Arts&Antiques: Renaissance moment for mid-century furniture

Adam’s and de Vere’s sales feature classics from design heavyweights such as Le Corbusier

Mid-century furniture is having something of a renaissance, with house hunters searching for iconic pieces by designers such as Eames, Zanuso and Le Corbusier. But for fans of these and other designers from this period, it is worth remembering that new items sold under these brand names need to be produced by companies that hold licences for these creations, otherwise they are worthless once they leave the shop floor.

Companies such as Arflex, Cassina and Vitra all hold permits to produce these designs, and each piece will have the manufacturer's stamp, along with a serial number. Due to strict new copyright laws in the UK, furniture companies who import designer copies usually from China have relocated to the Republic in an effort to circumvent laws that render it virtually impossible to make and sell replicas, for up to 70 years after a designer's death.

"This does not happen on the Continent either," says Rory Guthrie of de Vere's auction house "as designers' intellectual property rights are upheld, and as far as I can see, Ireland is about the only country which still allows [replica] pieces to be openly sold".

Take the instantly recognisable Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman, designed in 1956. To buy a new, licensed model will cost in the region of €7,000 through Minima, a long-established high-end Dublin furniture store which sells the licensed chair in Ireland.


"The reason for their prices is because of quality and craftsmanship. Woods are made from seasoned timber, therefore made to last instead of ending up in a skip. It's like the difference between a biro and a good pen," says Niall Mullen, of who specialises in art deco and mid-century furniture, at his store on Francis Street.

But there are shops and websites here that sell “Eames style” lounge chairs “based on the original design” for close to €2,000. Licensing issues aside, and despite some companies saying their pieces “pay homage” to the design, for collectors they have no resale value, and are in effect rip offs.

Two upcoming sales have a fine collection of mid-century designs, most original and some made under licence, for those whose budgets don’t stretch to new model – or want a greener purchase – while also giving a good indication of resale values.

Triennale floor lamp

Adam's of St Stephen's Green Mid-Century Modern timed online sale, which is currently open and ends on May 11th, features pieces by Gio Ponti, Ico Parisi, Arne Vodder and Marco Zanuso, along with art by contemporary artists including Mark Francis, William McKeown, Nathalie du Pasquier and John Boyd.

Highlights include a pair of recently upholstered Lady Chairs by Marco Zanuso, produced by Arflex in the 1950s (lot 29, €5,000-€8,000). Also in there are three rare lights by one of Italy's most important lighting designers, Angelo Lelli, who established Arredoluce in 1943. His Model 12128 triennale floor lamp with coloured adjustable enamel shades is so striking it was chosen for the front cover of the company's catalogue raisonne (lot 4, €4,000-€6,000).

With bars and pubs still closed, the sale has some nice cocktail cabinets, should the thought of home entertaining take your fancy. Lot 20 is a complete rosewood bar with two stools from 1960 (€3,000-€5,000), and lot 44, a rosewood revolving cocktail cabinet, is designed like a chest of drawers (€1,500-€2,000).

De Vere’s Design of Our Times timed online sale starts on May 1st and runs until May 18th and has almost 400 lots spanning four centuries of design.

Included are Italian and Danish pieces from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s right back to Irish Georgian works and contemporary art by Donald Teskey, Bridget Riley and Mark Francis. Highlights include Eileen Gray's Transat Chair, which was inspired by the glamorous world of transatlantic travel and takes its name from a shortened version of Le Fauteuil Transatlantique deck chairs on first-class ocean liners (lot 25, €2,000-€3,000). Designed for utter relaxation is the LC4, by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, which was created in 1928. Italian furniture giant Cassina signed the first exclusive licensing agreement in 1964 for edition rights to designs by Le Corbusier, and continues to produce them today (lot 20, €3,000-€5,000).

Imagine throwing the towel in on successful architectural career, after coming across a car seat in a scrapyard? That was the nascence for the Rover Chair by Ron Arad, the Israeli architect turned furniture designer whose original chair is now exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York. This model, lot 55, from the 1980s is listed at €3,000-€5,000.

For large wall spaces, some mammoth contemporary artworks feature. Passage 2 by Mark Francis, measuring almost 2sq m is said to be influenced by his interest in biological and cellular forms (lot 250, €20,000-€30,000) and of a similar size is Donald Teskey’s Coastline Narrative III, a study on the power of waves (lot 255, €30,000-€50,000).,,,