Talking Chairs

I have a long rectangular table in my loft that seats 10. It's got a frosted glass surface set within a maple frame. The current chairs--Karim Rashid's Oh chair, ten of which which I bought in 2002-- are translucent white plastic, which create a nice dialog with the frosted glass. I need to replace them, however, because the white plastic is turning a particularly rancid shade of yellow.
I don't expect plastic to last forever, especially on chairs for which I paid something like $50 apiece, but I was shocked at the dialog I had with the clerk at the Karim Rashid store on West 19th Street when I went in to look at a more upscale Rashid model, the Skool, made of molded plywood with a birch veneer. ( I like Rashid's design sense, so despite the metamorphosing chairs--which are still very comfortable--I wanted to test drive a new model.)
Oh no. My translucent white chairs have turned translucent yellow
Me: I have to replace my Oh chairs. They're turning yellow.
Clerk: How long have you had them?
Me: About seven years.
Clerk: Well, I guess it's time.
Me: But I hadn't expected them to turn yellow!
Clerk: Why? Things don't last forever. Besides, you only paid about $50 each.
Me: Price is not the point. They used to be white and how they're yellow.
Clerk: Well, it's not as if they fell apart.
Me: But they turned a different color.
Clerk: Plastic changes color.
Me: Not all plastic changes color in such a short time. If I'd known the plastic would turn so fast, I wouldn't have bought them.
Clerk: Well, if we'd told you that, you wouldn't have bought them, would you?
It took a moment for me to process that.
Me: So the company doesn't stand behind its product?
Clerk: For $50 chairs? Don't be ridiculous.
There was no point in being ridiculous enough to consider the $200-apiece Skool chairs, then, because I need 10 of them. I left. The store lost a sale.
Next stop: Ikea, where I can get three-quarters of the design for less than one quarter of the price.

Lesson learned: Elegant as it is, I won't be purchasing this molded birch ply Karim Rashid Skool chair, above, but I will consider these from Ikea (I'm leaning toward the one on the right; price: $49).


jami said...

gotta luv Ikea! or you could experiment, home depot now carries spray paints formulated specifically for plastics.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Sell them on Ebay, as "vintage" Oh chairs "with the golden patina that only time can achieve."

Start em off at $75 each

Joanne Mattera said...

Golden patina. I love that. Honestly: they're rancid yellow.

Anonymous said...

I may be reading too much into this, but this seems like a veiled attempt to take a whack at acrylics and other plastic based art materials.


leigh said...

My chairs are from various periods of American chairmaking ranging from an 18thC windsor to several 19thC thumbbacks to a serious fake of a pilgrim chair to a wire basket knoll chair designed the year I was born. I like the variety and nothing wears out or changes color at the same time. Good luck--it's fun finding the chair that suits you.

Hylla said...

"If we told you the truth, you wouldn't have bought the product, would you?"
Priceless. Hope you'll send that to the manufacturer along with the numbers who read your blog.
New chairs?

Donna Thomas said...

The attitude of the store clerk is amazing! You would think he/she would welcome a sale since the economy isn't so great right now.

And what happened to "the customer is always right?"

Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous says: "I may be reading too much into this, but this seems like a veiled attempt to take a whack at acrylics and other plastic based art materials."

You are definitely reading too much into it. One thing you will learn about me if you continue to read this blog: No veil. This post is about a chair. A polyethelyne chair.

And thanks, everyone, for your great suggestions.

Unknown said...

Right! Not all plastic will discolor. Simply adding UV reflectors to the plastic will prevent this. An older model was to coat the plastic, but technology has greatly improved so that the reflectors can be added before the mould is made. I work with a number of products that use film and imbedded 'cups'. No change!
Any plastic product made today should have specs on UV safe. If it doesn't I certainly wouldn't use or buy it.

Kesha Bruce said...

Joanne I’ve gotten so much great advice from your blog that I feel compelled to return the favor. My advice---SPLURGE.

Ikea is fab, but in less than 5 years you’ll be having déjà-vu when you have to replace those 10 chairs yet again. In my experience when it comes to furniture, a bargain is rarely a bargain.

p.s. We just bought 4 Phillipe Starck Bubu stools for the terrace and now I’m afraid to but them outside!

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Kesha. The question is what to splurge on. I will continue to look. Usually with furniture I've found that no matter how much I look, what jumps out at me unexpectedly is what I end up with. I'll post the results--whenever that may be.

Stephanie Sachs said...

Aloha Joanne,

Thinking the same thing as Kesha spend the money on something that will last.
Was lucky enough to purchase Heywood Wakefield chairs last month for very little money on Craigslist. Also was able to sell my Han Wagner reproductions that day for $50 each on Craigslist.
Classic designs and real wood.
There are reasons why they have lasted into the next century.

Most importantly think comfort. 10 chairs means dinner parties and you want your guests to be comfortable.
I appreciate what Ikea does but it looks and feels flimsy.

Kate Beck said...

I have some of the Ikea chairs Joanne, the ones on the right, too. 6 in white -- comfy, visually appealing, cheap = fab

Karin said...

Urgh... Had that experience, although actually in a different store. Buying furniture can be VERY frustrating. That said, I ended up buying the Ikea chairs you have on the right, and one year later I'm very happy with them still. They're comfortable, they wipe clean and when necesary they stack (although not more than four or so on a pile). Plus, it's nice to know they probably won't be changing color anytime soon...

Margaret Neill said...

I love chairs, and have the same ones you do, only one in pale green and another pale blue. They are very comfortable and I keep them in my studio, and sometimes bring them into the garden. When they get dirty I scrub them down. I particularly love the good design for low price. Could you use them in an are where the patina won't bother you so much.

Gamze said...

I'm not a big Ikea fan, but the chair on the right is fabulous. Although, I must say I like your old chairs as well, yellowed or not..

Joanne Mattera said...

Karen and KAte, I'm so glad to know that you have had a good experience with the Ikea chair. That's pretty much a clincher for me. (Well, and the price.)

Margaret, yes, I could use a couple of the Oh chairs in my studio, but I already have director's chairs there (plus an old Knoll office chair that I sit in to look at the work). If I had a garden--I'm jealous!!--I'd put them there.

anne mcgovern said...

In addition to IKEA, both the West Elm catalogue and CB2 catalogue have great chairs at low prices.

Caleb Taylor said...

Nothing like some good ol' customer service. Though I thought you should know, I showed at a venue that had about 50 of the Ikea chairs with the holes in the back... the veneer has started to split up the middle. Maybe take that factor into consideration. Happy chair hunting.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for that tip, Caleb. I suspect my chairs will get much less use than at a venue where they're likely used a lot. I hope that will make a difference.

lisa B said...

In the end, you will have chairs you love and THEY will have lost a customer. Isn't it a shame that the world of retail can be so stupid? Especially in tough times?