Oh, IKEA.

Of all the stores I love in this world, none have as special a place in my heart as IKEA (I’ve sung its praises here and here and here). Sure, the founder might have been involved with a fascist movement during WWII, but have you seen how cheap the sofas are? Have you tried the meatballs? Don’t even get me started on the lingonberry juice. If I could pump that intravenously into my system, I would. Every picture in my house is framed in a Ribba frame. Sure, I occasionally have to retighten the bolts on the bed frame for the guest bedroom and maybe the drawer bottoms on my Malm dresser pop out from the weight of a few t-shirts, but come on. It’s IKEA. It’s like my Disneyworld. If I don’t get to go every other week or so I start to get twitchy.

But you can’t take a spin around the enormous warehouse without recognizing a few instances where the Swedish retailer has borrowed heavily from other designers. This topic of derivative vs. inspired work came up yesterday with regards to Ork Posters and LocalGraphics posters, and last week with a cheaper tassel garland alternative. And for as much as I love IKEA, there are too many instances where their products closely mirror a mid-century original. Obviously, the mid-century pieces pre-date their IKEA counterparts (I refrained from using the word “knock-offs”), but given how classic and iconic all of the pieces and designers were, and that they were all Scandinavian, it was only a matter of time before IKEA created derivative pieces at a much smaller cost. I’m not setting this up to condone or judge IKEA for what they’re doing, I’m just pointing it out.

In all of the images below, the original is on the right, and the IKEA version is on the left.

Docksta round table, $149 vs. Eero Saarinen Tulip table, $1,980

Stockholm floor lamp, $99 vs. Arne Jacobsen floor lamp, $880

 Frosta stool, $10 vs. Alvar Aalta Stool e60, $290

Patrik swivel chair, $199. vs. Arne Jacobsen Swan chair, $3,960

Poang recliner, $99 vs. Arne Jacobsen Armchair 42, $2,620

Now, say what you want about IKEA for doing this, but I would love you to point me in the direction of the person that would first buy all of the original items over their cheaper alternatives, because I’d like to ask them for some money. Do I think IKEA is right in blatantly copying good, established design, tweaking a few things, mass producing it under a different, un-pronounceable name and making it less expensive? No. But like all copies and derivatives, the original is always executed better.

I know this opens up a whole can of worms on the debate over whether it’s ethical to buy an inspired piece rather than the original, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. My dad had a Poang recliner in his apartment, and given that he was an architect I’m sure he recognized its striking resemblance to the Arne Jacobsen chair, but back then I didn’t. But I don’t think my dad was a monster for buying it, whether he knew it was derivative or not, instead of spending 26 times the amount on a version from Hive Modern. I’m not sure I’d mind owning that round dining table from IKEA, even if my dream house has a white carrera marble Saarinen version. But if you asked me if I’d be bothered by owning a fake Louis Vuitton handbag, the answer is most definitely yes. I don’t know what I draw that distinction. What about you?

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January 26, 2012 / design / LEAVE A COMMENT / 22

22 comments

  • The reason that you draw that distinction is becuase a fake Louis Vuitton handbag (or ‘faux’ if we want to be pretentious about it) is illegal, copying furniture that was designed more than 25 years old is not. That’s when they copyright ends. The editor of Elle Decoration has launch a pretty nasty and opinionated diatribe against Samantha Cameron for buying a knock off (but perfectly legal) Arco lamp. She thinks it’s entirely wrong for people to buy such goods and can see no parallel in it being wrong for manufacturers to charge an arm and a leg and rip us off with these overpriced products. She claims they’re not exclusive and there’s no snobbery involved, but as you quite rightly say, who can afford this much money? Hardly bringing good design to the masses is it?

    Here’s why I stand:
    Knock offs = wrong. They should be protected for more than 25 years.
    Ripping people off = also wrong. When these products were made, the price had to cover the cost of the design, research, testing etcetera but now they just cover the cost of the manufacturing plus distribution and such like. I find it extremely hard to believe that these products cost this much to make this many years after they were designed.

    If designers want companies to stop knocking off their stuff, then they should price them to allow more people to afford them. Price them at a point that bears more relation to the cost of manufacturer and make them more accessible. It’s hard to believe that the designers wanted these items to become so exclusive, many of them were modernists after all.

    So that’s what I think!

