Whether you are a mid-century modern connoisseur, or a relative newcomer, it can be difficult to discern an authentic mid-century modern piece from an imitation counterpart, unless you know where to look for the subtlest of clues. Mid-century modern furniture is best exemplified by the quintessential pieces that showcase beautiful lines, such as the
Saarinen Tulip chair, the Knoll Barcelona chair, and the Eames
lounge chair. Before splurging on any of these purportedly “authentic” mid-century modern furniture chairs, make sure it meets the checklist
Telltale Signs of an Authentic Knoll Barcelona chair
This Knoll-licensed piece of mid-century modern furniture won the Museum of Modern Art Award in 1977. A genuine Knoll piece will
display the signature name of “Mies Van Der Rohe” on the chrome frame, usually on the rear leg on the left hand side. It should be noted
that Knoll simply owns the manufacturing rights in America, and Barcelona chairs were initially made by other mid-century modern furniture manufacturers; thus, some pieces not bearing the Knoll
stamp may still be authentic Barcelona chairs.
Before you buy your Knoll piece, also check that it has an authentic-looking serial number located beneath the fork of the chair. Mid
century modern collectors most often cite Knoll chairs as having the
best quality upholstery – potentially well worth the additional
Real vs. Faux: Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
The Eames Lounge chair was designed and introduced by Ray and Charles Eames around 1956. The Eames mid-century modern furniture embodies luxury, comfort and exquisite elegance in its design. Though the task of distinguishing an Eames Lounge chair from any other chair made of molded plywood might appear to be formidable, there are
some definitive clues to aid you in your authenticity quest.
Eames wannabes have screws and bolts visible from the outside;
these will not be apparent on a genuine mid-century modern Eames chair. In addition, Eames Lounge chairs have a welt and a separate piece of leather on the armrest, whereas mid-century modern furniture copies are generally upholstered with a single piece of leather
wrapped around. Look for the Vitra logo stamped on an authentic Eames lounger, as well as five legs on the chair – most imitators only have four legs, as it is less costly to produce.
Also, the ottoman cushion and the chair cushion should be the
identical size – you should be able to swap an authentic Eames lounge chair’s cushion with the ottoman’s pad.
Break out your protractor! Keep in mind that the authentic Eames
lounge chair is permanently angled at 15 degrees to provide the
most comfort for your body. Unauthorized reproductions or copies
are usually not mounted at 15 degrees.
Elements of an Authentic Saarinen Tulip Chair
The Saarinen Tulip chair is thought to be one of the most recognizable pieces of mid-century modern furniture. There are many variations of
the Saarinen design available, but few are the real McCoy. Authentic Saarinen Tulip chairs have been made by Knoll since 1957, NOT by Burke as is widely thought.
The easiest way to distinguish a genuine Saarinen from a copy is to
look at the base. An original mid-century modern Saarinen Tulip chair has a tulip-shaped pedestal base, which was added to eliminate the need for chair legs. There will also be a Knoll logo on the base. There are no casters on any authentic Saarinen, and the back of the chair should not appear to be “square” like so many imitators.
Whether you are examining a Saarinen, an Eames, or a Knoll piece of mid-century modern furniture, conduct piece-specific research, as well as locate a photograph of the original. You can then compare the supposed “authentic” piece of mid-century modern furniture with the real deal first-hand. Stay tuned for future guides articulating how you can discern the real from the imitation in other mid-century modern pieces. Best of luck my stylish friends!
(Source & Photo credits from the top – Knoll Barcelona chair images from the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Collection Picture Book; Eames Lounger chair images from Herman Miller and Cool Retro Shack; Saarinen Tulip chair images from the Eero Saarinen Collection Picture Book and a user-submitted photo on Apartment Therapy. Article attributed to Grace on poetichome.com)