eames chair original vs replica

Last Updated on August 24, 2023 by bethrmartin

The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman is one of the most celebrated mid-century modern chairs, captivating design enthusiasts worldwide. Despite its introduction almost 70 years ago, people’s desire for this style continues to escalate – some people even love to collect vintage knock offs!

I have a degree in Architecture and work as a professional designer, so I fully understand the impact of knockoffs and stolen ideas. Some would even say there is never time to buy replica furniture, but I think this subject is much more complicated.

I’m breaking down everything you need to know about spotting the differences between a real Eames Lounge chair and ottoman vs. a replica and what you should think about before purchasing either one.

Get ready because we are about to unpack a lot!

How To Tell Between Real VS. Fake Eames Lounge Chairs

Ever been shopping at an antique store and thought you found a great deal on an authentic Eames Lounge Chair? Or maybe you inherited a chair from your great-aunt but aren’t quite sure it’s the real thing?

Fortunately, a few unmistakable details will let you know if you have an authentic designer chair or a fake Eames lounge chair:

Check For Labels

Flipping the chair over to check for paper labels or the Herman Miller logo underneath the plywood shell is the easiest place to start. Although the design has changed over time, this label should be present.

Check the Base

The original Eames Chair should have a die-cast aluminum base with five legs and an ottoman with four legs. The legs should have a slight angle towards the center of the structure.

Some knockoffs will have the wrong number of legs, or they will have the wrong angle. Many replicas will have flat legs and feet that aren’t adjustable.

No Exposed Screws

An Eames Lounge Chair is an incredible, cantilevered design, which means the back of the chair is entirely structured by the screws under the armrests. Authentic Eames lounge chairs should not have visible screws through the plywood shell, but many knockoffs do because this is so much easier to build.

There is a caveat to the exposed hardware rule, and that is when it comes to vintage chairs. Since the design is cantilevered, so much stress is put on this area.

It’s common to find an older original Eames lounge chair that broke in this spot and was fixed by screwing through the shell. So, if you find a label and the other details look correct, this could be why you are seeing screws through the shell.

The Angle of the Seat

The original Eames chair has a fixed 15-degree angle at the seat back to ensure ultimate comfort. Knock offs often alter the seat height or overall dimensions forcing this angle to change.

Some dupes even have a mechanism allowing the chair to tilt forward like a recliner, which is a huge red flag. If you are looking for a recliner, the Eames Chair is not for you.

A flow chart to determine whether to buy an eames chair original vs replica.

5 Ways To Tell If You Should Buy An Authentic Eames Lounge Chair Or A Dupe

Ok, now to the controversial part – is it better to buy a genuine Eames lounge chair or a replica for a fraction of the price? This perspective may surprise you, but I think the decision depends on a few factors:

1. Quality of Materials and Finishes

Today you can purchase a fantastic quality replica Eames Lounge Chair, but no matter how hard they try, the knockoffs are far from the quality of the original.

The leather used on a Herman Miller Eames Chair is far superior to the leather available on any replica. Although higher-end dupes use full-grain, semi-aniline leathers, they are still a lower level.

One of the obvious differences between a real and a fake chair is the foam used in the cushions. Lower-end reproductions will be incredibly stiff, while the high-end dupes will still be stiffer than an original Eames chair.

The plywood shell details set apart a knock off as well. Modern versions of the real chair use seven layers of plywood to create the molded shell (earlier chairs were five-ply). Many replicas fake the details on the plywood shells, and the wood grain texture might even be painted on rather than a veneer.

As far as I can tell, all replica chairs are made in China, while chairs made by Herman Miller have been made in the US since Ray and Charles Eames were still around. The quality of the craftsmanship and the materials used in an authentic Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman can’t be beaten.

2. Price: Both Short and Long-Term

It’s no secret that an authentic Eames Lounge Chair is a high-end piece of furniture, but that quality also comes with a considerable cost. A lot goes into this price – so much that I wrote an entire article about why the Eames lounge chair is so expensive.

Image via 1stdibs.com

The Up Front Price Difference Between a Real vs. Fake Eames Lounge Chair

The cost between a real and a fake Eames Lounge Chair is no short of staggering. Today an original Eames Lounge chair will set you back about $7,000, making it merely aspirational for most people.

The quality of replica Eames Chairs varies widely, so the price also does. You can expect to pay about $700-$1000 for a lower-quality replica and around $1,700-$2,000 for the best Eames chair replicas.

