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The Iconic Eames Lounge Chair; Is That One Real or Fake?

by Bradley Downs (04/28/09).

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 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.

One easiest way to tell a fake from the real Eames chair is by looking at the base. The real Eames lounge charge has a five-star base, unlike this fake, which has a four-star base.

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. The real chair is held together with rubber shock-mounts glued to the wood under the cushions. If you see screws, it’s a knock-off.

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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13 Responses to “The Iconic Eames Lounge Chair; Is That One Real or Fake?”

  1. Chris Hughes Chris Hughes says:

    Although I am a big fan of arts and crafts furniture, I’ve had a soft spot for this Eames chair and ottoman. I think it’s a wonderful design that works in any home. My friend actually inherited two of these chairs/ottomans and I love to sit in them whenever I visit!

    —Chris

  2. J.E says:

    If you’re looking for a cheaper Eames recliner, I’d suggest officedesignsoutlet.com. I saw one really expensive the other day actually!

  3. Harold S. says:

    I own a genuine Herman Miller 670/671. I had a fake many years ago ($500.00 not cheap in the 1970′s) and it fell apart..cheap top-dyed leather, and the spring-loaded base mechanism broke completely, and could not be repaired (replacement was too expensive for this cheap knock-off).
    GET THE REAL ONE! Even a used one in nice condition, please!
    Either a Herman Miller, or Vitra (the German Company, and the ONLY licensed issue given by Herman Miller). You’ll enjoy this chair forever.

  4. ann cotsalas says:

    I have the “real” chair. However the leather was in such bad condition it had to be replaced. I called Herman Miller and they gave me someone here in the south east who suggested that rather than leather use the imitation. Unfortunately, we did just that. How has the value of the chair been affected? the chair is from the seventies. I wold kike to sell it.

  5. Jenni says:

    I have long wanted one, but it is out of my price range. I recently purchased this reproduction and the quality is great (unlike some really really bad ones I have seen) http://www.inmod.com/eames-classic-plywood-lounge-chair-ottoman.html so maybe this would be a good alternative for others without deep pockets. Its design is really accurate too, no visible screws like you discuss.

  6. RF says:

    Can anyone recommend a person to contact for help deciphering if my chair is a fake or not? It has the five-star base, no visible screws and the ottoman is the same width as the chair however there is no HM label on it whatsoever and the metal is stamped with NORTHFIELD METAL PRODUCTS WATERLOO ONTARIO. Thanks in advance!

    • TH says:

      I have one of these chairs / ottomans too with the Nothfield Metal Products spring mount on the bottom of the chair but no HM logo. Did you ever discover anything to verify if it is an HM or knockoff?

    • Alan says:

      I bought one of these Eames copies with rosewood new in 1980 for $688. On the receipt it was listed as a Charlton 119. I’m not an expert but it appears to be nearly identical in appearance to the original.

  7. Pete says:

    Hi all. I read above that the seat and ottoman cushions are the same size. Does anyone know whether they’re interchangeable? I have a vintage original and the seam is coming apart on the seat cushion. I’d rather have the better cushion on the seat, and the split cushion underfoot. THanks.

  8. scott says:

    I have an Eames chair – however it is different than the photos I commonly see. The chairs I see have a headrest attached with 2 brackets. My Eames chair has a headrest that is one piece with the body. Can you tell me anything about this model?

  9. A LaGasse says:

    Having done a LOT of research on the LCW – this article is the definite for clarity – right down to the “domes of silence”. Thank you.

  10. Stacy Woldie says:

    I have an Eames style side chair for office. Underneath the fabric upholstered removable cushions is a signature written in blue ink both on the wooden chair seat and wooden chair back. The chair has a date stamp of 1984 and sticker on underside with word “aprovado.” It has tubular chrome legs and arm rest supports. Where can I find an autograph by Ray Eames to compare to the signatures on this chair?

  11. I am a big fan of these Eames lounge chairs and it will give complete unique look to your office or house. These are really comfortable to sit and the creativity of the Charles and Ray Eames was really wonderful. Moreover, I had purchased this chair at a cost of $995 and I had kept that chair in my living room.

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