduction, under license, of an original design.
The hefty price tag of licensed versions has seen the market for other reproductions of the Eames lounge chair grow over the decades. Many reproduction sellers have been able to provide high quality reproductions and good quality pieces of furniture at relatively reasonable pricing.
So, how does one choose a good quality Eames style lounge chair?
There are a lot of websites that look slick but in reality they may be based overseas and just have a registered office address to appear to be UK based. They may not even hold physical stock in the UK, or they may just be a dropshipper from factories overseas.
By doing a little more digging around online you should be able to whittle down to a few worth contacting.
Ideally, you want to purchase from a UK based furniture business that you can speak with or email with, to discuss any aspect in greater detail and who can provide transparency and a track record, who hold physical stock. There are a handful of well established and transparent UK companies you can compare products and pricing with.
First and foremost, it would be wise to dismiss anything under circa £700. Ask yourself, would you really get any good quality full leather armchair with a matching leather ottoman stool, properly engineered, finished in a high quality leather, with proper wood veneers, at that price level?
You will most likely be dealing with cheaper woods, wrong angles, plastic parts and PU leatherette or cheaper thin leathers. The old adage of "if it is too good to be true, then it probably isn't" remains.
The mid-priced options, ranging from £700-£1,000 approximately, can all vary in finish and quality. Many will arrive semi-assembled or requiring full assembly depending on the supplier. The cushions will most likely be glued or screwed into the shells internally rather than attached with clips like the original. They may also be without any zip detail or venting to the underneath of the cushion itself.
Note: Should you need to replace a seat button or a cushion in the future this may be problematic if they have been glued in.
Some of these ranges will have finishing only to the outside veneers to save on material costs. There are edges to the inside of the shell that are visible, so that unfinished wood may be visible in small corner areas.
Some of these models may also use PVC for the piping and trim to save on leather costs. The leather will be a basic leather.
It is very much 'luck of the draw' at this price level, as there are some relatively good basic ones or bad basic ones for overall aesthetics and if your budget is tight, then some may be worth exploring as some can be OK for the price point.
Moving up to high end replica reproduction Eames chairs you can expect to pay £1200 upwards as these aim to be as close as possible in terms of quality of materials used, attention to detail and the overall finish and build.
Firstly, the leather usually will be of a high quality, top grain or pull up leather (also known as waxed leather).
In the veneers, you should get good hardwood cuts with a consistency of pattern and grain and depth. These will have had a lacquered finish that enhances the natural richness and grain of the woods.
The internal cushioning normally will be high density foam and the upholstery will be pulled over in the correct way around the buttons to create that deep flowered look in the cushions in keeping with the original design.
Cushions should be zipped and clipped onto the shells.
The cushions should also have breathable venting areas on the underside, that give it that 'whoosh' sound when you sink into the seat.
You are essentially paying for materials and labour; such as the quality of the leather and the workmanship and time involved. Each extra factory process also costs extra in labour and materials so hence this price point.
If you see something at a very regular or permanently advertised discount ask yourself how that retailer is able to offer such a large discount, without compromising on something? eg; materials or labour costs. This stands true for any furniture product.
Somewhere in that process, something has to be eliminated or reduced to be able to regularly offer a product at such a discount.
Our buyers guide to Eames style lounge chairs below may help guide you through this online maze.
Check the website and retailer first: Look at their Contact pages to see where they are based and research them a little more. Do they have a trading address listed? Are they contactable outside of a generic 'contact us' form? Are they a registered company with a track record? In their delivery pages, check to see the returns and delivery information as some overseas companies could be a costly nightmare to deal with if you need to return for any reason. If there is little information on the business be cautious.
Read descriptions VERY carefully when shopping online.
Wording is paramount as unscrupulous sellers may try to pass off cheaper chairs by masking the description with carefully chosen words.
Does it say leather? Not 'leatherette', 'faux leather', PU leather, 'leather seat' or 'leather pad'. Be wary of very small print, and search to see if it says Piping in PVC, as therefore the piping trim on seat edge may not be full leather and PU tends to fray and wear off quickly
What type of leather? Like any material there are variations in quality. For example, corrected grain leathers are often thinner and not as supple as premium European aniline leathers which tend to be at the higher end on price and some will age with a patina acquired and associated with a high quality leather. Again, take note that it does not say 'Italian Style Leather'. Italian Style is different to Italian leather.
How are the cushions attached? Are they glued in or fixed with clips?
Does it have a die-cast aluminium base? Cheap copies often have alloy metal bases with plastic connections. These are not strong enough to last the everyday actions and movement of such a chair, therefore making them very much NOT fit for purpose.
Are the feet individually adjustable? You need to be able to adjust each foot pad individually on both the chair and ottoman to use on an uneven floor or using the chair on a rug.
Real wood veneers? The Eames lounge chair and ottoman was originally created with between five to seven layers of ply. Rosewood used in early originals is no longer a sustainable wood and since the early 1990's the furniture industry now uses Palisander (from the rosewood family) instead of rosewood.
Good quality reproductions will use real and high quality woods for veneers and therefore each chair will vary as it will be a unique piece of furniture with its own individual grain pattern from the piece of wood used. Cheap copies often use laminate. Again carefully check the wording.
Visible screws. None should be visible anywhere on the veneers and especially on the rear shell braces. This is a real giveaway of poorly made copies.
The shock mount is it rubber. Not plastic or metal.
Does it require assembly? Order a flat-packed replica if you want to be driven completely mad. Higher end Eames lounge chair reproductions should arrive to you fully assembled and ready to use out of the packaging.
Does it include the Ottoman? Take note on this point, some sellers advertise the chair and ottoman separately thus making the initial price advertised online look very attractive. It is possible to buy them separately but generally they should retail as a matching set as if you wish to sell it on in the future, having both chair and ottoman makes it a full matching set so more attractive for reselling in the future.
Look at the overall aesthetic. Good reproductions will stay true to the original in terms of the angle of the chair and base, (it was designed to sit at a slight tilt backwards of approx 15deg), the shape and size of the armrests, the flowering depth from the seat cushion buttons, the finish on the brackets on the chair back, the thickness of the cushions, the piping and trim.
Note: the design is at a fixed recline and does not have any mechanism for adjusting height or angle of recline. The chair does swivel 360 whilst the ottoman is fixed without a swivel.
It is also a low profile chair and not a large piece of furniture, thus making it suitable for many different room settings. It is not cumbersome or heavy. It does however sit low to the ground, so consider the height from floor and recline angle for getting out of the chair if you have specific mobility issues.
If you are taller, (6ft, or over) you may not get the neck and head support when sitting upright as it is not a tall back chair. It was designed to be used in tandem with the ottoman to almost slouch out and stretch out in, and for this purpose it works as intended.
Over the years, there have been manufacturing variations to the chairs with different bases designed for the US and European markets, dimensions of models varied and some were produced slightly wider and larger for certain countries and territories.
An issue that can arise over time with both originals and reproductions is the shockmounts, (located under the armrests), can on occasion fail and part from the chair shells they attach to. This was the Achilles Heel of the design due to the weight load being fully on these component parts, however, a number of furniture restoration companies offer replacement shockmount fitting services.
Also, do bear in mind that these are reproductions usually produced in Asia and whilst some are to an excellent standard as an item of furniture, your personal expectations should also be balanced in terms of paying one tenth of the price of a licensed model.
Copyright: Onske Interiors Ltd. 2023