DWR's knockoffs: 'We all have our instincts about what you can live with. Some people are happy with breast implants and some aren't'

Knock-off in style points us to an article about furniture retailer Design Within Reach selling knock-off versions of modern classics along with originals and other ways the company has changed since it began "The Rise and Fall of Design Within Reach."

At least a dozen of the company's current offerings are essentially unauthorized reproductions of a foreign design. "Rather than saying, 'Let's come up with something better to replace it,' they said, 'Let's come up with something similar to what people liked,' " says a former DWR employee. French designer Christophe Pillet, who didn't know that DWR was copying his Tripod lamp until Fast Company directed him to the company's online catalog, says: "They are pirates and thieves, like the Chinese -- except even the Chinese are calling me now to ask me to make something original for them."

Brunner saw DWR's strategy as "completely legal. We're not doing anything wrong." In every case, he said, DWR's product-development team improved on the original design. In most instances, the tweaks were small and not obviously better. Take Pillet's Tripod lamp. "We were inspired by it," says VP of marketing Chris Hope. DWR's version (also called the Tripod) "diffuses light differently. We changed some of the mechanics."

The strategy is a disappointing echo of a controversial decision Forbes made shortly after Design Within Reach's birth. He couldn't get permission from Knoll to sell Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chair, and so DWR did an "inspired by" piece, to the original specs, called the Pavilion. Forbes emphasizes that DWR never tried to pass the Pavilion off as the Mies original, but still squirms and stutters over the decision to sell it. "I didn't feel that good about it... . It bugged me ... because ... as a designer ..." He trails off and finally continues. "Yes, it's legal to sell those things, but it's how you go about doing it. We all have our instincts about what you can live with. Some people are happy with breast implants and some aren't." Knoll finally allowed DWR to sell the Barcelona chair in 2005.

More at the New York Times