Retro chairs are increasingly restoring their image as a contemporary style icon. Built for both style and functionality, these chairs provide comfort, design and looks all at the same time. With the 60s and 70s furniture being idealised, many are wanting to own some of this retro furniture for their own house. Particularly popular among younger adults, these style icons are becoming harder to find, and increasingly more expensive. These pieces are often in high demand all over the world, particularly places in London. If you do not have an expendable budget north of £500, you are going to have do a little looking to find your desired style icon.

I found this out when I recently went down to the Old Spitalfields Market in London. Once well known for its creativity, Spitalfields has become well known for its interiors, fashion, arts and food. For this reason, finding a bargain in this market is becoming harder and harder. Often you will not know exactly what chair it is you want until you see it, this is because there is so many different styles and designs that you will need to do your research before diving in with your purchase. There is a couple of shops you have to visit if you are in the hunt for retro chairs, for example Elemental and Bohemia are great shops to browse. Many of these shops have a large catalogue of retro chairs that they keep in their shop. This allows you to view a wide variety of styles, colours and designs before making a more clear decision on what you think would suit you.

Picking your style of retro chair

Picking a style can be quite difficult as if you pigeonhole yourself to a rare design, you are going to spend months searching and you may still blow your budget. One particular starting point is commonly the ‘egg chair’ or ‘ball chair’ –

Retro Ball Chair - Eero Aarnio

The chair was originally designed by iconic interior designer Eero Aarnio, noted as a ‘room within a room’. The design has become such a classic you would have seen it in numerous television shows and adverts, which also explains for its widespread popularity. Once you start to research into the chair designs from the 60’s and 70’s you realise how vast the original collection is, let alone the countless amount of reproductions thats have been manufactured since then. Therefore picking a style can not be too specific, keep your outlook fairly broad to keep the search a bit easier on yourself.

Personally, I settled on the ‘tub’ style chair, being one of the most common retro armchair style I figured this would give me more of a possibility of finding a bargain. My original budget was naively set as £100, but that would fluctuate depending on what chair I was viewing at the time.

Once you have done your research to know what you are looking for, then you need to start finding shops which may sell them. Normally if someone knows they own an interior design iconic piece of furniture, then they will roughly know how much it will be worth (£500+). The trick really is to find someone who either doesn’t know what they are in possession of, or needs to get rid of it for whatever reason.
First place I turned to was eBay. You will normally find a good range of chairs on eBay, however so will the other 100 million or so other users. This means that auctions can get competitive, and this drives the price through the roof. To see whats on offer, search eBay for the following terms –

  • ‘Retro chair’
  • ‘Vintage chair’
  • ‘Designer chair’
  • ‘Arne chair’
  • ‘Eames chair’

With the last two searches, the ‘Arne’ and ‘Eames’ refers to popular furniture designers. However when used on eBay auctions you have to look closely as many say its ‘..an Eames inspired design’. This means that its a more contemporary reproduction, so not a genuine 60’s or 70’s piece.
These searches will give you an idea of whats on offer, and use the ‘description search’ too if you want to find a more extensive list of current auctions. Using these terms, you will occasionally find a designer chair thats going cheap, however there is always a lot of competition searching with the same phrases.

Refining your search results

What I started to do was dig deeper to find people listing a ‘retro chair’ but without those hit words in the title. This was a little more tricky, and can differ depending on the style of chair you are looking for.
Because I was looking for a ‘tub chair’, I first started looking in the armchair category, and using search terms for my other requirements. This included me searching for ‘leather’ in the armchair category. This commonly gives quite a few results, but will allow you to scan through the listings quite quick.

In the end I found the most fruitful search term was ‘swivel‘. This is because it is an atribute of many of the classic retro chairs, they all have a single leg swivel base. Using this term meant you were targeting sellers who would simply describe the physical atributes of the chair. This means they would be less likely to use the well searched hit-words, and these items are more likely to start with lower price tags.

In the end I found my chair on an eBay auction through the term swivel. I considered myself quite lucky as the pictures were quite poor quality. Normally this would put off potential buyers (your competition), but as I had done my research I knew what the chair looked like. I had actually seen quite a worn version of the same chair in a London market, selling for near £600.
From the description, the chair was in ‘excellent’ condition. This definition can change quite drastically between sellers, so you will have to weigh up the pro’s and con’s yourself.
In the end the auction actually finished at £75, with me being the only bidder. When I went to collect it, to my suprise the condition of the chair was exactly as described. I was actually quite surprised that the chair was around 40 years old; there was no wear to the leather, no rust on the base,  no replacement of any parts.

I came away from my pursuit of a retro chair, feeling ecstatic. It may have taken me more than 6 months to find a comfy, iconic retro chair. But in doing so I have surprised myself and come away with something better than what I had expected, the perfect piece of lounge furniture, which gives testament that you will succeed with perseverance.

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