If spending over $7,000 on a new chair seems insane, your best options are to buy a replica, a design inspired by the original, or get lucky and find a vintage score.

If you are deciding between a high-end replica or saving a little longer for the real thing, consider your purchase’s long-term value.

The Iconic Chair is a fantastic, high-quality replica.
Still, nothing is better than the original.

The Long-term Value of Your Purchase

Yes, the original Eames chair comes with a significant price, but if you knew you could own it for the rest of your life and then pass it down to your kids, would that make a difference?

A genuine Eames lounge chair will retain its original value if it’s taken care of, but a knockoff won’t. A real Eames lounge chair is built with heritage quality and is meant to last for multiple decades and generations.

You can update the shock mounts on a real Eames lounger and even purchase new cushions if needed. These updates aren’t possible on replicas.

If you can find a 1960s Herman Miller chair, you might be surprised it costs even more than a new one. Many people value the quality of the original chair and will pay top dollar for an intact model.

However, this doesn’t mean a dupe is worth nothing. A high-end knockoff will retain more value since it uses better quality materials that will wear better over time.

3. What’s Best For Your Lifestyle?

Original Eames chairs are in MOMA, and this is because they are undoubtedly a work of art. But not everyone has a lifestyle suited to living with museum-worthy furniture. I recommend considering the following before bringing such an expensive piece of furniture into your home:

How Careful Do You Want To Be?

Investing in authentic furniture means sharing your space with a beautiful, iconic luxury item. The timeless Eames Lounge Chair must be treated gently and looked after more than you would any old chair.

Buying a replica doesn’t come with such high stakes. Yes, even spending $2,000 is a lot of money, and you want to care for your investment, but it’s much easier to know that this isn’t a heritage item.

Durability

A replica Eames Lounge Chair is much more durable than the original design. If your replica is upholstered in faux leather, it won’t last forever like the original Eames chairs, but you can also easily wipe away spills.

The original Eames Chair has a weight capacity of 250 lbs, which is far lower than most replicas. The Iconic Chair has a capacity of 300 lbs, and my favorite option from Wayfair has a 550lb capacity.

Even if you think you weigh nowhere near 250 lbs, this weight capacity doesn’t only include your actual weight. Also, consider the force of sitting down or holding a squirmy child on your lap.

Pets

Buying furniture as a pet owner can be tricky, but this is especially true if you want to buy something as expensive as an Eames Lounge Chair. If you have cats or dogs that will scratch or want to sit in the chair, then it would be better to skip the inevitable heartbreak and purchase a replica or a design inspired by the original.

4. Supporting Original Design

When Charles and Ray Eames brought this chair into the world, they changed the furniture industry on its head. Even after over six decades, this design is one of the most coveted and recognizable chairs by people of all ages.

This is also why it’s one of the most replicated designs.

No artist wants to be copied, but this is an unfortunate truth, no matter what you create. It’s not uncommon for large companies today to rip off designs of much smaller artists, knowing they might not be equipt to defend themselves.

Regarding the luxury market, where the Eames Chair no doubt belongs, it’s hard for me not to consider that a replica and an authentic chair are two different worlds. No matter how hard the dupe tries to be the same, they are not close. The gap in the quality, craftsmanship, and price is too vast.

Most people who want a real chair either can’t afford one, or it doesn’t fit into their lifestyle, so a replica must suffice. How is this different than hanging a Starry Night poster on your wall? Is it really fooling anyone, and is that even the point?

In my opinion, if you have the money to afford a real Eames Chair and know you can take care of it, you should, without a doubt, buy the real chair. And if not, seeing the real chair as aspirational while you enjoy your dupe is okay.

I also like to imagine Charles and Ray Eames would agree when Jonathan Adler said, “The only thing worse than being copied is not being copied.”

5. Sustainability

Buying a handcrafted chair that uses eco-conscious materials and is built to last generations is, without a doubt, the more sustainable choice. It’s doubtful that a well taken care of Eames chair will end up in a landfill, but the same can’t be said for a replica.

If sustainability concerns you, but so does the giant price tag of an authentic Eames Chair, consider a vintage knockoff or a secondhand purchase. You might be surprised by what you can find!

Final Thoughts

I hope this has answered any questions you may have had about the Eames chair original vs. replica options on the market. Only you can decide what’s suitable for your space.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to sit in a genuine Eames chair, I recommend finding the closest authorized Herman Miller dealer to your home and trying it. I find this chair incredibly comfortable, but since it was designed so long ago, not all people do.

Thanks for reading and please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions!

Cheers!