    • In the states at least, Copyright law covers the work for the life of the creator plus 70 years. That’s a pretty harsh stance for a magazine editor to take against the PM’s wife! Though you’d think if anyone would be able to afford a real Arco lamp it would be the Camerons. But actually, I’d prefer my Prime Minister not be so wasteful with that when they should be busy running a country, so if anything I sort of applaud Samantha for not buying a more expensive original. And I’m totally with you, I think it’s beyond ridiculous that a wooden stool that is barely 2 feet off the ground should cost nearly $300 when the wood isn’t soldered together with gold or made from exotic, rare trees or anything. I have the same opinion about Louis Vuitton bags, though, to be honest. You’re paying for the label, for the snobbery of carrying around something with a brand name on it so other’s can see it and think you’re high class. The same is true for a Saarinen table or something. You’re paying for the name, not even the production anymore.

      Thank you for a really thoughtful response! I agree that the old school modernists wouldn’t be too pleased to know their designs aren’t being enjoyed by more people due to corporate greed, basically.

  • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

    • That’s true!

  • I’m with Annie. And you. I like the *idea* of owning originals, but when they cost so much money, let’s face it, that simple fact alone just pisses me off.

    Clear fakes? Yeah, I’d be bothered by. Ikea? I heart you.

    • I heart IKEA, too. It’s like Annie said, they’re bringing good design to the masses in a way that other designers aren’t allowing. If it happens to look similar, oops? Obviously, I’d love to live in a world with an unlimited income to buy all of these things, but it’s just not realistic and will probably never be.

  • As an owner of a Docksta table (paired with for-real Eames DSW’s, ha) I have to say sometimes 2 grand for a table you know your husband is going to spill red wine and spag bol sauce all over before its 5 minutes old is just…not wise. And, to be fair, these bits are not rip-offs in the sense of a faux Vuitton with copyright infringing logo etc, these are “gently borrowed/inspired by” pieces, which retain enough individuality to not be TOTAL rip offs. So it’s ok in my book. Plus everything on Earth has an element of something else that already exists in it…nothing new under the sun, etc.

    But seriously, what the eff would we do without Ribba? God bless their cotton socks!

    • I happen to love your dining room set up, and those real Eames chairs really make it! You’re right that the Docksta isn’t a direct infringement in that it’s not calling itself a Saarinen, plus, yes, if I actually owned an original tulip table NO ONE would be allowed to eat on it, ever. Ever. Not even for a glass of water.

      I love Ribba! They’re so useful!

  • It’s an interesting debate and I think also personal, given circumstances, values and beliefs.

    I am 100% with M (editor UK elle deco) on this one and signed the petition. In her editors letter she clearly makes the distinction between fakes and ‘inspired by’ products. Her gripe is that in the UK, any item of design can be copied after 25 years (after release), unlike disciplines like film, literature and music (which are protected for 70 yrs after death of creator).

    A fake is a fascimiles: (a copy or reproduction of historical value that is as true to the original source as possible).

    There is a clear distinction between a blatant copy and what we call ‘ inspired by’. In fashion, a few days after all the major shows, all high street stores have the latest ‘inspired by’ collections on their shop floor. Ikea does exactly the same thing with ‘home’ products. That’s totally fine and makes the world go round.

    For companies to offer exact copies (in totally inferior quality) of design classics is plainly wrong in my opinion. You can buy a fascimile of Arne Jacobsen Swan chair for a fraction of the original price. Google it and you will see how many companies spring up.

    Yes, to buy an original Arne Jacobsen Swan chair is very expensive but the same goes for most fashion haute couture. I am always surprised when people have fascimile classics in their homes. Why would I run around with a fake LV or Hermes? If I can’t afford it then I can simply buy one of the other million bags around, from young designers to less expensive fashion brands.

    I am hankering after an Eames office chair (in yellow) but it’s very expensive. It’s my choice and not quibbling at the price tag. That’s what it costs and as a designer, I know how much work and sweat goes into any designed product or service. Then there are licensing fees. Women choose to pay an outrages amount on label handbags and shoes that are made in cheap factories (I once worked with someone manufacturing bags in china so know how much they cost)… I personally would rather buy a design classic instead. It’s completely an individual choice.

    Now, back to the Eames office chair I don’t own…so will either decide to buy an alternative or have to dig deep:)

    Have a look at this: http://www.designclassics.co.uk/chairs-eames-office/

    • That’s a good way to make a distinction. A fake is a direct copy and other things are “inspired by.” That’s where I was having a problem. I’d never buy a fake LV bag because it’s a direct replica trying to pass itself off as an original, but I don’t think I’d mind buying an “inspired” piece of mid-century furniture. I think a lot of people are more concerned with how people see them, so carrying a LV or Prada bag is a status symbol to them, whether or not it’s fake. For those kinds of knock-offs, it’s more about how they appear to other people, where as for me, an inspired (or original) Eames chair is something I’d buy for me because I like it, not because I want people to think I’m so fancy. I don’t know if that makes sense.

