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Posts from the ‘Lessons & Insights’ Category

Tribute or Knock-Off: Replica furniture is it OK or just plain wrong?

Pick up any magazine nowadays (whether interiors specific or not) and you are bound to find countless examples of mid-century furniture. It is prevalent in film and TV, and in offices, residential buildings, retail and restaurants.

It wasn’t that long ago you could buy an original Louis Poulsen PH Snowball Pendanet Lamp, Hans Wegner Bear Chair or Grant Featherston R160 Armchair on eBay or at a local auction for what it would have cost you to buy a badly designed uncomfortable chair from a high street store. This is now rarely possible. Yet, there is an insatiable demand for iconic pieces of furniture. Consequently, in countries like Australia, America, the UK and China where it is legal to manufacture replicas, the industry in fakes is booming. Everything from Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Chair to Arne Jakobsen’s Swan Chair, Saarinen’s Tulip Table, Isamu Noguchi’s Coffee Table, Pierre Paulin’s Orange Slice Chair, Thonet’s No 18 Bentwood Chair, Warren Platner Table are available for purchase. Whether you call these copies, fakes, replicas, reproductions or knock-offs, I’m quite divided about them.

On the one hand, the manufacturers and sellers of such pieces are filling a demand for iconic objects at an affordable price. For example, an original Egg Chair will cost you somewhere between 7,500-10,000AUD whereas the replica version, depending on the quality, is between $795-1650AUD. An original Archille Castigolioni Arco Lamp will set you back around $2500, a replica $385. As much as I would love an original (new or old) it is simply not anywhere near my (or most people’s) budget. Ironically, these exorbitant prices are at direct odds with ethos of designers like Jacobsen who aimed for pieces which were simple and affordable.

Having said that, there is no doubt that the originals are manufactured to a high standard with better quality of materials and craftsmanship being used.  But my main reservation is that the designer and also manufacturer have invested time, money and effort into a design: from the initial concepts through to creating a prototype and taking the piece to market. Why shouldn’t the designer (or their estate) reap financial reward for their creative genius, just as other artists, like the Beatles, George Orwell and Andy Warhol do. Furthermore, if we want manufacturers to put money into research and development and fostering new talent then there needs to be financial incentive to do so.

In some countries replicas are non-existent while in others they are prevalent. It depends entirely on that country’s copyright laws. In Australia, copyright lasts only 10 years while in the States furniture falls completely outside the copyright laws as it is considered a functional object. Recently, the UK, Romania and Estonia introduced tougher copyright protection for ‘artistic’ manufactured goods from 25 years to the European standard of 70 years after the death of the creator, bringing it into line with literature and art. The legislation in Australia is quite clear: the retailers of the non-orginal pieces have to clearly state in all marketing and promotion that the pieces they are selling are “replicas”.

Historically, a similar distinction between copies and forgeries has been made in art. From ancient Rome through to the Baroque the copying of masterworks was common. Initially the identity of the creator was not considered important, just the beauty of the piece. By the Renaissance pupils were faithfully copying their master’s works. This was seen as a tribute to the creative genius of the likes of Raphael and Rembrandt. Indeed, many paintings exist where art historians are still unclear about whether a particular work is by the master or his ‘school’. Commercially minded artists such as Albrecht Duerer (1471-1528) began adding his signature to prints to ensure their authenticity. His views on copying are clearly stated on an engraving: ”Be cursed, plunderers and imitators of the work and talent of others”.

The current situation with replica furniture in many ways parallels the crossroads that the music, book, film and TV industries finds themselves in: people still read, listen and watch, but there is less tolerance for paying high prices to consume these things. The outcomes won’t be what the doomsayers predict: the death of these art forms. But the current models of supply are not working and consequently will die and something else will grow in its place.

What I don’t understand is why that the replica manufacturers who are making considerable profits aren’t obliged to pay some sort of fee to the creator or original manufacturer for use of the design.

What do you think? Have you or would you ever buy a replica? Or does it sit uncomfortably with you? I’d love to hear.

Image credits [1}{2 & 3}

What would you do with this room?

