bistro table hunt: name brand or knock-off?

bistro table comparison

Recently, we went looking for a 24-inch round metal bistro table for our Harlem terrace and hit a dilemma: whether to buy the pricey classic Fermob table (top photo), made in France, (THE table used in many public spaces), whose durable finish we’ve tested in the guise of a rectangular table we’ve stored outdoors for 2 years OR

a good-looking knockof (bottom photo),  made in China and $100 cheaper. It’s 2 pounds lighter, a concern due to the high winds up here, and we have no idea how the finish would hold-up, or how it  looks in person as opposed to a photograph. If it looked cheesey or flimsy, sending it back would be expensive. On the other hand, Terrain, the store that sells it guarantees it for a year. Reviews we read for other Fermob knock-offs complain of easily-scratchable powder coating and flimsy construction. Terrain claims their matte, powder-coated finish is really durable.

Part of our improvised life is making the most of our money, and we LOVE finding less expensive routes to well-designed stuff. It’s a personal challenge we find immensely gratifying WHEN we succeed. But we’ve learned the hard way that going cheap can often be expensive, if the item doesn’t hold up OR if we won’t love it over time, and end up buying another, or if it takes too much of our time to deal with. It is our experience that “cheap” demands scrutiny and a good eye, for style, materials used, how it is constructed.

We mulled the arguments for and against each: Fermob’s famous construction and history…

fermob high protection treatments in 13 stages

…versus the scintillating possibility that we might discover a find.

Carl Richards of the New York Times Buck Blog tackles the topic in a couple of posts, and defines the essential question:

If I break down my purchase as cost per use, does it benefit me over the long term to spend a little more for something to last longer?

We made our decision and will report shortly on how it led to some amazing discoveries.

In the meantime, we want to hear your thinking on the name brand/knock-off challenge. Let us know!

 

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10 Responses to bistro table hunt: name brand or knock-off?

  1. Monica 05.22.2013 at 3:49pm #

    If I can’t find the good/expensive brand for sale on Craigslist, I buy it. If I regret I can always resell it on Craigslist and lose $30-50 bucks, not too bad for a bad choice… But I’m usually happy with good traditional products. Good luck! :)

  2. Susan 05.22.2013 at 3:56pm #

    I’m a big believer in having the best tools possible for any job. A few worth filling up the piggy bank for: Miyabi Japanese kitchen knives and superb, snow white, deep round Emile French mixing bowls, (www.surlatable.com), Felco Classic pruning shears (www.felco.com), a fine, Martin acoustic guitar (www.martinguitar.com). Tools are not a place to skimp, for they enable us bring our most creative ideas into form, be it food or flowers or music – life’s necessities

  3. Sally 05.22.2013 at 4:01pm #

    I totally forgot about resale value! Good advice. Thanks.

  4. elisa 05.22.2013 at 9:58pm #

    uhm, that looks cheap and you can get one like it at Big Lots for under $30

    Just noticing how you all seem to be making simple things, why not hinge a flat bit of wood onto a leg and hinge a third leg that fits into a slot, so that you can collapse the table flat. you could also then possibly anchor it to the porch/deck/thing.

  5. Sally 05.22.2013 at 10:06pm #

    I hear you. I considered making a table of course but scrapped the idea for a number of reasons: I have a backlog of d-i-m projects waiting to be done and I want a swell table while the weather is great. The terrace is 10 x 5 feet so needs the right shapes and sizes to make it not seem cluttered. I already made the mistake of putting a too-large rectangle out there, not factoring in the planters etc. And a round shape really helps the terrace space itself as well as the apartment, which is full of straight angles and rectangles. Finally, afixing something to the building wall, or making a really heavy —say treetrunk— table makes it so I can’t move the table around…or add the rectangle to make a big long table to squeeze 6 folks together at dinner. Sometimes, buying the right thing is the thing.