      But you’re right about it being an individual choice, and I don’t want you to think I’m judging anyone one way or the other. I genuinely just love getting all of your input and opinions on this hot topic. And go for the chair! The yellow is gorgeous.

  • I don’t think I can add too much else. All the ladies before me have said something similar to what I feel in one way or another on the topic. I guess I draw the line at fake LV because the copy cats are trying to push these off as the real deal (copied monogram, copied label on the inside…) Whereas Ikea doesn’t call their Poang chair an Arne Jacobsen.
    Our good friends, the ones that just got married actually, our working and living overseas right now in China. He tells us that there is a whole “district” in China that specializes in knock-offs. You name the product, they will copy it…Down to the last detail. Most often, you can’t tell the difference between the fake and real, even when held side by side. That’s crazy!
    I definitely have an appreciation for mid-century furniture (we named our daughter Eames!) and will pay the price when we can afford it. HOWEVER, I also wore booties to the wedding last weekend that I’m pretty sure were direct knock-offs of the LB booties. So, there you go…I suppose my distinction is case by case.
    Great post, E!

    • I LOVE that you named your daughter Eames, first of all. That’s just about too precious to even comprehend.

      A friend of mine studied abroad in China and said the exact same thing about there being an unregulated world of knock-offs! She said because copyright laws don’t exist over there, technically what they’re doing isn’t even illegal. They can even replicate a sales receipt or “authenticity” tag. Crazy is right!

      But you’re right that those fake LV bags are calling themselves LV bags and IKEA isn’t calling their stuff by the inspirations’ name. That’s an interesting distinction, and one that sort of assuages my concern over the subject.

    • Never thought that jam and meatballs could go together the way Ikea serves them. Whoever first came up with the idea is a genius.

      There was a story in the Singapore Chinese media some years back, about the female writer walking in a Chinese city and being stopped by a lady who sells shoes. She wanted to sketch the writer’s shoes to reproduce for sale.

      • Seriously! Those lingonberries are so fantastic, and you wouldn’t think they work with meatballs and gravy, but somehow…perfection. I’ve eaten so many meals at IKEA in my life! Haha. That’s crazy about the writer in China! I know copyright/patent infringement laws aren’t really enforced in China, which is how they can produce all those knock-off purses and such, but I never knew they were so openly flagrant!

  • I have to agree with süsk…

    The fake Luis Vuitton bag tries to pass itself off as something it is not and the Ikea furniture is inspired by the originals but not an exact copy. I bet there are people that don’t even know the originals that inspired them. The same way I sometimes don’t know what inspired my new pair of shoes, bag, blouse or whatever I got at Zara or any other store…

    • Everything in the world is inspired by something else, I’m sure. And I can spot a few pieces at clothing stores that are directly inspired by other pieces by other, bigger design houses. And there isn’t anything wrong with that! I don’t want people to think I’m anti-inspiration or anything, haha. But yes, the fake Louis Vuitton bag tries to pass itself off as an original, and the IKEA furniture never claims to be the original.

      Thank you for your input! This is a really interesting topic of conversation, isn’t it?

  • I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than make a conscious decision to buy a designer fake handbag/shoes et al that are being passed off as the real thing.

    I am sitting in the Patrik swivel chair as I type and, believe me, I never made the Arne Jacobsen connection when I decided to buy it.

    I simply don’t think it’s necessary to break the law in order to surround oneself with beautiful things.

  • I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than make a conscious decision to buy fake designer handbags, shoes, etc. being passed off as the real thing – I think any of us would.

    I’m sitting in the Patrik swivel chair as I type and dear old Arne Jacobsen never crossed my mind when I laid eyes on it – not that it would matter if he had.

    I’m with Annie on this one – I simply don’t think that one has to break the law in order to surround themselves with beautiful things.

  • I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than consciously buy a designer fake (be it bags, shoes, etc) being passed of as the real thing – I’m sure we all would.

    I happen to be sitting in a Patrik swivel chair as I type this and dear old Arne Jacobsen never crossed my mind when I bought it – not that it would matter if he had.

    I’m with Annie on this one and I simply don’t think that anyone should have to break the law in order to surround themselves with beautiful things.

    • I would! My dad used to say he’d rather stick hot (they had to be hot) pins in his eyes than go to Disneyworld. Whereas we have strong feelings about designer fakes, he clearly had very strong opinions about Disneyworld. Go figure.

      Anyway, the Patrik swivel is insanely comfortable and I didn’t know it was an inspirational piece either at first! Only when I started getting background for this post did I discover it. But I don’t judge you one bit :)

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