As copycat iconic furniture becomes illegal, how to buy authentic retro (without the price tag)
By Fiona Brandhorst, 28 January 2017: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/luxury/copycat-iconic-furniture-becomes-illegal-buy-authentic-retro/
As of this weekend, it is against the law in the UK for furniture dealers to sell replicas of iconic pieces. Say goodbye to cheap imitations of such classics as Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair, the plastic S chair by Verner Panton, and the Eames range.
The copyright rules expire 70 years after the designer’s death, which leaves lovers of midcentury pieces with several decades still to wait for knock-off versions.
Buying the authentic pieces themselves – or others from the same era – doesn’t have to cost a fortune, though.
Savvy shoppers are rising to the challenge of finding true unadulterated originals at a fraction of the price. Specialist auction website has seen a 30 per cent annual increase in the number of active searches specifically for retro furniture.
“In the past, many people bought second-hand furniture because it was all they could afford, but now they search for these heritage designers to buy one-of-a-kind, sophisticatedly designed pieces, crafted from high-quality materials, making a good investment for the future.”
The pieces remain affordable, though. A Fifties lounge chair with its original green mottled fabric, which was listed with an estimated price of £20 to £40, sold for just £1.
Even after adding the buyer’s premium – usually around 10 to 20 per cent of the hammer price, plus VAT – it’s still a genuine steal.
A Danish teak bureau with an estimated price of up to £100 was snapped up for £20, while a classic red leather wingback lounge chair on an aluminium five-star swivel base sold for £30, well below its £80 estimate.
These days, most vintage and retro retailers have an online shop as well as (or instead of) a showroom, with new stock posted every day, so you don’t even have to pound the streets to find the perfect addition to your home.
Browsing online is a good way to get a feel for prices and quality before parting with your cash. You can also set up alerts to be notified after an auction how much an item eventually sold for.
Sandrine Zhang Ferron left investment banking to start Vinterior, a curated online marketplace selling vintage and design furniture, after she spent three months traipsing around shops and scouring eBay and Gumtree to furnish her home.
“The online photographs were really bad, and you had to take a chance with the seller and the real condition of the furniture,” she says. It also frustrated her that the listing rarely included information about the history of the item.
Vinterior showcases 6,000 items of stock hand-picked from professional dealers and interior designers who know the provenance of each piece. The details usually include the condition, country of origin, and manufacturer, often with a stamp to prove it. Prices start under £100 and delivery is available worldwide ( ).
The available items change from day to day, but recent stock includes six bar tables by Benchairs of Somerset in beech and Formica, from the Seventies, priced at £75 each, which were previously owned by the Central London Masonic Centre.
The website also featured an iconic Nucleus leather armchair on a chrome base, from the Sixties or Seventies, by British manufacturer Tetrad, suppliers to Harrods and Heal’s, for £380. The chair has recently been reissued by the company in Harris Tweed for around £900.
“People are bored by contemporary furniture, where they all end up owning the same thing,” says Zhang Ferron. “Ikea is convenient and fairly priced, but people are looking for craftsmanship, quirky pieces and longevity, regardless of their budget – although, even the wealthy like a bargain.”
As well as the design pedigree of these items, they have an added charm from the fact that they have been cared for and preserved by a previous generation.
Understated, well-made, practical furniture from brands such as G Plan, Ercol and Parker Knoll can create a statement in any room – and become a family heirloom worthy of being passed on to another generation.
This is partly why there has been a rise in interest for pieces of local history, Zhang Ferron adds. “Mid-century furniture from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies is very popular from Scandinavia, Italy and France – but increasingly buyers are looking for British-made products.”
And if these price tags are still too high? It’s possible to pick up furniture for free via local Freecycle schemes, and charities including the British Heart Foundation will collect unwanted furniture to sell in their shops or eBay pages.
Pull up a chair and get started.
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