Why Buy Classic Furniture Designs New When They Resell at 50%?
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Why Buy Classic Furniture Designs New When They Resell at 50%?

If you can get iconic 20th-century pieces for significantly less money on the secondary market, why would you purchase new from the manufacturer? We ask the experts.

Thu, Aug 11, 2022 9:36amGrey Clock 4 min

MY HUSBAND recently set up his home office in a separate, private building—formerly known as our garage—so he could Zoom loudly and with abandon.

As far as I knew, everything was going well until one day he appeared in the house during working hours.

“There’s something I’m afraid we are going to have to talk about,” he said somberly. “I’ve been dreading this conversation for a long time.”

I composed myself. And then he said: “I want a new desk chair.”

I was shocked. After all, we have been married more than 30 years, and for much of that time he was very happy with the beige upholstered armchair that used to be in our living room—even if it had let itself go a little after three kids and a succession of dogs and cats who took up residence on it.

“You always said you loved that chair,” I said.

“People change,” he said. “We grow, sometimes in mysterious ways. I want an Aeron chair—”

I gasped.

“—and it costs US$1,645.”

He had a specific configuration in mind. After visiting Design Within Reach (an authorised retailer of the moulded-plastic office chair by Herman Miller that transformed the aesthetic of ergonomic furniture when it debuted in 1994), he fell for a fully loaded model with adjustable back support, movable arms, tilt control and casters designed to glide effortlessly across carpet.

Was it worth US$1,645?

After all, plenty of preowned Aeron chairs are available with lower price tags, like many other iconic 20th-century furniture designs that remain in production decades after their introduction, including the Eames leather lounger, the Saarinen tulip table and the George Nelson marshmallow settee. Once-loved used and vintage models on the secondary market “usually are going to be 50% off the retail price,” said Noel Fahden Briceño, vice president of merchandising at online furnishings marketplace Chairish.

So why would anyone ever buy a new version of an original design?

“My friends ask me the same question,” said Ben Watson, president of Herman Miller. “Buy vintage if you’re a real student of design and have the knowledge to weed out knockoffs or scammers or something repaired poorly. But if you want to specify exactly the furniture you want—with a specific leather or fabric or veneer—buy a new one if your budget can afford it.”

Interior designers say that when buying furniture for clients, they choose between preowned and new on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m not a fan of vintage Eames chairs because I don’t like the way the tufting ages,” said Jessica Maros, an interior designer in Dallas. “But I’m obsessed with vintage Togo leather sofas designed by Michel Ducaroy for Ligne Roset. You can even throw red wine on that leather and somehow it just develops a patina that gets better and better.”

Of course, one buyer’s wine-soaked patina is another’s hygiene nightmare. “What many people don’t realize is that the patina develops from oils from the body on older aniline leathers. The color gets darker because you sit on the sofa,” said Simone Vingerhoets-Ziesmann, executive vice president of Ligne Roset USA, where new versions of Togo styles that debuted in the 1970s cost from $2,905 to $12,670, depending on size and fabric choice.

Wear and tear is usually worse on upholstered pieces than on categories such as lighting, coffee tables and artwork, which tend to age gracefully, said Shannon Eddings, an interior designer in Austin, Texas. “Most of our completed designs feature at least one vintage or antique item from those categories.”

“Why would I advise anyone not to buy the new ones?” Luca Fuso, chief executive of Italian furniture company Cassina, told me. I couldn’t tell if he was offended by the suggestion or just passionate about his inventory. “Because we manufacture the new ones, we have no reason whatsoever to recommend vintage items.”

Manufacturers say that in some cases production processes have improved in the decades since a design was introduced. “The finishings are lasting much longer, and the materials are more reliable,” said Mr. Fuso, of Cassina, which since 1965 has owned the rights to produce the iconic chrome-framed Le Corbusier armchairs introduced in 1928.

Given all the pros and cons, would my husband be happy with a preowned Aeron chair?

After all, the version he tested at Design Within Reach was a Remastered model introduced with great fanfare in 2016, with improved spinal support and more fully adjustable armrests.

“I need the spinal support,” he assured me.

“Fine,” I said. “But before we decide, let’s drive over to this office-furniture liquidator I found alongside the highway in Silicon Valley.”

An hour later, we were standing in Better Source, a warehouse in San Mateo, Calif., filled with rows of office cubicles, credenzas and conference-room chairs. The Aerons were lined up right by the entrance—dozens if not scores—like a vast army of spinal support. Three other prospective buyers were already sitting in the chairs—rocking back and forth in them, adjusting the tilt angle, testing the spinal support.

Prices ranged from $565 to $980.

“These chairs look new,” I said to salesman Bob Callaway while my husband started rolling around in one.

“Since the pandemic started, we’ve been getting a lot that companies ordered in 2019,” the salesman said. “In some cases, they are from offices where people still haven’t gone back to work.”

The work-from-home revolution has caused a glut of surplus office furniture. Where once Better Source would get 10 calls a week from potential sellers, “now we’re getting 10 a day,” Mr. Callaway said. “Sometimes, like, 400 chairs in one lot.” In fact, the building we were standing in is a fraction of the size of the main warehouse 25 miles away in Hayward, he said.

“Look at this,” my husband said excitedly. “Here’s one that looks just like the one at Design Within Reach.” Sure enough, it was a Remastered model. The cost: $980.

An hour later, the old beige armchair was back in the living room. The dogs were thrilled.

Vintage vs. From-the-Factory

The Eero Saarinen Dining Table, still in production by Knoll, was introduced in 1957. It costs $2,899 from Design Plus Consignment Gallery and US$4,027 new from Knoll.

The George Nelson Marshmallow Sofa, manufactured from 1956 to ‘61, was re-introduced as part of the Herman Miller Classics collection in the ‘80s and remains in production today. It sells for US$3,250 at resale site Social Objects and US$5,285 from Design Within Reach.

The 699 Superleggera chair by Gio Ponti with cane seat, in production for more than six decades, has a price tag of US$2,197.82 on Archiproducts; 1stDibs is asking US$1,725.55.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 10, 2022.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).


People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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