The replica market, in our opinion, might be the most controversial aspect in the world of designer furniture. Some people enjoy having iconic pieces reimagined in more affordable shells, while others denounce furniture piracy and claim that only the originals are worthy of love.

We subscribe to neither of these arguments: replicas are a consequence, not a cause, and they can come in handy sometimes. This reasoning is especially true for us a mid-century modern replica company, so we have to warn you that some of our ideas will seem a little biased. Proceed with caution.

In our previous article about replicas we chose an item that we believe represents the pros and cons of the current market. The Arco Lamp has a very special place in our heart, and on this discussion as well —it was one of the very first items, in this decade, the became the centerpiece of new legislation regarding replicas, so let’s dig a little more into that.

Image from Barcelona Designs.

Castiglioni’s Arco Lamp and the modern war against furniture reproductions

The year is 2011, and a 5-year-old court case is finally settled in Milan, Italy. Legacy manufacturer Flos had sued a low-tier competitor called Semeraro. The reason? They started importing some floor lamps from Chinese factories. No issue here, right? Well, the problem is these lamps didn’t just look like your regular floor lamp. These lamps were, according to Flos, blatant copies of Achille Castiglioni’s most famous mid-century modern artifact: The Arco Lamp.

Semeraro was taking advantage of two facts: First, both Castiglioni and Flos failed to register the Arco Lamp’s original design in the modern copyright system, and second, Article 239 of the Italian Industrial Property Code considered these old mid-century designs to be in the public domain anyway. We would like to clarify that we don’t support Semeraro’s actions, because we believe there’s a difference between trying to replicate something and actually stealing it.

The current state of the replica market in the US

The case for the Arco Lamp inspired other European countries to take action against furniture replicas, the most recent case being the new laws enacted in the UK in 2016. However, the war against furniture reproductions is much older than that.

We mentioned in a previous article how ELC replicas are more common today than they were in the 1960s, but further research led us to the fact the Eames couple themselves were already fighting fakes back in the day.

Nowadays, the war against replicas goes way beyond the Arco Lamp. The UK ruling was meant to protect a great number of original designs, mostly Eames chairs of various kinds. US original designs, however, are protected by something called “trade dress” rights, the same rights that protect iconic shapes that people usually associate with a single brand or manufacturer.

These are the same laws that protect the design of the regular Coke bottle. However, copyright laws in the US don’t protect every aspect of a given design, so a furniture piece has to be sufficiently unique in order to get a patent that, by the way, will not work everywhere in the world.

US intellectual property laws tend to be even more vague if the design is not originally American, which is the case of our beloved Arco Lamp, so the original manufacturers have taken other types of measures to stop replicas from entering the market. These measures include, among other things, training US Customs and Border Protection agents to recognize and flag what they like to generalize as ‘knock-offs.’

So, if most people currently loathe this type of furniture, why should you buy a mid-century modern replica?

We’ve come a long way since the Arco Lamp trial of 2011, and we will now list three key reasons that we believe can help the case for furniture replicas.

  • The idea that ‘most people’ dislike replicas is quite wrong

Price isn’t the only deal maker when buying a good Arco Lamp replica, the lamp itself —provided you get it from the right place— doesn’t lose its status as an icon just because a Chinese person made it. A lot of people understand and appreciate this point, and that’s why the replica market is growing, and not the other way around.

  • The big original manufacturers are not exactly ‘suffering’

We get it. Furniture replicas can hurt Herman Miller, Vitra, and the people at Flos. But it’s really hard for us to believe that this market is going to put them out of business, which is something a lot of people worry about when discussing the matter. These are huge, international, capitalist-overlord type companies worth millions. You shouldn’t, as a normal person, really care about their fate anyway.

And please don’t blame replica furniture if these big boys choose to fire some employees over lost profits. We recently read about a company in Japan whose management preferred to lower their own salaries before firing employees after a bad year. Talk about real leadership…

Aside from this, the replica market will never put these companies entirely out of business, especially because replica detractors still exist. There will always be some rich person willing to invest on an original Arco Lamp —furniture replicas aren’t made for them anyway.

Recognizing the value of these brands does not have to result in eliminating more affordable options. Everyone knows that replicas are ‘fake’: the real criminals are those companies that try to hide it and sell copies of certain products as original designs (See IKEA and their buddies). That makes us angry, and it should make you angry too.

  • Replicas actually do put great design “within reach”

We do believe that the replica market helps many people to get the style they want in their homes, and that it is actually very cruel to denounce them for wanting to get a beautiful Arco Lamp for their living room without having to spend two months’ worth of salary (in many cases). You could say, but what about designer bags? Fashion? Music? Should we let some Chinese factory copy those things as well? Where do you draw the line?

That’s actually a very good question, and one that we hope will help us end this article on a good note: Fashion and music are commodities, while furniture is both a commodity and a necessity. Most people who bring up this comparison either have the money to get original fashion items or just don’t care until the issue of furniture replicas comes up in conversation.

This way of seeing the world is, as best, elitist, and disingenuous at its worst. Let people enjoy things. The only thing that bugs you about the Arco Lamp replica, to name one example, is the fact the original lamp doesn’t seem as appealing to you now as it did before. After all, why have one if everyone can have one, right?

This is where replica haters are also wrong. Again, most people recognize the differences between the original design and a replica. If you have the money, fine, go for it. Everyone will know it’s an original. Flos makes a damn good job of assuring this, as does Herman Miller, Vitra, etcetera. If you’re able to buy an original piece, the replica market does not affect, effect, or concern you in any possible way.

A tentative final answer

These are the three reasons why we believe replicas can be good for people. We don’t support breaking the law or taking advantage of up-and-coming designers (which sadly happens a lot and does need to stop).

We don’t support big brands like IKEA copying designs from original manufacturers. We support getting yourself an affordable replica of a beloved mid-century icon, one that’s clearly marked as a replica and doesn’t fool you into buying it with fake promises.

That’s all. Hope this clears everything out. Who wants pie?