One could argue that Eames was to furniture design what VW was to car design - functional, durable, aesthetically pleasing and to be affordable to the masses, with the exception of their lounge chair and ottoman which has always commanded a premium price.
For most of us, purchasing a licensed reproduction Eames chair, from Herman Miller in the USA or Vitra in Europe carries a hefty price tag (over 5k on average) and yes, I say 'licensed reproduction', as unless you are lucky enough to find an authentic vintage chair in a garage sale or via Ebay then it is, technically, a reproduction, under license, of the original design.
Fuelled by demand and by the hefty price tag of licensed versions, the replica Eames lounge chair market has grown in recent years. Design purists have (begrudgingly) accepted that some of the reproductions available are pretty exact to the specification and quality of the original design, but how does one choose a good reproduction from the minefield of poorer copies and cheaply made imitations?
First and foremost, it would be wise to dismiss anything under circa five hundred. Just ask yourself, would you really get a good quality leather lounge chair and matching ottoman, properly engineered and finished in high quality upholstery and real wood veneers, at that price level? The old adage of "if it's too good to be true, then it probably isn't" remains.
There are mid-priced ranges, which all vary in finish and detail. Some of these will have veneering only on the outside to save on material costs, or may use PVC for the piping trim to save on leather costs.Some are better than others in overall aesthetics.
You then move up to the high-end reproductions which aim to be as close as possible in terms of quality of materials, attention to detail and the overall finish and build.
Here is our buyers guide for choosing a replica Eames lounge chair:
- Read descriptions VERY carefully when shopping online.
- Does it say leather? Not 'leatherette', 'faux leather', 'leather seat' or 'leather pad'. Be wary also if it says Piping in PVC as therefore the piping trim on seat edge may not be full leather. If it says 100% leather upholstery throughout, tick OK
- What type of leather is it? Like any material there are variations in quality. For example, Chinese leathers are often thinner and not as supple as Italian. Aniline leathers tend to be at the premium end on price and will age with the worn in look and patina acquired over use, associated with a 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. If it specifies the leather, tick OK.
- 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. If it says die-cast base tick OK.
- Real wood grain veneer? The Eames lounger was originally created with between five to seven layers of ply. The Rosewood external veneering used in the 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 veneering.
- Cheap copies often use laminate. Quality reproductions will use real quality woods for veneers and therefore each varies and is a unique item in its own particular grain and piece of wood used. Again carefully check the wording. If it says real wood veneer tick OK.
- 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. Any Eames lounger replica worth its salt should arrive to you assembled.
- 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 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 bolt arms on the reverse of the chair back, the thickness of the cushions, the piping and trim.
- Last, but not least, purchase from a company that you can call up and speak with someone and discuss any aspect in greater detail as required.
There were manufacturing variations to the chairs over the years and different bases were designed for the US and European markets and slight differences were designed on US and European models so dimensions of models varied and some were produced slightly wider and larger.
There is a wealth of information available online about the history of these chairs so it is also worth doing some research on the different styles and the design history to help with the decision on choice of base, leather and veneer you would like.