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New ‘midcentury-inspired’ furniture looks a lot like classics—does it matter?

Prices start at less than $100 for a dining chair

A chair, planter with a plant, shoes, and socks. The chair has an abstract pattern on the back and seat.
The new furniture brand Inside Weather offers “midcentury-inspired” pieces, like the Vita chair, which is a dead ringer for a Carl Hansen design.
Courtesy Inside Weather

Hoping to achieve the success of Casper and Warby Parker, direct-to-consumer brands are flooding the home furnishings market.

One newcomer is Inside Weather, a venture capital-funded furniture brand that offers customizable flatpack sofas, chairs, and storage pieces that are made in America, (supposedly) assemble in less than 10 minutes.

Founded by Ben Parsa, the former chief operating officer of the shuttered furniture startup Dot & Bo, Inside Weather claims to have solved many of the pain points in furniture shopping with a lineup that is stylish, affordable, and easy to buy. Customers pick a silhouette, then tailor the details—like upholstery, wood finishes, bases, and armrests—to suit their taste. There are over 3,000,000 unique combinations in the brand’s catalog.

“We’ve found a way to offer an incredible range of furniture options, a way to manufacture them in a timely manner, and we’ve developed the management software to track and deliver every variable,” Parsa tells Curbed. “All of this difficult work culminates in one easy, end-to-end experience for the customer, and not only that, but a product that is affordable, custom-made, and easy to use and assemble.”

Oh—and a couple of the pieces are dead ringers for midcentury design classics.

A group of multicolor chairs.
The Nola chair riffs on classic Shell chairs.
Courtesy Inside Weather

Inside Weather’s Vita chair (from $398) looks a lot like the CH07 lounge chair by Hans Wegner for Carl Hansen, and its Nola chair (from $98) riffs on Charles and Ray Eames’ shell chairs. Its marketing copy invites customers to “redesign the classics.” The company believes it offers a different product after changing designs to meet the demands of today’s shoppers—the customization, how the chairs are assembled for easy shipping. Parsa tells Curbed in an email:

It may not seem like it to the naked eye, but we’ve redesigned these pieces quite a bit. It’s a similar silhouette of course, but we’ve done a lot of R&D to enable them to ship flat, and to fit with our overall ethos of customization and easy assembly.

It’s no secret to anyone that the designs from which our Nola and Vita chairs take inspiration are prohibitively priced, and we see ourselves as serving those who, for a variety of reasons—whether it’s price, or a limited run of options—want something more customizable and more affordable like a Nola or Vita chair. Ultimately we view them as different products that address a different set of needs.

But are these “reinterpreted classics,” or just rip-offs? It’s complicated.

U.S. copyright and intellectual property law is thin when it comes to functional items, like furniture. In the U.S., design patents only last 15 years before going into the public domain; utility patents (which apply to the creation of a new or improved product, process, or machine) last 20 years. Contemporary copyright protections expire after about 100 years, depending on the type of work. The spirit behind these limited protections is to promote continual improvement and incentivize innovation. It’s is a very different approach than in Europe, whose laws take a “moral-rights”-based stance that any copying is wrong.

A white couch with multiple assorted pillows and a throw blanket. Next to the couch is a planter with a succulent and an end table.
The furniture brand offers soft seating like sofas and love seats and says all of its pieces can be assembled in less than 10 minutes.
Inside Weather

“When we’re talking about product design in the United States, the baseline is free copying,” says Sarah Burstein, a professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law who specializes in design. “Intellectual property is supposed to be the exception and for a limited time.”

In the Copyright Act of 1976, it has been clear that Congress intended to exclude most functional things—like fashion and furniture—from protections. But a recent Supreme Court ruling involving cheerleading uniforms may change how the law is interpreted in the future: After seven years of litigation, a manufacturer was able to win copyright protection for the shape and pattern of its uniforms.

An exception to the “free copy” baseline is when a design is considered to be so closely associated with a company or designer that it’s a trademark. Classic examples are the Coca-Cola bottle’s hourglass contour and Christian Louboutin’s red-sole shoes.

A group of assorted multicolor chairs on a blue background.
Shoppers can customize furniture finishes and upholstery. Inside Weather claims there are over 3 million unique combinations of its pieces.
Courtesy Inside Weather

When asked about how Herman Miller views copyright and intellectual property, Ben Watson, the company’s chief creative officer, told Curbed in an email:

Herman Miller has a rich history of authentic design and innovative problem solving. Many of the products in our portfolio, especially iconic designs from Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson, have a widely recognizable aesthetic and a form that has become synonymous with Herman Miller. Many of Herman Miller’s iconic designs are protected as trade dress. When consumers buy authentic Herman Miller products, they are purchasing authentic products that meet Herman Miller’s demanding quality and sustainability standards, standards that were the core of the Eameses design philosophy.

Knock-offs remain contentious in the furniture industry. As countless rip-offs, replicas, and lookalikes of iconic designs continue circulating, the market seems hungry for more. Walmart was accused of selling rip-offs of Noguchi tables last summer. In December, Williams-Sonoma sued Amazon for copying a West Elm velvet dining chair—both, however, are derivatives of a Saarinen executive side chair for Knoll.

Is Inside Weather’s direct-to-consumer furniture “disruption” enough to bypass a maelstrom of ethical and legal challenges, and will it catch on with shoppers? The forecast is unclear.