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Residential architects who specialize in the hot, humid, southern climate

The Real Deal


One of these was designed by Marcel Breuer & produced by Knoll. The other is a reproduction.
One of these was designed by Marcel Breuer & produced by Knoll. The other is a reproduction.

Marcel Breuer designed the B32 chair in 1927. It was renamed the "Cesca" chair after Breuer's daughter Francesa. It was produced by Thonet, then Gavina, and later Knoll when they purchased Gavina. The chair was never copyrighted because of a dispute over who invented tubular-steel chairs which may explain why so many “breuer-like chairs” are available for purchase today.

I am the proud owner of 6 of these chairs, inherited from my grandmother when she downsized. Four are authentic and 2 are knock-offs. With the vast amount of goods available for purchase these days, and so much manufacturing sent overseas, it is important to understand what you are buying. This goes not  just for Breuer's Cesca chair, but almost every piece of furniture designed and manufactured in the past 100 years.  Arne Jacobsen,  Mies van der Rohe, Charles & Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, Philippe Starck, Earo Saarinen, and many more are all important designers whose designs have been copied quite a bit.  Unless you are a chair junkie like me, you may have not heard their names, but I am certain you would recognize some of their classic designs.

Many folks cringe at the thought of spending upwards of $1,000.00 for a chair, but buying the cheap copy is not the best way to go. Hopefully, this article will give you some insight into how to tell what you are buying, and why you should not sacrifice quality.

The 4 authentic Knoll chairs were purchased by my grandmother in 1978. The 2 knock-off chairs were found at a secondhand shop also by my grandmother and were purchased as additional seating. The Knoll chairs have been used everyday since 1978. The reproduction chairs sat in another room and were only used occasionally when additional seating was required. They are all currently being used frequently at my dining table.

 
Knoll, Gavina, & Knoll Production Label
Knoll, Gavina, & Knoll Production Label

The first thing to do when determining age or authenticity of a piece of furniture is turn it over to check for marks or labels, and to see the quality of construction. The fake chairs have a suspicious “Made in Italy” sticker.

Vague Label on the Fake Chairs
Vague Label on the Fake Chairs

More interestingly, there is also a sticker that says “Property of 13-30 Corporation."

The 13-30 Corporation was founded in 1970 & became the Whittle Corporation in 1986. They owned Esquire magazine. I am assuming that these chairs are at least 27 years old.
The 13-30 Corporation was founded in 1970 & became the Whittle Corporation in 1986. They owned Esquire magazine. I am assuming that these chairs are at least 27 years old.

The 13-30 Corporation was founded in 1970 & became the Whittle Corporation in 1986. They owned Esquire magazine. I am assuming that these chairs are at least 27 years old.

I do love a chair with a story.

These reproductions are very good copies, but even without a label you can tell which chairs are from Knoll. I doubt that anyone will ever notice the difference while having dinner at my house. Especially because my husband and I sit in the bad chairs and the guests get the good ones (because they are way more comfortable and not broken).

You can see the quality of the construction of the Knoll chairs in the next picture. The cane seat is completely woven into the frame.

The cane on the Knoll chair is hand woven.
The cane on the Knoll chair is hand woven.

The cane is wider and of a much higher quality.

Here is the bottom of the fake chair. You can see that the cane seat is just fastened to the top. It is not woven together. You can also see a fair amount of rust.

The fake chairs' caning has broken through in several places. The Knoll chairs have a few broken pieces, but still provide a sturdy seat even after 35 years of daily use.

The Knoll chairs are made of Birch. The fakes look more like Maple.

The finish on the wood and the caning is far superior on the authentic chairs. The finish has worn off of the the fakes and they are spotty and very dirty. The authentic chairs show some wear, but still retain nice color and sheen.

The steel is also superior on the real chairs. The ends of the tubes are welded and solid, whereas the fakes have a raised cap.

The fake does not.
The fake does not.

This would be more obvious on the side chairs, as the tube terminates at the top of the back.

The fake arm has a cap over the steel.
The fake arm has a cap over the steel.
The end of the stainless tube is welded.
The end of the stainless tube is welded.

UPDATE- SEPT. 29, 2015:  I have received a few messages that "no way are these chairs authentic, the tube should be flush with the end of the wood top." I agree that the arms on a new chair would be flush.  Considering this chair was manufactured almost 40 years ago, it can be expected that both the wood and the metal would move. When determining the authenticity of your chair, keep the natural aging process in mind. 

One of the main reasons to buy a "famous" chair is that they have been carefully designed by an expert to ensure maximum structural support and comfort.

Both of the fake chairs have large holes in the seats.

The real chair is larger than the fake.

Why buy the real thing? As the wife of a furniture maker, I can personally attest to the amount time and effort spent to design and build a piece of furniture. The price reflects the quality of materials, quality of design, and quality of construction. Sure, you can buy the knock off version to suit your budget rather than commissioning a custom piece or purchasing a design classic, but it will always be inferior to a well-designed, well-made chair. The authentic furniture will last longer, look better and be more comfortable than the fake version. This doesn't mean you have to spend half your yearly salary on furniture from Design Within Reach. You can find great deals on high-quality pieces at antique stores, auctions, secondhand markets, or from a makers' market like Etsy.

Sources:

http://www.dwell.com/argument/article/real-cost-rip-offs

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/11/garden/copying-classic-designs-is-the-focus-of-a-lawsuit-against-restoration-hardware.html?_r=0

http://www.dwell.com/interviews/article/sam-kaufman-breuers-b32)

http://www.knoll.com/product/cesca-chair

The cats like the real ones better too.
The cats like the real ones better too.