The real McCoy: The model 670 lounge chair and 671 ottoman designed by Charles and Ray Eames and produced by the Herman Miller furniture company.
The model 670 lounge chair and 671 ottoman are undoubtedly the most recognizable pieces of mid century modern furniture and the most copied. The 670 lounge set was designed by Charles and Ray Eames; the famous husband-and-wife team that literally changed the course of commercial design starting in the early 1940s. The lounge chair was designed in 1956 for the Herman Miller furniture company and was a venture into the high-end home and office market. The lounge set would be the most expensive item produced by the Eameses, and it was an immediate hit with the public thanks to great marketing and an introduction on the Arlene Francis’ Home Show, which later became the Today show.
So, how do you tell real from a knock-off? The easiest way to tell, usually, is if the chair has visible screws in the wood shells. If there are screws, then it is a fake. The real design is free of screws, and this seamless look is what Charles and Ray were striving for. The real chair is held together with rubber shock-mounts glued to the wood under the cushions, and for many companies trying to reproduce the chair, this was just too time consuming of a process to copy, so they opted for visible screws. Not to mention the patent rights Herman Miller had on the mount design.
The easiest way to tell a fake from the real Eames chair is if it has visible screws in the wood shells. If there are screws, then it is a fake.
Charles and Ray Eames were looking for a seamless look, without any visible hardware, unlike these visible screws in a knock-off. The real chair is held together with rubber shock-mounts glued to the wood under the cushions.
Most real Eames chairs are signed with paper labels, round metal discs or long thin black labels. The label can also be used to date the chair, but we will get into that later with my next article on this design. These labels can fall off or be removed with ease, so not every Eames lounge will be signed because of this.
Another way to tell is looking at the base of the chair. The real lounge has a five-star base of aluminum with black finish and adjustable foot glides marked “domes of silence” on the rubber portion. This base swivels but is in a fixed reclining position. The fakes often have four-star bases with big springs as a rocking mechanism. If the chair has a spring/rocking base, or if the base has wood on it, then it is a fake.
Rarely do you see knock-offs with real leather cushions, but they have turned up, especially the newer knock-offs from Italy and Asia. The true chair will have real leather cushions—never vinyl—with either foam or down-fill. Some special-ordered chairs were in fabric, but these are rare examples. Also, the ottoman cushion is the same size as the seat cushion. Many fake chairs will have smaller ottomans. The arms are another way to tell real from fake. The real chair has large, angled armrests which actually fold over the sitting area thus adding more comfort and hiding the construction of the wood shells. Many times you will see the fakes with simple, elevated oval armrests that are thin and bolted to the wood shells. Once again, if you see visible bolts or screws to the wood shells, then it’s a fake!
If you are not a purist, then a knock-off can be quite the value. A vintage Eames lounge by Herman Miller can fetch upwards of $4,000 in excellent condition. New versions are even $3,000, but a copy can be had for anywhere from $200 at your local antique shop, and they turn up on eBay quite often with a price range from $450 to $750, depending on condition. But I can personally say there is nothing like the quality, comfort and investment value of a true vintage Eames lounge chair and ottoman.
Charles Eames said his goal for the chair was to have the “warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” If you ever get a chance to own a real Eames lounge, then you will see first hand his goal was met!
Other articles about the Eames Lounge Chair by Bradley Downs:
Telling the Age of Your Vintage (or Newer) Eames Lounge
How to Tell if a Eames Lounge Chair Has Been Repaired
Bradley Downs is a Worthologist who specializes in mid century modern furniture and the owner of www.odd2mod.com in Atlanta, Ga.
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