Airbnb removes "knockoff" Navy Chairs
from new headquarters


News: online home rental brand Airbnb is to replace a set of aluminium chairs at its new San Francisco headquarters after Emeco, the company that makes the original Navy Chair, pointed out that they were fakes.

Airbnb announced today that it will replace eight chairs after Emeco contacted Dezeen to point out that the chairs were imitations of its patented design.

"With our new office, we have worked hard to create a home for our employees that reflects our company's culture, values, and brand - including design," said Airbnb in a statement to Dezeen. "Now that it has been brought to our attention, in this instance we will replace the eight chairs with originals."

Emeco director of communications Martin Olsson-Prescott emailed Dezeen last week to complain about the fake chairs following our publication of the Airbnb offices, which were designed in-house by the company in homage to rental properties around the world.

Emeco chair
Original Emeco Navy Chair

"Unfortunately, we are obliged to make you aware of a knockoff product featured in that piece," Olsson-Prescott. "Seeing a knockoff chair in a Dezeen featured cool space like the Airbnb office would help validate the false form of a knock-off. And the few people who notice might question both Airbnb's designer and Dezeen's selectivity."

The Navy Chair, originally designed in 1944 for use on US Navy submarines, is one of the most widely copied designs of the last century and Emeco has been active in the courts to protect its intellectual property. Last year Emeco settled a lawsuit against American company Restoration Hardware, which was producing £50 copies of the £300 chair.

"We put a lot of efforts and investment into fighting knock-offs," said Olsson-Prescott, who told Dezeen readers what to look out for when searching for an original Navy Chair.

"There are many small details that distinguish a genuine Emeco Navy chair from a knockoff," he said. "In this case the biggest giveaway is the shape of the back, which is very rounded. And the spacing between the three bars in the back."

Emeco's Navy Chairs are created from recycled aluminium using a 77-step process and are guaranteed for 150 years.

In a video interview with Dezeen last year, Emeco CEO Gregg Buchbinder said his company was working with leading designers to create ever-more sophisticated products in order to deter copying. "The more difficult it is, the more difficult it is for people to knock it off," Buchbinder said.

  • UCTs

    For me that just shows how overpriced the Emeco chair is. Doesn’t really raise the average men’s trust in Design. Design only available for an elite, now that is something Dezeen should not support. The only reason why many people buy “design products” is because others cannot afford them.

    • Bob Wenzlau

      I am with Emeco on this one. Some of the classiest design is very affordable – homemade and invented. Other design is iconic, where one buys in. In Emeco’s case the design and its cost embed fair labor practice, environmental responsibility, and craftsmanship. For many folks the price of an Emeco chair can be blown on one dinner or concert, so it is a choice where one does the spend. So design products can be enjoyed by many who opt to be selective on where they make the spend.

    • Mid-Century Man

      I disagree with your understanding of design. The price of the Emeco chair is a function of the time and energy it takes to produce. It might seem overpriced if you are used to cheap “Walmart” type products produced in filthy, death trap type, factories. I prefer to own products that last for generations and maintain their value because of solid quality and design. A 1944 Emeco Navy chair typically is still in excellent condition and will sell for substantially more than it originally cost.

    • Mid-Century Man

      I disagree. This type of product is for those that want a long lasting, well made and designed product that will withstand the test of time. The price of the Emeco chair is a function of the cost of labor, materials and energy used.

      An original Navy chair that was manufactured in 1944 is probably still in excellent condition and worth substantially more than the original customer paid. It is an item that is a departure from the cheap “Walmart type” product often manufactured by children in an offshore sweat shop. Buy an Emeco chair. Keep it for life and pass it on to your children. This is not an elitist concept.

    • Lozza

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Hats off.

  • money rules

    I changed my old chairs recently too! :)

    Why are so many stories these days are just – rubbish, without any importance!? Or is it really just a cheap advertising?

  • dvb

    Its true that if the £50 chair is really pretty much identical in quality to its £300 version except for a few details then that seems pretty absurd. I know that of course this money goes on to support the development of new great products, but I don’t think one can make these black and white arguments like “copying bad, only buy originals”. Airbnb has tons of money to easily buy originals but what about people that don’t? Should they suffer an inferior product rather than a copy of a great one? Maybe Emeco needs to be as progressive in its pricing models the same way that it is progressive in chair design.

    • Damian

      Actually, it pretty much is black and white. If you as a company want to sell an aluminium chair, design one yourself. Aluminium technologies are well known and accessible. If you don’t want to design a chair leave it at that.

      People suffering from not owning an Emeco chair, that’s what seems “pretty absurd” to me.

      • sad

        There was a teenager who sold one of his kidneys to buy an iPhone because he suffered so much from not owning one. But that is something people who get handed everything to them will probably never understand.

        • Damian

          So, you do understand him? I hope you to still have all your organs?!

      • me

        Well, since these designs were clearly recognised as “fakes” due to a difference in the design, then someone did indeed design a different chair. Clearly they were trying to make a duplicate, but they didn’t. Where is the line between design that references other works and one that does so more obscurely? What if the “fake” was made out of wood or plastic? Is that a “fake” too? How different does something have to be to be an “original”?

  • Jordan

    Who cares?

  • shaurz

    If this chair was designed in the 1940s, shouldn’t any patents have expired decades ago?

    • HeloRighetto

      I have the same doubt. Isn’t it time to stop protecting design so much?

  • vicious circle

    The additional £250 are spent by Emeco for marketing and advertising to make you believe their products are actually worth £250 more, and to make you spend this much money, which is then again used to make you believe… And so on.

  • nalim

    Do not forget that Walmart and the like make it possible that now more people can afford many things they couldn’t before. It is not necessarily a bad thing, although it might anger some that now the plebs can afford things that were reserved to them before. So now they attempt to set them apart from the masses by being smug about Walmart and the like.

  • Dave Y

    Conundrum. If parts of the Airbnb office were modelled after real Airbnb-listed apartments, were the chairs in the real Airbnb space knockoffs? Were they fake for authenticity sake?

  • Damian

    This depends on what the patent or the design protection actually contain down to each and every word. But especially if you patent something you can be sure a very similar product (a copy some would say) will arrive in no time. This is because a patent is always public and because of it’s nature gives away just about everything.

    I talked to a company who won’t patent their German competitor hired a lawyer who searched for weaknesses in the patent and how they could use those to alter the design. Of course they found something and are now offering a cheaper product which does the same task.

  • Damian

    Good point!

  • Simon

    Seems like an amazing kind of bullying but I admire the polished phrasing:

    “Seeing a knockoff chair in a Dezeen featured cool space like the Airbnb office would help validate the false form of a knock-off. And the few people who notice might question both Airbnb’s designer and Dezeen’s selectivity.”

  • Roberta Mutti

    I’m with Emeco. You’re Airbnb, you buy original for your offices.

  • A76

    It’s a challenge keeping to the high ground here. Yes, Emeco own the patent and the design, and it’s right to buy original and for Emeco to be protected from others stealing their design and profiting from it.

    Here in Australia though, there’s only one company to buy the chair from, more of an industry supplier than a retail store, and they’re twice the price of the chair in the US. At almost $800AUD a unit for the basic brushed chair, the copies at >$100AUD available on every street corner, with very minimal differences in quality are very tempting!