Five Contemporary Design Classics On a Budget

Cool design doesn't have to cost a fortune.

By , Columnist

Herman Miller

Our house needs furniture. The time has come to replace the milk crates and boxes with actual chairs and tables. Writing "coffee table" on a cardboard washing machine box with a Sharpie doesn't make it a coffee table. I'd like to say the lack of furniture is the result of moving into the house recently, but we've actually been living here for a year.

The only furniture store within driving and delivery distance is a store called Grand Home Furnishings. Grand's has successfully managed to avoid bankruptcy for the last several decades due to the surprisingly abundant source of those that "don't care what it looks like as long as it's comfortable. Yes, vinyl is fine. I like vinyl." The next best option is a four-hour drive to IKEA, which doesn't deliver to our area, so purchases are restricted to a trunk load of lampshades, silicone spatulas, and cow-skin rugs.

I have a penchant for contemporary furniture. Although I don't live in a New York penthouse, there are certain furniture icons that I have always desired. Unfortunately, until recently, these icons were unobtainable to all but those who could afford a New York penthouse. In 1958, the hippest piece of furniture you could own was the Eames chair by Herman Miller. Fifty years later, the hippest piece of furniture you can own is an Eames chair by Herman Miller. This and similar design icons have passed the test of time and look completely at home in any house, farmhouse or penthouse.

Many of the classic Bauhaus, Art Deco, and mid-century designs previously only available at Herman Miller and Knoll are now in the public domain due to the expiration of their copyright protection.

While an Eames lounge chair can be purchased from Herman Miller for $5,500, an almost identical reproduction can be bought for $700 from Amazon for less than the price of a vinyl loveseat with built-in cup holders from Grand's or flat-packed chipboard bookcases from IKEA.


Eames lounge chair and ottoman originally released for a high-end market in 1956 by Charles and Ray Eames for the Herman Miller furniture company. The chair and ottoman is made of plywood and leather and are a part of a permanent collection at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

From Herman Miller for $5,550

From Amazon for $700.


Florence Knoll Sofa designed by female American architect and designer Florence Knoll. Her distinct 1954 lounge collection features a lounge chair, settee and sofa, and its clean design is a staple of modern classic furniture.

From Knoll for $4380

From Amazon for $979


Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair was designed by Mies van der Rohe in collaboration with his longtime partner and companion, Lilly Reich, for the Barcelona World Fair of 1929. A folding chair spurred the inspiration behind this modern design concept.

From Knoll starting at $5,068

From Amazon for $1,300


Eames Aluminum Group Management Chair was originally designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1958 as outdoor seating. The chair's aluminum frame is strong, lightweight and made of nearly 70 percent recycled material, making it environmentally-friendly, too.

From Herman Miller for $1839

From Amazon for $200


Noguchi Table designed in 1939 as a commission from the then-president of MoMA, Isamu Noguchi incorporated his sculptural experience with modern functionality which resulted in a beautiful, yet understated piece. Noguchi modified the design in 1944 to accompany an article by designer George Nelson, entitled, "How to Make a Table."

From Herman Miller for $1400

From Amazon for $390

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Holly is a freelance writer and copy editor with a background in journalism and publishing. Like a grandmother's purse, she is about three decades old, worn around the edges and mostly full of crap.

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