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The Look for Less: The Emeco Navy barstool vs. Sundance and Crate & Barrel catalog copycats

April 22, 2010 |  8:43 am


Navy
Modeled after a generic 1930s wooden chair used by the U.S. Navy, the Emeco brushed aluminum Navy chair (which was recently launched in recycled plastic) also comes in stools sized for kitchen dining counters as well as wet bars. The chair has been so widely imitated that it comes as no surprise that the market is now also flooded with knockoffs of the Navy stool. 

One of these three, above, is the Emeco classic, made from 80% recycled aluminum in the U.S. It sells for $650 and is guaranteed for life, with an estimated lifespan of at least 150 years. The other two are made-in-Asia copies in the Crate & Barrel and Sundance catalogs and sell for less than $150.

Which is which and what are you getting for your money?

Answers after the jump. 

Navy 

The Delta stool, above left, is $149 at Crate & Barrel and comes in two seat heights: 25 inches for counters and 30 inches for bars. It is nearly 16 inches wide and deep. The slightly less wide and deep L-Elmer, center, is available with a 24-inch seat height and is currently marked down from $198 to $89.99 on the Sundance catalog website. 

The Emeco Navy stool, $650, above right, is available in 24- and 30-inch seat heights and is 1 to 2 inches wider and almost 4 inches deeper. It can be purchased directly from the factory website or through modern home decor retailers such as Unica.

Both catalog stools have the same general appearance of the Navy: a dimpled seat, upright slats on the backrest and a square stretcher between the legs. 

Now take another look at the Navy stool, above right. It has a simpler, H-shaped stretcher between the legs and three, not four, centered slats that attach to a curved stretcher across the back, making the lightweight chair airier and easier to pick up and move. It also looks more modern than the farmhouse-style backs of the other chairs.

Weld So why does the  manufactured-in-Pennsylvania Navy stool cost so much more? 

The  77-step production process that separates it from Asian-made versions includes welding the legs so they are integrated into the seat, grinding all the welds smooth and eight man-hours of hand-polishing. You can see the difference between the somewhat blobby welds on the Crate & Barrel, near right, and the ground-smooth welds on the Emeco, far right.

Unlike imitations that are made with semi-hard aluminum, Emeco uses softer tubing to bend the curved back into shape without creating bumps or crimping.The chair is then tempered to a T6 rating, which is as strong as a bicycle frame.

"From an environmental position, why make a classic chair that has to be thrown out? It's senseless," says Dan Fogelson, Emeco vice president of sales and marketing. "These are chairs that are meant to be used hard and then passed on."

-- David A. Keeps

Photo credits: Crate & Barrel, Sundance, Emeco

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