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How would you define an 'original' piece of designer furniture? People are often under the mistaken impression that to qualify as 'original', the item has to date back to an early production run. At Heal's, however, we believe the word can be applied to any model produced by a legally authorised manufacturer, whether it's 50 years old or brand new.
Buying an original means the product has been correctly made by a trained craftsman and will last you for many years. Cheap copies, on the other hand, are likely to break or look tatty within a short space of time.
When you buy a classic design from Heal's you do so in the knowledge that the product is exactly what it claims to be, and has been made by the licenced manufacturer, ensuring the highest possible quality. Sadly, not all sellers are as scrupulous as we are, and the UK is awash with unauthorised copies of iconic designs.
To help you avoid mistakenly buying a fake, we've put together this guide to the stamps, labels and distinctive design features you should check for on certain much-copied classics to ensure that you're buying an authorised edition rather than a knock-off.
Read on to discover how to spot the difference between a fake design classic and an authentic design classic.
The iconic Eames Lounge Chair has been the victim of untold inferior copies, so it's worth noting that the only authorised manufacturer of Eames products for Europe and the Middle East is Vitra. In the US, Herman Miller holds the same licence. The most obvious way to identify a genuine Eames Lounge Chair is by looking on the underside of the seat shell where you should find a label displaying the Vitra or Herman Miller logo and Charles Eames' signature.
The base of the seat offers further clues. On a genuine Eames Lounge Chair the base has five legs in a star pattern (the ottoman has four), and is neither too flat to the floor nor too steeply angled. Fakes often have four-legged bases with a spring or rocking mechanism. Real Eames Lounge Chairs do not recline. And there are only three authorised finishes for the base of the chair and ottoman: polished or chromed aluminium, or black with polished aluminium trim.
Now it's time to inspect the rest of the seat. Armrests should be large, curved, and angled so that they fold over the sitting area of the chair, finishing just short of the seat. Note that there are no visible screws or bolts in the veneered shell of an original Eames Lounge Chair. The designers wanted their creation to have a totally smooth, seamless look, which is why a genuine model is held together by rubber shock mounts glued to the wood under the cushions. This technique is expensive and time-consuming, so manufacturers of copies tend to take short-cuts, such as using visible screws.
Finally, check what material the cushions are made of. A real Eames chair will have soft leather cushions (on very rare occasions they may be fabric) filled with 6-inch thick urethane foam or down feathers. The seat cushion of the chair should be the same size as the ottoman cushion.
View the Eames Lounge Chair.
The Arco lamp was designed in 1962, and despite being widely imitated, the original, licenced version has only ever been manufactured by Flos.
The base of the lamp is made of white Cararra marble with chamfered corners and a hole through which a broom handle can be passed to make lifting and positioning the lamp easier. After all, an original Arco lamp weighs in at a hefty 65kg. The base needs to be this heavy in order to support and anchor a telescopic pole that allows light to be cast 2m from the base, enabling you to light an area such as a dining table without needing a pendant fitting on the ceiling above. The arm of the Arco lamp should have three settings, allowing you to adjust the length of the projection.
One useful way to identify a genuine Arco is to check the inside of the polished aluminium ring that surrounds the perforated diffuser, where you should find a label displaying the Flos logo. Bear in mind also that with the exception of an upgrade to the electrical system and a limited edition run with a black marble base in 2002, the materials used in the production of the Arco Lamp have not changed since its launch 50 years ago.
View the Arco Floor Light.
The Eames DSW (Dining Side Shell Wood) is a contemporary version of the iconic fibreglass chair the couple first presented in the Museum of Modern Art's competition 'Low-Cost Furniture Design' in 1948.
The shell seat of that model was made of fibreglass-reinforced plastic, but was discontinued in 1993 because fibreglass cannot be recycled. Vitra's re-launched version is made from recyclable polypropylene with varnished maple legs. Rubber shock mounts connect the seat to the base resulting in a comfortable, flexible chair
To check whether it's an authentic model, look for a Vitra label. Each DSW chair also has a stamp on its base to certify its authenticity. Copies often have a shiny high gloss seat, whereas the originals have a matt surface. Note also that on genuine chairs the seat is made from dyed-through polypropylene, which means the colour does not fade.
View the Eames DSW Chair.
As with Eames products, Vitra is the only licenced manufacturer of this iconic coffee table in Europe. Launched in 1948, sculptor Isamu Noguchi created his distinctive table by joining a curved, wood base with a freeform glass top.
The table is just three pieces. A plate-glass top rests on two curved, solid wood legs that interlock to form a tripod for self-stabilising support. The varnished base, carved from two solid pieces of wood (either black, walnut, natural cherry or white ash), is very strong and durable. The triangular top is made of 19 mm-thick plate glass with rounded edges.
To confirm that table is authentic, check for the signature of Isamu Noguchi on the longest edge of the glass top and on a medallion to the underside of the base. Under the medallion, Noguchi's initials are stamped into the base.
View the Noguchi Coffee Table.
The Anglepoise lamp was created when George Carwardine, an automotive engineer responsible for developing vehicle suspension systems, invented a new type of spring that could be moved easily yet remained rigid when held in position. The first version of the Anglepoise lamp was produced in 1934 with four springs. Two years later a new version, the Type 1227, was introduced with three springs and an Art Deco-inspired three tier base. Three years later a new improved version of the 1227 was released with a two-tier base. This model is still widely regarded as the archetypal Anglepoise.
There are plenty of desk lamps that look like an Anglepoise 1227, but many of these are not the genuine article. To make sure your lamp is an authorised Anglepoise, check for certain features.
Firstly, the lamp should have three springs: Anglepoise 'constant tension spring technology' is the simple yet effective use of a three-spring system that mimics the movements and the constant tension of the human arm, allowing you to move the source of illumination to exactly where you want it.
Note that the lamp's on/off switch is positioned at the top of the shade, and the table base, made of cast iron with a steel cover, is heavy, giving the lamp extra stability. The shade, arms and metal joints are made of aluminium. While contemporary Anglepoise Type 1227 lamps remain true to George Carwardine's 1934 design, they incorporate certain modern features, like an energy-saving 15 watt CFL bulb. The lamp is only available in black, cream, red and chrome.
View the Anglepoise 1227.