I stumbled across this kitchen the other day. And while it is far from perfect (it’s too clean, minimal and one-dimensional) I kept looking at it and wondered why it had captured my attention.

The most interesting features are the early 20th century operating theatre style lamps and that amazing super sized photograph of a lived in kitchen in South America or Asia complete with pots, crockery, plastic shopping baskets, colanders of food ready for cooking.

That’s what this room lacks: life. And, of course, the walls would look better darker, and it just needs some messing up, some more layers, stuff on the counters. Plus a small lamp to cast some ambient lighting.

What do you think? Is this just right, or could be better?

Photo via riazzoli

The perfect room according to Abigail Ahern

I am being inundated with requests to “kiss and tell” about Abigail’s Masterclass I attended in London in May. So, today is my summary of the essential components that make the perfect room (according to Miss Ahern). There is enough information for about 10 separate posts, but decided to put it all into one, least you start getting fed-up with me banging on about Abigail.

Abigail’s main message centred around creating a “Push and Pull Dynamic”: imbuing a space with visual interest and a sense of the uncanny. Ideally, there should be a tension between fun and rigour, refinement and rebellion, high-end and low, and modern and traditional. Great in theory, but she took us through how to do this. The photos I am using to illustrate these points are not necessary ones that reflect Abigail style but do make the point!

Relaxed furniture arrangement

Abigail loves sofas, beds and tables to be positioned away from the wall and at different angles as it creates a more informal feel. Circular as opposed to square or rectangular furniture also add to ease of flow.

Jenna Lyons Brooklyn brownstone via Ken Levenson Architect

Andrew Corrie and Harriet Maxwell MacDonald Soho Loft via Living etc

Layer, layer, layer

Give a sense of the 3D by putting things in front of each other. Arrange bookshelves with books stacked both vertically and horizontally and include paintings, objects and memorabilia one in front of the other, but not too perfectly arranged. Rugs look great layered on top of each other.

Thomas O’Brien Apartment via Design Sponge

Paris apartment of photographer, Marie-Pierre More via Marie Claire Maison

Play with proportion 

Huge mirrors, lamps and lights create a magical Alice in Wonderland effect. This can be achieved also be contrasting scale i.e. placing a mirror that is too large for the accompanying mantelpiece or a massive vase next to a tiny one.

Home office of Michael Minns and Jonathan King via 47 Park Avenue

Spanish apartment of Mikel Irastorza via Houzz

Embrace imperfection

The effect of this on the senses is ease. So go for off-kilter symmetry e.g., hang your chandelier way too low and off centre; scatter a variety of mismatched cushions in an haphazard manner, arrange different styles of chairs around an old table, include lamps of varying heights, fill bookshelves with art works and vases. Walls painted as blackboards that are scrawled all over with messages are really cheap and effective.

David Alhadeff’s Brooklyn loft via Design Sponge

Hanne Graumann’s Copenhagen apartment via Duel Home

Ambient lighting

Each room in Abigail’s house has between 7-9 lamps with low watt bulbs; this creates a cosy ambience and if your walls are painted dark, then frankly, they will require a bit of extra lighting assistance. But be careful not to overlight the room from above.

Abigail’s dining area via her own blog

Create Contrasts

This can be done in a variety of ways by mixing up contemporary and traditional furniture, varying texture so soft fabrics contrast with hard bricks or wood, shinning surfaces appear next to rough ones. Use a variety of patterns, but if you do then restrict the colour palate.

via A White Carousel

Be Brave and Unexpected

Allow about 10% of your decor to be fun and tongue in cheek. Embrace humour and quirky items. Have fun with bold colour.

Mark and DJ Duckworth’s Upper West Side Apartment, New York via Lonny Magazine

Madrid apartment of Jaime Lacase vía Elle Decor España

The Upper East Side Apartment of Emma and Herve featured in Milk Magazine.

Painted Out Room, preferably dark

Paint the walls, floors, window frames, doors, skirting, ceiling . . . actually everything in the same colour. It creates a sense of space and cosiness.  White is great, but dark moody sludgy colours are even better according to Miss A.

