Why good design has its price

How much are we willing to pay for a piece of furniture – for a chair, for example? Not more than 100 euros or even 5 times that? How important is the production or the origin of the product for us? Does it have to be a designer piece or is it enough for us to have a standard copy from the furniture store next door? And how do we stand by the fact that legendary design classics are now offered as replicas at affordable prices for nearly everyone? An almost perfect replica of the famous CH24 Wishbone Chair by Carl Hansen for 150 Euros instead of 800 Euros for the original. How is that even possible?

The quality question: quality = expensive? 

The softly curved backrest, the 120-meter-thick paper cord, the Y-shaped centerpiece of the chair back – The chair classic by designer Hans J. Wegner has been considered a prime example of Danish design for almost 70 years and is now more popular than ever. In the production of the Wishbone chair craftsmanship, the sense of aesthetics, form and material as well as the longevity of the product are in focus. More than 100 work steps and three weeks of production time are needed to make the legendary piece of furniture. But does the elaborate workmanship justify the supposedly high price? Maybe this is a little bit like art: an original is and remains an original – and a copy just a copy. Thinking about the term “cheap copy” you might think quality is where the imitators of those design classics are most likely to save. But is that true? And can beginner really recognize the difference between original and replica?

According to a study, Germans invest just under 580 euros a year in home furnishings. This puts Germany in third place in European comparison; only the Austrians and Swiss spend more money on their furniture. 1 The Germans’ average per-capita spending thus corresponds either to a designer chair – or to a whole suite of replicas. So it stands to reason that especially the price-performance ratio significantly influences the purchase decision. At the same time, many consumers demand a high level of quality and the guarantee of the longevity of a piece of furniture. Wouldn’t it make more sense to reach deeper into your pocket and enjoy it for as long as possible? Don’t get us wrong: We don’t want to say that more expensive products automatically speak for a higher quality standard. However, if you deal with the origin and manufacture of a piece of furniture, you should quickly recognize whether the product meets your own quality standards.

© Carl Hansen & Søn

Can beginner really recognize the difference between original and replica?

The copyright question: When is design protected?

While well-known design designs – such as the Wagenfeld luminaire or the Thonet S 32 / S 64 cantilever chair – are protected in Germany and many parts of Europe for up to 70 years after the author’s death, copyright in other countries expires after 25 years. Many companies take advantage of this and produce minimally modified replicas at a fraction of the price. Especially in the UK, the intellectual property of designers is relatively liberal, which is why most of the online shops settle for replicas. Another problem: unlike industrial property rights, copyright applies to personal intellectual creations. So it only covers works that focus on art – not commercial sales. Thus, for many furnishings and design products only the industrial property rights apply – not automatically and only after registration. Quite apart from the fact that no protective right can exist over 70 years. 2

 

The feeling question: What is behind a design?

While we would have denied the question of justifying the high prices for design products in the past, we have learned in recent years how much good design actually means and what is behind it. Today we no longer look at furniture from the pragmatic point of view of a mid twenties. We see furniture – especially design furniture – as an investment, as a purchase for life. That’s why we find more original design classics in our living room today – like a walnut-colored dining table by & Tradition for example, the minimalist tray table by HAY, an open wall shelf system by MENU and a KALA from the Limited Black Edition. When we look at these pieces today, we no longer just see the design or the name behind it. We see the history, the years of work and the origin of the products. And that has its price.

❞ We see furniture – especially designer furniture – as an investment, as a purchase for life. 

Sources

1 https://www.faz.net/aktuell/stil/drinnen-draussen/deutsche-geben-viel-fuer-einrichtung-aus-14018118.html

2 https://www.faz.net/aktuell/stil/mode-design/fuer-einrichtungsgegenstaende-gelten-unterschiedliche-urheberrechte-15862672.html

Headerbild © Carl Hansen & Søn

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