How to avoid buying replicas
For end-consumers who are purchasing their own furniture and want to avoid being conned, the first thing to do is to research online.
- Research on the designs first
Buy only from authorised dealers
Check for the brand label
Confirm there is a warranty period
Scrutinise the workmanship
Be sceptical if the price is too low
Ngo adds that poor workmanship is an obvious marker too, pointing to irregular stitching and an oddly-shaped silhouette as red flags.
Salespeople of designer furniture retailers like Xtra, P5 and Fritz Hansen will be very forthcoming about the products they sell, providing information about the designers and production process.
Their after-sales service is also just as reliable, seeing to repairs or even replacements if necessary, and giving advice on how to maintain the furniture.
Adds Lim, “Part of the joy and satisfaction of owning an original is to be able to be drawn into the story and history of the designer and the company that makes them and feel that you are part of it.
“There’s a sense of permanence when you can enjoy your piece of designer furniture for years because they are so well made.”
A brief history of designer furniture
George Nelson’s Platform Bench (photo from VITRA).
Typically referring to pieces conceptualised in the mid-20th century till present day, designer furniture has its roots in the Bauhaus movement that centred on the ideal that clean forms and function are equally important. Among the earliest pieces given this label was George Nelson’s Platform Bench launched in 1946.
Having just survived two world wars, designers living in that era were looking for a simpler way of life, free of fussy ornamentation but that could also be beautiful, even sculptural. These they sought to create through using materials like metal, glass, fiberglass, plastic and wood, which were low-priced and easily available.
The influences from the greats like Nelson, Charles Eames and Verner Panton are still tangible today, with many contemporary furniture designers taking cues from that era. For instance, Houe is a Danish brand established in 2007 that retailer P5 has brought in, which visibly draws on its heritage of Scandinavian design. Its pieces feature classic organic lines with the minimal use of colour.
How furniture designs are protected in Singapore
In Singapore, furniture designs may qualify for copyright protection as artistic works or protection as registered designs. Copyright protection is automatically granted as soon as the original work is created and expressed in a tangible form without further need for registration.
For most types of artistic works, copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus a further 70 years. However, the copyright protection in the artistic work will be lost if it is “industrially applied”.
Generally, “industrial application” is defined to mean that 50 or more reproductions of the product deriving from the design have been made and offered for sale.
Designs of mass-produced furniture are encouraged to be protected as registered designs as detailed in the section “Protect your designs”.
Protect your designs
Local and foreign designers are encouraged to register their new designs in the country where they intend to produce or sell the pieces. In Singapore, this is done at the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (“IPOS”). Once the design is registered, it is protected for an initial period of five years with the opportunity to renew the registration every five years, up to a maximum of 15 years.
Like copyright, once the term of registered design protection expires, the furniture design passes into the public domain and can be used by anyone without obtaining permission from the owner.