By Marilyn Zelinsky-Syarto
Mid-century modern is a chic, versatile, and attractive look, but it carries a hefty price tag if you’re looking for rare vintage originals from an era that roughly spans from the 1940s through the 1960s. If you crave the mid-century style for your home, there’s a solution. The trick is knowing where to find licensed reproductions that would make even Don Draper feel at home.
Mid-Century Modern Style
There’s no need to feel like you’re living on the set of “Mad Men.” Most mid-century modern fans love the look because its simple, streamlined elegance goes with everything. The best of mid-century design remains popular for its undeniable beauty and functionality, according to a New York Times article (Sept. 30, 2016), “Why Won’t Midcentury Design Die?” So a piece or two will do just fine, whether it’s a vintage original, a licensed reproduction, or an imported reproduction.
John Edelman, CEO of Design Within Reach and a board member of Be Original Americas, a non-profit group bringing awareness to the issue of authentic vs. counterfeit furniture designs, offers this bit of comfort to the novice mid-century fan worried about being duped. “I think new collectors can get ripped off,” he says of the typical trial-by-fire experience that someone goes through when first buying mid-century modern pieces. “It’s when they go to the next level of actually collecting that they learn about authenticity.”
If you’re seeking out a pre-owned vintage piece, then you’ll want to do your homework on how to spot authenticity and how to price it because a mid-century original in perfect shape can cost thousands of dollars times two.
“Patina alone isn’t a sign of an authentic product,” warns Edelman, so be ready to research. If you’re into vintage Danish modern, for example, a good starting point to educate yourself on authentic markers is a database of the style, such as Danish-Modern.co.uk. You can hire an appraiser who specializes in the era, or, confirm a piece’s authenticity by confirming with the manufacturer if it’s still in business.
“People who have purchased or are going to purchase used chairs, usually from eBay or Craig’s List, often contact us,” says Gregg Buchbinder, CEO of Emeco and founding member of Be Original Americas, citing the company’s famed 1944 Navy Chair. “We have them send in photos so we can easily identify counterfeits.”
Companies such as Knoll, Herman Miller, and Vitra have nurtured relationships with original designers and their foundations, hold the patents, trademarks, licenses, or copyrights to original designs, and invest in materials, prototypes, and technologies that faithfully manufacture high-quality pieces to today’s standards. These pieces are typically called licensed reproductions.
For example, you can buy a licensed reproduction Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman from Herman Miller for a reasonable price compared to a rare, pre-owned original, which sometimes go for double the price. You’ll receive unique properties of the original Eames version, such as the exact tilt that designer intended when he created the 1956 piece, intentionally wrinkled leather cushions, and a shell that matches the look and feel of the original rosewood chair. (Rosewood was discontinued in 1991.)
Inspired Copies and Knockoffs
If opting for a low-cost reproduction, buyer beware. Many unlicensed mid-century modern furniture reproductions have quality issues. For example, chrome on the legs and hardware might wear thin and flake or peel. The reality is that you’ll find quality reproductions, lookalikes, or more of an inspired version of many mid-century designs in your search. For the best mid-century modern design experience, however, aim for the sweet spot and opt for licensed reproductions for your home.
When it comes to mid-century modern design, experiment with the beloved retro style by turning to CORT Furniture Rental, which offers lookalike pieces and mid-century-inspired designs that you can use to outfit a small corner of your home or your entire living room.