  6. Norma Hawthorne 05.23.2013 at 10:52am #

    Sally and friends, I always consider the same question: Do I save by buying less expensive? Quality matters to me. So does a dollar or ten dollars, and especially a hundred dollars. Yet, I know that to produce something for less, it must be made by laborers who are paid very little, which is a moral dliemma for me. So, on the basis of cost per use, quality assurance, and the ethics of fair wage, I would opt for the original French Fermob version. This morning, I did an online hunt for an under-the-desk printer table on casters. I went for the InterMetro, even though it costs more, for all the same reasons you bring to our attention and I outline here. Thank you.
    Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator

  7. Ann-Marie 05.23.2013 at 10:54am #

    Have you researched the working conditions of the people that make the tables? I don’t have a lot to spend but I’ve never regretted spending extra where I know that money has trickled down the pyramid instead of up, and supported someone working as a craftsperson rather than on an assembly line. I imagine that would be especially true of a piece of furniture like this, likely to be your companion during many a contemplative moment…

  8. Joan 05.23.2013 at 11:35am #

    I’m with Susan on quality of tools. If we constantly opt for cheap, the stream dries up for quality.

  9. MIchael Reichert 05.24.2013 at 10:27am #

    I’d like to weigh in on the Name Brand vs Knock-Off issue: To me it’s more about the country of origin.

    Specifically, China’s recent history includes exporting pet food and baby food with melamine and other normally inedible items as ingredients, and bad sheetrock that was used in condominiums in Florida. The sheetrock was composed of something other than mere gypsum. The mystery ingredient emitted a noxious sulphuric gas which caused any copper in the house to corrode. That included plumbing and connections on electronics such as computers, cell phones, and TV’s. The homes had to be stripped of furniture and the walls removed so that the sheetrock could be replaced. It has been estimated that 10′s of thousands of homes were effected.

    China’s disregard for safety and health of their workers and environment, their blatent disregard for patents (the source of many of the ‘knock-off’ items), and their apparent willingness to use their exported consumer products as vessels in which they dispose of hazardous waste, plus recent facts of their government-sponsored cyber-attacks makes them a bad trading partner.

    Here’s some of the references to news articles that back up my opinion. A quick search on the sheetrock issue turned up plenty http://www.chinesedrywallproblem.com/. Here’s one on the pet food issue. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=3058844. Baby food and milk http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/23/carcinogen-found-in-chinese-baby-formula/

    Unless companies have their own plants supervising every aspect of manufacturing, Chinese-made goods are not to be trusted. A name brand made in China under supervision of the Name-brand company is, for the most part, fine. Many inventors, like those products “As seen on TV”, thought they would get rich by simply sending their engineering specs to a plant in China, only to find their goods on the shelf under a different manufacturer’s name.

    While there have been stories from companies like Union-Carbide/Bhopal, BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster, and recent news about the clothing industry’s sweatshop disaster in India, those are the exception. Reputable companies are not going to sacrifice their brand with scandal: The better companies have responded proactively, and the consumer backlash against the others is probably the best enforcement. But, our federal watchdog agencies have stood down in our defense against these products, just as other federal agencies like the Food & Drug Administration have done, caving in to lobbying pressure and its resultant budget cuts. It can no longer be assumed that someone is watching out for consumers.

  10. Sally 06.09.2013 at 12:37pm #

    While I was on sabbatical, this email came in from Jim Dillon of Thousand Dollar Shop blog http://thousanddollarshop.blogspot.com

    A while back you mentioned debating between the Fermob bistro table and knock-off versions. I should have piped up right away.

    Three years ago, I bought this: http://www.target.com/p/3-piece-folding-metal-patio-bistro-furniture-set-green/-/A-12823605#prodSlot=medium_1_8

    But in a bright blue, somewhere between sky and robin’s egg.

    I paid almost exactly $100 for the set. It has held up quite well. The powder coating is quite durable – - I usually have one of my bonsai on the table, so it gets watering runoff from that most days. I also pot & repot on it, and if you know about the lava/expanded shale soil used for bonsai you’ll understand that when I say the tabletop has only a few minor scratches, I’m saying it’s admirably tough.

    The chairs are far less wiggly than I expected, and I love how flat they fold. All in all, I consider that purchase a big success.

    You were concerned about their being blown over in storms. I don’t know how much of a wind tunnel effect you have in your location, but my set have come through many of our Georgia thunderstorms without incident.

    When I bought them I had the iconic terrace furniture at my alma mater in mind: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwbookstore/galleries/72157631424279376

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