Paris apartment of Florence Baudoux via Richard Powers

And, finally flowers

No room would have Abigail’s mark without masses of flowers.

The Design School in Abigail’s Home via her blog

That’s just my take on it. For those of you who can easily get to Melbourne, Sydney, New York or London, I highly recommend enrolling in Abigail’s Masterclass and be inspired. You can do so here. I’d be fascinated to hear what you take from the class.

If you are based in Australia, stay tuned as I have some very exciting Abigail Ahern news to announce in a few weeks.

Lessons Learnt from Abigail Ahern: Flowers, flowers, flowers

This is the first of a new series about design lessons I have learnt and I am going to start it with a few insights from Abigail Ahern’s Masterclass last month.

Fill your house with an abundance of flowers: they had texture and create immediate layering.

Here are some photos of Abigail’s shop in London.

What’s really interesting is that they are all fakes! Yes, that’s right. Decking out your house with this amount of real flowers every day of the year is really only possible by those living in the country with access to bounties of free blooms, or those with a line of credit at the local florist. Alternatively, invest in some high quality fakes. These days they are so well done it’s hard to tell them from real ones especially if you have a few scented candles burning at the same time.

Last week my house was photographed for a magazine and, with Abigial’s inspiration in mind, I combined both real and fake flowers and scattered them throughout the house and below are the results.


A few tips to remember: don’t put fake flowers near natural light as your secret will be revealed; and forget posies and flower arrangements, the latest in floral design is putting clusters of vases or bottles together each with one flower or stem.

The photo below is from the Masterclass, run in the attic of Abigail’s house. It’s painted in Farrow & Ball’s Railings which is the most divine colour. Flowers (and pretty much anything) looks incredible against it. I am pretty excited that I managed to get a sample of this colour and it’s being sent to me in Australia. If I love it as much as I think I will, my plan is to have it colour matched and to start painting!

Photo by me (Kate Challis)


London calling: A Master Class with Abigail Ahern

Last Friday I spent the day in the fabulous home of Abigail Ahern. Yes, the interior designer extraordinaire, who also has an interiors store, writes a captivating blog, appears regularly in magazines and on television and is now contemplating opening up a cafe. If that wasn’t enough, she also runs a Design School. The participants in my Master Class were a variety of women: many creative types (graphic designers, artists, web-designers), some looking for inspiration for doing up their homes, another who manages a charity shop and after ideas on how to make that amazing and a number of women like myself who just love interior design and are between careers and thinking about their next steps.

The day was informal, fun and yet incredibly informative. Abigail describes her style as eclectic and said that this is more difficult to pull off than any other style. The morning was spent with Abigail taking us through the essential elements of amazing spaces: for her it’s all about breaking the rules. While our houses are incredibly different (at the moment, I only have one dark room in mine while hers is dark from top to bottom), I seem to embrace almost everything she advocated without previously realising it. Furthermore, 90% of the images she used to demonstrate her points I have used for my blog. That was a huge confidence boost.

The best part of the day though, was being in her own home and being able to look every single room (nothing was off limits). I took loads of photos but am unable to share them with you as Abigail has a book of her work coming out next year featuring her home and the publishers (naturally) have put a ban on the publishing of her house in the meantime. What I can show you is one photo of Gemma Ahern, Abigail’s talented florist sister who talked to us about the basics of really gorgeous flower arranging using fake flowers that, amazingly, truly look real. You might say that floral arranging is a rather middle aged and middle class thing to get excited about, but it was great.

I left yesterday with 8 pages of ideas for things I would like to do at my home scrawled in my notebook – and with the challenge to take what I learnt and morph and synthesise it into my own style. After all, I don’t want to be an Abigail Ahern wannabe. Spending a day with her and in her home has given me a new found confidence, which as Abigail says is really one of the most important aspects of design: having self-belief.

Stay tuned as Abigail is taking her Design School to New York and possibly Australia later in the year.  In the meantime, I’ll be posting about the content of the Master Class and my essential learnings over the next few weeks.

Image credits {1} The Selby and {2} me (Kate Challis)