Given the continued survival of the affordable and high-end reproduction trade of iconic mid-century design in Ireland, it’s clear that as shoppers many of us aren’t bothered when it’s It’s about what we want to see and appreciate in our homes – even where it’s an obvious contender.
Boasting a wide range of fake budget products, the lines refreshed with exquisite craftsmanship in Europe and Asia, Irish shoppers can still flout the spirit of the European Copyright Infringement Directive intended to protect the estates of deceased industrial designers and the creative integrity and fortunes of the living.
It’s a laissez-faire attitude that remains a scandal in the international design community, which cries out loudly at what they see as cloned icons trotting on conveyor belts to unhappy buyers.
Ireland is currently an outlier. In the rest of the EU, and since last year in the UK, enforcement of the law protecting the work of industrial designers now spans 70 years after the part’s creator died. Sustainable Irish laws allow us to shop unhindered for this artificial Arco, or wishbone pious. If it’s been out of copyright for 25 years, it’s legal.
There might even be some slight CAD tweaks or a really talented reimagining for today’s home.
The open acknowledgment of what the piece aims to imitate in the online description is delivered with prosaic respect to the deceased designer – Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, the late, lamented and heavily imitated Goddess of Deco, Eileen Gray or whoever work is bought around at an enticing discount.
EU intellectual property law may end up falling by parachute, but even if it does, it allows “
caricature, parody or pastiche”. Who knows what will be allowed. This is mid-century madness.
Honestly salable parts available from Irish suppliers are not made to deceive (as a counterfeit or fake most certainly is). It’s always fair game.
Still, dip your bread into the lower end of the market from unknown foreign suppliers, and this supposed Arne Jacobsen Egg chair for €500 could end up being a real stench.
Some proponents of these near-famous goodies argue that stockpiled copies have democratized rarefied designs that would otherwise remain the preserve of the wealthy. I turned into a pretzel resisting a politely plagiarized classic.
Scruples aside, the problem is that most of these “in the style of” and “inspired by” look-alikes aren’t produced to the exact specifications and materials dictated by the authentic piece. Some of these things, for example an Isamu Noghuchi coffee table, were meant to be made and finished by hand.
Poorly designed, lesser imposters? With few exceptions (and there are some great, exceptional copies), replicas aren’t made to last – they’re made to sell – and to sell in volume. When fake fashion pieces merge with the authentic original, the oddly offbeat Le Corbusiers can slip into the shadow zone of outright dupes.
As with all furniture, don’t be taken in by a mere glance. Examine the substance under this crafty style.
If you decide to fake it until you do, will your cover be blown 10 minutes after your sneering peers spot things they know you couldn’t afford? Will they care? Will you really care?
Having seen a mid 20th century reproduction used in Irish interior magazine sets (clearly credited to supplier) – clearly not.
I tucked my bare legs into a fake Wegner Papa Bear at CA Design in Dublin a few years ago. The quality of close reproduction offered under the right eye can be sumptuous.
Brendan McElroy and his colleague Gerard Martin are co-directors of Zin Zan, a popular outlet for reproduction and original furnishings based at Kimmage in Dublin. He finds the idea of democratizing design pompous.
“I think some of the best mid-century furniture has great lines, that’s what it boils down to. The kind of houses people are building right now – the extensions they’re creating – really suit the look, and mixed with a new modernity, the classics look great submerged in kitchen/dining spaces.
“Along with individuals, we also have a lot of interior designers who shop with us – a lot. In terms of quality, we have no interest in selling poor quality pieces, but it is important to understand the difference between spending €5,000 or €1,200 on a sofa, for example.
“That’s true for all furniture on the market,” continues Brendan. “It’s a different product, but you should expect both to be comfortable and fit for purpose. Wherever possible, and it gets harder and harder, we go so far as to Hong Kong at trade fairs, then we will visit the manufacturers.
“We are moving towards reducing the geographic reach and carbon footprint of what we sell. There are myriad reasons for this, but delivery costs and the inability to predict transit times are weighing on us. .
“Currently, we work with carpenters in Estonia to make the frames for our sofas, as they have a tradition in furniture making and a lot of wood available. We also benefit from the textile manufacturing skills we have in Poland during supply of upholstery fabrics.”
The DSW Eames Dining Chair, described by Brendan as “a lost leader”, is simply made in terms of materials and components,” he adds.
“With an upholstered sofa, the materials, the frame, the upholstery, the textiles, there is a much wider range of specifications in terms of price and final quality. We depend on our reputation, that’s all for us, and if there is a problem of a dining table not being set properly, we attend to it.
Like all furniture houses, ZinZan and other suppliers must remain nimble, responding to market trends and changes. Brendan acknowledges that if the copyright law were changed for iconic furniture in Ireland, they would just adapt to what they were doing.
“In 2015, everyone was crazy about olives. We’re being pushed by the media in terms of aesthetic change – it’s a challenge. Additionally, we have developed the heights and sizes of the tables and chairs to accommodate today’s taller and taller body types. A classic mid-century table is 72 cm high, which is very low for a long and tall family in different body shapes. Comfort is key.
“Over 70% of our clientele comes from referrals,” he continues. “Someone is at someone else’s house and sits in a big armchair — so he wants to come and see us. Most of our customers make an appointment and visit the showroom.
“Covid has improved that process, and we encourage people to have a total private tour, while an individual or a couple, they’re not in a rush. People tend to come and see this thing and are drawn to other rooms.
“Our buyers are very knowledgeable, and Europeans, especially Belgians, are like Hercule Poirot – poring over every detail, listening for any potential squealing. Irish buyers, in my experience, have a lot of taste and they insist on good furnishings, but they are very interested in who they are buying from.”
Brendan admits there was a problem with mid-century replicas and claims there are still reproduction pieces for sale in the UK despite changes to their copyright law.
“It’s a much bigger market in the UK, and for a while there was a selling frenzy. The quality of parts in some cases was terrible. If you’re buying something online from anywhere for a clearly low price, that’s your prerogative, but you’re taking a real risk.”