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Noguchi Coffee Table: Reproductions vs. Originals, Quality, Specifications, Copyright.

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
Apologies in advance: I know there are similar threaks out there, but I didn't find quite exactly what I was looking for there so I'm starting my own.

I'm not normally the type to go all fawny over MCM classics; in fact I sort of reflexively recoil from the painting-by-numbers approach some take towards interior decorating. But I'm working in a very eclectic and difficult space and with some of the other design choices we've been making, even though I haven't traditionally loved it, I'm starting to think the Noguchi coffee table is really the best fit for my formal seating area.


My dilemma is that I'm not particularly keen on plunking down the $1,500 for an "officially licensed" Herman Miller version when there are a plethora of less pricey reproductions out there. One I see frequently is a "Tribeca" and there are even other cheaper ones.

I'm generally very respectful of copyrights and IP - I may be one of the only people in the world who's never downloaded an mp3 file "illegally." But I'm trying to understand what the IP around this design (not to mention other MCM classics) exactly means. I presume official design patents and/or copyrights have expired, but I don't know. And if so, then what does "officially licensed" even mean? For the extra $500 - $1,000 that Herman Miller commands for this, are they paying royalties to the Noguchi family?

Obviously, I'm also concerned about the accuracy and quality of the reproductions. Looking at photos on the web, it does appear that some of these may be subtly different than the original. The legs look thinner, or curved slightly differently, or the glass may not be as thick. I'm not sure if only the Herman Miller repros have the Noguchi signature on the glass - is this what you're paying the extra dollars for? I also need the quality to be there - it has to look good and be well-made to last for some time. I also have a child in the house, so the proper tempered glass is a necessity.

These are concerns for aesthetic reasons, of course, but I'll also be frank: I also don't want to be the chump with the Noguchi "inspired" table or the obviously chintzy copy.

Ultimately, I'm looking for help understanding the ethics and aesthetics of this choice so that I can make an informed, intelligent choice. The easy answer is to just pony up, but if I'm just ponying up to satisfy a nonexistent ethical issue and am only lining DWR or Herman Miller's pockets by doing so, I'm not sure I see the point.

Thanks in advance for any help.
post #2 of 24
Well, I'll bite.

As far as furniture goes: I can't speak to the specifics of Herman Miller's deal, but generally speaking if they have a royalty agreement with Noguchi and/or estate or assigns, then yes the designer should still get a cut - how substantial it is I can't say but I doubt it would even be 10% of the sale price - although I could be wrong. This, as I see it - but I'm not a lawyer - falls outside of IP / copyright / patent law, thus, no expiry date.

Now - it's an open secret that a successful design spawns legions of imitators. They all tweak the design a little bit so you can tell them apart, but in general they all go for the same effect. (Cherry Louis-Phillipe bedroom set, for instance). Happens all the damn time, and it's unavoidable.

Part of the cost in that table is no doubt the name, but another part is the quality of the glass (particularly the edge treatment) and especially the wood. If you want to go cheap, you get birch or beech or (God forbid), a veneer and use a succession of dyes and glazes to get the tone and sheen you want. The more expensive option is a highly figured wood like zebrawood, bocote, or wenge, and you spend a lot of time sanding and oiling it. The effect can be subtle or astounding, and it's up to the purchaser to decide whether a) it plays well with the rest of the house and 2) the effect is worth the premium.

Hope that helps.
post #3 of 24
I have the real one. There is no comparison. Get the real deal.
post #4 of 24
Originally Posted by Mr. Moo View Post

I have the real one. There is no comparison. Get the real deal.

I had a high quality reproduction. There is no comparison. Get the real deal.
If you know someone in architecture they might be able to order it for wholesale. We got our Nelson table that way.
post #5 of 24

I had the same thought, I went with the real deal, not because I think there is a substantial quality/construct difference (I've inspected both) but because of economics


amortized over 10 years the 1k difference is moot on a daily used item, factor in the repro will be worth squat but the real one will retain decent value, and it was a no brainer

post #6 of 24
Originally Posted by Arthur PE View Post

I had the same thought, I went with the real deal, not because I think there is a substantial quality/construct difference (I've inspected both) but

I think there is a difference in the treatment of the wood between most of the fakes and the Herman Miller version. The knock offs always look too shiny to me.
post #7 of 24

I stay away from any readily identifiable furniture. That said, I do have a Mouille lamp in my living room, but that doesn't count as few people can pronounce it properly. "I love the mooolee lamp beside your chaise lounge."


I think for a $1000 you could find a pretty interesting table. However, if you're in love with the Noguchi (and it is a nice table) I agree with everyone else - bite the bullet and buy the real thing.



post #8 of 24
I have the real deal.

I enjoy it, I am not above popular choices simply because they are popular. I do enjoy them much more when they fit the room layout, rather then simply finding there way into the space just because they are popular.
post #9 of 24
Noguchi table is nice because it fits every room. I don't have one, and don't really love them, but they are really useful. Def the Herman Miller one.
post #10 of 24
My buddy works for the museum, he got me a bunch of lamps for like 75% off. Think the same deal applies to Furniture last time I asked. So excited he just started working there again.
post #11 of 24
That's surprising. Is it the A+D museum?
post #12 of 24

There is a small Noguchi museum in Long Island City that's worth visiting. 



post #13 of 24
Douglas, one other issue re: aesthetics is that an original design like a Noguchi table or a Maloof rocker is that the designer started with an idea and pretty well perfected it. Every knock-off is going to change a detail that makes it work a bit less-well. Maybe a curve gets flattened or exaggerated, a point is rounded or sharpened, etc - but the overall effect will generally be inferior to the original design.
post #14 of 24
Thread Starter 
Thanks to all for the varied and thoughtful advice. Lefty, I also appreciate your slightly contrarian point of view. Like ithasbeenandwillbematt, I've struggled a bit with this because I haven't always loved the Noguchi table but the more I look at it and the more I consider my space I really think the design works. Sounds like going for the real thing is the way to go though... frown.gif Decorating a new house is expensive enough without having to go whole-hog on everything. Oh, well.

Looks like these come up on Craigslist every once in a while - in fact there's one in NYC right now in the finish I want. Maybe that's a way to go cheap.

I guess now my only qualm is the size of the thing. I think I didn't realize until I laid it out in my space last night just how big the thing actually is. It's 3x4 feet! I'm sure it reads smaller on account of the glass but there are practical considerations here.

Thanks again to everyone who weighed in.
post #15 of 24

I'm having trouble picturing the table in your place. How did the renovations turn out?



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