A few weeks ago I picked up some sweet C chairs and an Eames style lounge for the bedroom from our favorite thrift store in Alameda.
Sounds like a lot of furniture for a bedroom but the room is large and oddly set-up. There are three loosely defined areas:
The C chairs are for next to the corner fireplace which is next to the reading nook in this especially long bedroom. Trying to establish little zones that make sense is tricky but I think we're off to a good start.
Then there's a solarium-like (glass sun room) nook feature off the bedroom with a bookshelf that I assume is now a reading area (built-in bookshelf was added). I was looking for a lounge/arm-chair or reading chair and I found the comfortably padded and reclined Eames-style lounge for that. A reading chair is a good thing to have in an old world house like ours and the versatile mid century style looks oddly at home in this '27 house. A few of our mid-century pieces are holdovers from the previous house - a big 1954 mid century modern house which was the original impetus for their purchase. The bookshelf was added sometime after or during the '39 as it looks '40s and shares a wall with the mid century closet which was built out from the original exterior wall (stucco can be seen inside the closet so clearly not original).
The third area is the queen bed that fits into a nook next to a box that is headroom space for the staircase that spirals down over the fireplace as it heads towards the kitchen/bath/LR hall. It's weird
Back to the Eames-style lounge chair - it is in caramel vinyl and walnut plywood and is a copy of the iconic Eames chair and one of the most popular chairs of all time. Usually in black leather, the caramel vinyl looks awesome in the room which is white with yellow and gold accents. The dark, curved plywood on the back is similar in color tone but different in feel to the dark stained redwood floors. The modern lines give a welcome boost of modernist lifestyle vibes to contrast with the Hansel and Gretel feel of the house.
I had always liked the Eames lounge and ottoman but I had assumed it was something that was like a '69 Shelby GT500 - iconic, but almost nobody actually owns one. I assumed this since I never saw one around until now. I have come across and bought some mid-century classics like a pair of Wassily chairs, some Bertoia chairs, Dansk teak curved back chairs etc. I even passed up some "plycraft rockers" I had assumed were Eames knockoffs. But as is often the case, it turns out the truth is even more interesting than assumption.
The modernist furniture movement is about making simple, often curvy and ergonomic furniture out of new materials and design ideas. Plywood had been around for a while, but people were beginning to try to bend it into ergonomic furniture shapes in the '40s. The first commonly available bent plywood chair was Eames in '46 which was a very new twist on the concept of bent wood chairs. The first bent-wood chairs were the Thonet café chairs made out of cane that were arguably more revolutionary than the Eames plywood chair. Before Thonet people actually carved and glued together pieces of solid wood to make chairs. Heavy, expensive, and not very form fitting.
Bending plywood so that it looks draped or spread open like a flower is not easy. Plycraft, a furniture company based on bent plywood as the name suggests, was working on the cutting edge of plywood furniture, more or less contemporaneously with Eames. Eames may be credited with the first plywood chair, but Plycraft had design cred of its own, at least early on.
Plycraft worked with George Mulhauser and some other designers to produce a few really awesome plywood lounge chairs. Charles and Ray Eames always seemed to be a step ahead, producing their classic Eames lounge 670 and ottoman 671 in 1956 which inspired countless imitations of the concept, but nothing comes anywhere close to the power of their design form. However, the Mulhauser designs are so cool that they almost look like Eames designs abandoned in the process of developing the concept of the classic 670 plywood lounge chair. These were the "plycraft rockers" I had come across a few years ago (which would easily get $1200 each today, even though they were offered at $600, I just didn't have that kind of money lying around). Here's one I saw
Another really cool Mulhauser design is the "Mr.Chair" design.
Well, unfortunately Plycraft devolved from the cutting edge of modern furniture to simply ripping off the iconic Eames design after only a few years. Whereas Henry Miller had, and still has the exclusive rights to produce the Eames 670, Plycraft is probably the maker of the most common "version" of this chair, though if you see them side by side, it's not worthy of calling it a clone.
Compared to the plycraft copy above on the left, I think mine is lookin' a lot closer to the one on the right 😎 though of course it's not real Herman Miller by Eames or I'd have to sell it for $2000 before someone could ruin it.
Well, apparently Meeko could tell it was a fake. He peed on the vinyl and I woke up to his scratching at 5AM - a sign that he had peed on something he wasn't supposed to and now wanted to clean it up. I rushed to soak up as much pee as I could and decided to try to get the seat cushion off - I noticed black screws were holding the cushions in place, which is not something you would see on the real thing. I decided to look up features of the Eames chair and how to tell a fake, and there are a bunch of things I'm now aware of and feel pretty confident I could identify a real one in a group. I'll list the "inaccuracies" from bottom to top:
-The base has five legs. This is the correct number of legs. The ottoman originally had 4. Copies often have the wrong number or style of base on the chair or ottoman or both. 5 and 5 or 4 and 4 are the most common since it's easiest to make just one base for both.
-The base on mine is cast aluminum with plastic wood veneer on top. The real base is black powdercoated aluminum. Very few of the copies have anything close to accurate looking bases. Plastic wood veneer probably means my chair is '70s.
-The base has big springs on it. It looks weird underneath like this may have been added later for more bouncy, lean-back comfort.
The Eames chair, on the other hand, is fixed in a cocked back, reclined lounge position permanently and is not a recliner chair but rather a "reclined chair". Because of their design, original Eames chairs can break since lounge chairs take the full weight of a person and there are no springs to divert force. Also the originals are 5 ply which is now 7 ply in the current version since the old ones are known to crack near the "wings" of the lower back ply shell.
-There are screws through the plywood into the cushions on my copy. Again, the real design is supposed to be sleek but sacrifices of structural strength, practical serviceability, and comfort have to be made to this end. The original Eames chair has cushions that clip inside the curve of the plywood so the back is just one uninterrupted piece of plywood. Apparently they've changed at least once. I bet they are a pain in the butt to deal with.
-The arms are L shaped and turn down in towards the seat. This is correct. A later, more common copy from Plycraft simply has round oval armrests. They really stopped trying.
-The headrest support has wood braces instead of aluminum. Mine seem to be solid teak or walnut, which look really good. The real thing has cast aluminum arms with odd rubber bushings connecting the wood
This last feature, the wood headrest supports, makes me think it is made by Charlton since the wood headrest supports seem to be exclusive and the atypical veneer base matches pictures I've seen online of Charlton. After going over this chair pretty thoroughly, it's one of the best copies I've seen. It wouldn't fool an expert but the low shape is true to the Eames design - most copies are Plycraft which are sitting very upright so they can reclined and that look is less relaxed than the original which is supposed to be made to help one relax. "A special refuge from the strains of modern living."
In terms of vintage copies, it looks like Plycraft is more than half, the rest are, in order of frequency, '80s models that are much more accurate (made in Japan?), Selig and lastly Charlton. I really like this chair and it's good quality and I got it for $200. I hope to find the matching ottoman for cheap but now I know after this research, that's going to be hard.
Now that you know all about it, don't be like this guy and buy a fake for $2600!