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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

You look so familiar: Part 1 - Tall legs, wraparound arms

Ever notice how designers have freely "borrowed" design elements from each other over the decades? I'm not talking about fly-by-night manufacturers or hack designers who generally get our upturned noses. I'm talking about well-known designers with impeccable reputations whom most of us revere.

I decided to examine lookalike chairs, and what I found most interesting was how one designer borrowed a seat idea. Then another copied a back or a pedestal or an arm. Before long, one chair design morphed into the next, so that it was hard to draw clear lines between categories...and sometimes between designers.

For the next few weeks, I'll feature some of the distinct lookalikes, as well as the specific design elements that have shown up frequently over the years. It makes me wonder: How many ways are there to design a chair, really? Why do some people dismiss Burke tulip chairs as mere knockoffs while celebrating the designs of Robin Day (one of my favorites), such as the last chair below that bears just as strong a resemblance to Wegner's The Chair?  Is there anything new under the sun, when you get right down to it? And are we designer snobs?

Note: For a more in-depth look at the topic of actual knockoffs/reproductions from the point of view of a collector, from a manufacturer and from the heir of a designer, you can read a three-part post I did about the article "Is It Real?" from Jet Set Modern in February and March of this year.

Tall, Skinny Legs and Wraparound Arms

Hans Wegner The Chair - 1946

Ib Kofod-Larsen - 1956

Neils O. Moller - 1958

Robin Day for Hille - 1960s


  1. Fun! Imitation is the best form of flattery, right?


    The Jasper chairs that I brought home from the office always remind me of that Hans Wegner piece.

    Though some might consider imitation a form of intellectual theft, at least it means that one can usually find a cheaper version of high-dollar furniture. For example, I'd never be able to afford an Eames lounge, so thank goodness there's Plycraft.

  3. All are beautiful peaces, design theft or not..

  4. @DearHelenHartman: So they say! And how many ways can a chair really be designed without becoming the subject of a Moggit post?

  5. @Nick: I agree with you. We have sold Selig and Plycraft loungers in our store, and our customers are thrilled to get them. I'm perfectly happy with my repro Nelson clock till a real one that I can afford comes along.

    I frequently see people on blogs and forums say, "Ewwwwww, it's JUST a Burke," but then they turn around in the next breath and gush about more famous designers who have borrowed just as freely. Frankly, it smacks of "selective snobbery" to me. :)

  6. @A Modern Line: Yes, they are. I'd take any one of them in a heartbeat if offered.

  7. This is a really interesting theme to explore .... and we can't help but squirm at the thought that we could be, dare we say it, selective snobs! Looking forward to the next post in this series - here's hoping you can help us see the light!

  8. @chairsmith: I don't know how much light I can shed on the subject that hasn't been shed many times in the past, but I finally started wondering why we're so forgiving of some instances of design "borrowing" and so intolerant of others. I'm hoping readers can help me draw some conclusions.

    You (better than almost anyone else, since I gush about him on your blog) know how I love Robin Day, so I say this with the utmost respect...but the chair in this post is almost identical to the Wegner chair, except that the legs are metal. I never hear that mentioned. Yet I hear many people speak about Burke tulip chairs with great disdain, as if they're the highest affront to Saarinen, and I can't help but ask why we make allowances for one and not the other.