Replica furniture—furniture that imitates high-end designer pieces or other rare items—is having a moment. Whether it’s Tolix Chairs or the Noguchi Table, there’s something very satisfying about finding buying replica furniture at a much lower price point than its museum-quality cousin.
However, buying replica furniture can be tricky. Replica furniture has been criticized for ripping off the original designer, and some replicas are better than others. How do you know whether you should blow your budget on the real deal, or if a furniture replica is the way to go? We have some tips to help you figure out what replicas are worth it or whether you should make a serious investment.
1. Consider the quality
In some cases, the high price tag also comes with a quality assurance guarantee. The Egg Chair, for example, might be worth the splurge. “Danish furniture comes with a lifespan of 150–200 years, and can be restored over its lifespan,” says Danish mid-century furniture expert Jytte Laulund. “With replicas, the standards are lowered—they use timber before it’s mature and poor quality leather with toxic dyes.”
Some replica furniture can be considered statement pieces, so if you’re only looking to enjoy that replica Egg Chair for a few years, there’s no harm in getting a lesser quality replica.
2. Keep the designer in mind
Some might say that it’s not ethical to buy a replica, because a replica is a rip-off a designer’s original work. An original is like art. For a designer to produce one piece that will sell, he has to make a hundred of them. When you buy a replica, the designer doesn’t see any profit from that purchase. Some designers hate this, because furniture in particular takes so long to construct.
Other designers don’t mind if their vision is mass-produced. Matt Blatt owner, Adam Drexler, says his company is meeting a need in the market, and making great design accessible to everyone. “Access to style should not be restricted by income bracket,” Drexler says.
3. Consider your aesthetic
One reason why people love decorating with replicas? They often come with a particular aesthetic that’s rare. You can scour vintage stores and Ebay, or you can get a replica.
To get the mid-century look at an affordable price, Andrei Meintjes of retro and vintage furniture store Collectika suggests browsing Etsy, eBay, auctions, estate clearances and garage sales to unearth original pieces. “From an aesthetic point of view, replicas work for stylists and decorators as they give the look immediately,” Meintjes says.
Realistically, how often do you come across an original Le Corbusier or Eames lounge chair at an estate sale? These pieces are hard to find, so if you know a replica is going to fit your aesthetic, go for it. If you can find a replica secondhand that has that vintage patina going on, even better!
4. Don’t forget about the furniture’s lifetime value
As long as you take care of your furniture, an original piece is going to gain value over time. We noted earlier that original designs are generally better quality, and because they’re made by the artist, their brand will continue to add value. It’s a unique piece that will always have a niche (high-paying) market, should you ever want to sell your furniture. Many designs tend to stand the test of time; they go with a variety of styles and aesthetics. Replica pieces probably won’t give you the same return on investment. That said, if you’re someone who moves frequently, has pets or kids, or envisions only keeping a piece for a few years, then perhaps a replica is the way to go.
5. It all comes down to your budget
Ethics and aesthetics aside, buying replica furniture is much cheaper than buying the real thing. If quality isn’t an issue for you, then replicas are going to make your design dreams much more affordable. In some cases, replicas still don’t come cheap. Consider a Featherston armchair—a real one will cost you $15,000. Comparatively, there are replicas that are a steal at $1,100; but that’s still quite a lot, and how will it affect the rest of your budget?
In other cases, there are replicas that fall much closer to their original pieces in terms of price. The catch here is that you trade in quality by saving money on the original, and at the end of the day, that’s not a great deal.