Purchasing a licensed reproduction Eames lounge chair and ottoman, from Herman Miller in the USA or Vitra in Europe carries a hefty price tag (over 6k on average) and yes, I say 'licensed reproduction', as unless you are lucky enough to find a vintage Eames chair in a garage sale or on Ebay, then it is, technically, a reproduction, under license, of the original design.
One could argue that Eames was to furniture design what VW was to car design - functional, durable and 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 price from its launch in 1956.
Fuelled by demand and by the hefty price tag of licensed versions, the market for reproduction Eames lounge chairs has grown over the decades.
Design purists have (begrudgingly) accepted that some of the reproductions are pretty exact to the specification and quality of the original design, however, how does one choose a good quality reproduction Eames lounge chair from the minefield of poorer copies and more cheaply made imitations that often flood the market?
First and foremost, it would be wise to dismiss anything under circa £600. Ask yourself, would you really get a good quality full leather lounge chair and matching ottoman, properly engineered, finished in high quality leather and real wood veneer, at that price level? You will most likely be dealing with cheap ply veneers, wrong angles, plastic parts and PU leatherette. The old adage of "if it is too good to be true, then it probably isn't" remains.
There are the mid-priced ranges, (£600-£900 approx) which can all vary in finish and quality. Usually these will arrive semi-assembled. Bases may need to be attached and sometimes even the back sections to the base or the armrests to the frame, 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 of the 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 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 relatively good basic ones or bad basic ones for overall aesthetics.
You then move up to the high-end reproductions (£1000-£1500 approx) which aim to be as close as possible in terms of quality of materials, attention to detail and the overall finish and build.
Firstly, the leather should be best quality, such as full grain or top grain aniline or waxed aniline leathers.
In the veneers, you should get good hardwood cuts with a consistency of pattern and depth. These will have had a lacquered finish that enhances the natural richness and grain of the woods.
The internal cushioning will be high density foam and the upholstery will be pulled over in the correct way, to create that deep flowered look in the cushions in keeping with the design.
Cushions will be zipped and clipped onto the shells. These clips are at each corner of the inside of the shells and the underside of the cushions have pre-cut slots that clip on.
The cushions will also have a breathable venting area on the underside, that gives it that 'whoosh' sound when you sink into the seat.
You are essentially paying more for materials such as the quality of the leather and the workmanship involved. Each finishing process at production costs extra so hence this price point at the higher end of reproduction furniture.
Here is our buyers guide for choosing a replica Eames lounge chair:
- Check the website and retailer first. Look at their Contact pages to see where they are based. Do they have an address listed? Are they contactable outside of a generic contact us form? Are they a registered company? If there is little information on who runs the business, then be wary. There are a lot of websites that look slick but in reality may be based overseas and/or not hold physical stock. Ideally, you want to purchase from a company that you can call up and speak with to discuss any aspect in greater detail and who can provide transparency and a track record.
- Read descriptions VERY carefully when shopping online.
- Does it say leather? Not 'leatherette', 'faux 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.
- What type of leather? Like any material there are variations in quality. For example, Chinese leathers are often thinner and not as supple as the Italian aniline leathers which tend to be at the premium end on price and will age with the worn in look and patina acquired and associated with a high quality leather. Again, take note that it does not say 'Italian Style Leather'. Wording is paramount and unscrupulous sellers will try and pass off cheaper chairs by masking the description with carefully chosen words.
- How are the cushions attached? Are they glued in or removable? Are they fixed with clips or by other methods?
- 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? Think of an uneven floor or using the chair on a rug or wooden floor, you need to be able to adjust each foot pad individually on both the chair and ottoman.
- Real wood veneers? The Eames lounger was originally created with between five to seven layers of ply. The Rosewood veneering used in the early originals is no longer a sustainable wood and since the early 1990's the furniture industry now uses Palisander (from the rosewood family) for any rosewood.
- Visible screws. None should be visible, especially on rear shell braces. This is a real giveaway of poorly made copies.
- The shock mount Check that this is rubber. Not plastic or metal.
- Does it require assembly? If you want to be driven completely mad, then order a flat-packed imitation. 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 look attractive. It is possible to buy them separately but generally they should retail as a matching set and one unit.
- 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.
Over the years, there were manufacturing variations to the chairs and different bases were designed for the US and European markets, dimensions of models varied and some were produced slightly wider and larger for certain countries and territories.
The only issue that can arise with both originals and reproductions is that the shock-mounts, located under the arm rests, can on occasion fail and part from the lower back shell that they attach to. This was the Achilles Heel of the design due to the weight load being fully on these, however, replacement shock-mounts tend to be easily available and this is not very common.
There is a wealth of information available online about these chairs so it is also worth doing some research to help with the decision on choice of base, leather and veneer you would like.
Onske stocks two options as standard in top grain or waxed aniline leather. You can view further details and specification at www.onske.co.uk/collections/chairs