Reproduction Furniture

Rosemary Thornton

This queen size four poster bed from Magnussen is an interpretation of furniture at the historic Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. Manufacturers and historic properties are increasingly entering into licensing agreements. The veneered bed pictured above will retail for about $1,399, plus $400 for the canopy. This bed is downsized to fit into a typical American home with eight foot ceilings.

Adorable plush reindeer were everywhere at the High Point Furniture Market in October 2005. Not exactly what you'd expect fashionably dressed interior designers and black-suited furniture buyers to be lugging around one of the world's busiest trade shows.

What do Christmas toys have to do with furniture buying and selling anyway?

The toys were part of furniture manufacturer Magnussen's introduction of its new Chateau Collection, a line of furniture licensed by the historic Asheville, North Carolina, Biltmore Estate. Magnussen became the newest of 29 companies using the venerable National Historic Landmark to help sell merchandise.

"Home for the Holidays" was the warm-and-fuzzy theme of Magnussen's market showroom. The reindeer, the Christmas decorations, the jolly floor workers, were all part of a marketing blitz to create an emotional connection between Magnusson's Chateau Collection and potential customers.

Their message target? Gen Xers who are now in their prime furniture buying years. The generation of Americans born between 1961 and 1981 are unlikely to grow up in a single town. They are even less likely to remain in that town as adults. But they want to establish roots and traditions to pass on to their children. That's where furniture modeled on historic artifacts comes in.

"Furniture with a connection to history allows them to have something that stays the same when they change houses, " said one Magnussen spokesperson.


A page from Focal Point's Web site shows the publicity benefit historic properties get from licensing agreements. Focal Point sells polyurethane mouldings and medallions under a license with the Historic Natchez Foundation. The reproduction mouldings can give even new homes a sense of history. The manufacturer benefits from the quality and craftsmanship associated with the name of a historic property. Licensing has become a steady source of income for historic estates and museums.

Hendredon Furniture Industries, another licensee of the Historic Natchez Foundation, has this occasional table in its Natchez collection.

night stand
This bedside table manufactured by Baker Furniture is licensed by the Historical Charleston Foundation, and is available on the foundation's Web site. The Chippendale style mahogany table was "inspired" by an 18th century Charleston table. It sells for $2,597 (October 2005).

A win-win-win situation

When a manufacturer aligns itself with a historic property, the property stands to gain significant revenue from licensing fees. It also benefits from publicity, which in turn generates increased appreciation and public awareness of restoration efforts.

George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens licenses products from 15 different manufacturers. Products bearing the prestigious name of our first president's 18th century Virginia estate range from paints to home furnishings.

The revenue from the licensing helps fund the museum and grounds. But the increased national and international exposure is equally important.

"More than revenue, we want the consumer to learn more about Mt. Vernon and to visit," said Beverly Addington, director of licensing the for Mt. Vernon Ladies Association, caretakers of the estate. The estate gets about one million visitors a year.

Everything sold under the licensing agreement comes with a card that tells the history of the item and the inspiration behind it, along with information about George Washington and his home.

"Everybody wins with licensing agreements," said Addington. "The (consumer) can have a piece of history in the home, and they learn about the historic property. The manufacturer has a better way to sell his product and we have additional income and exposure to the public."

The Biltmore Story

"Biltmore Estate is the business model for for-profit preservation in American," said Tim Rosebrook Biltmore's director of business development. "No one else with a property of this scale has been able to do this."

Rosebrook has the figures and income to back up that claim. Annual sales of Biltmore-licensed products are now approaching $40 million.

Six years ago, the estate did a study to determine the strength of the Biltmore name and to gauge consumer interest in branded products. Respondents often associated "Biltmore Estate" with "quality" -- even those respondents who were not aware of the brand. In 2004, Biltmore again looked at brand awareness with a national study of 1,000 randomly selected households. National brand familiarity of Biltmore Estate was up 42% from 2000. There was an increase in familiarity in all regions of the country.

Easier said than done

Licensing agreements, when they work, seem simple enough. A historic property lends its good name to a manufacturer in return for a fee. But the process is fairly complicated.

Artifacts, furnishings, even historic colors within an estate are a starting point for the creation of prototype merchandise. In Biltmore's case, everything from garage doors, to porcelain accessories, area rugs, ceiling fans, and even vintage plants are licensed and marketed.

Representatives from the estate oversee the product's development and pay very close attention to the items that will bear the Biltmore's historic and prestigious name.

"We have product review and approval on every single thing that has our name on it," said Rosebrook. "What makes our name desirable is our reputation, so we've got to ensure that the product is done right. We travel to factories, scrutinize design and even review proposed advertising for that product."

metal table
The metalwork on this table from Magnussen is an interpretation of the metal rail of the Vanderbilt library at the historic Biltmore Estate.

Sort of, but not exactly like...

Introduced at the High Point Furniture Market in October 2005, Magnussen's Chateau Collection is "inspired" by furnishings, architecture and details at the Biltmore Estate.

"Rather than strict reproductions, we are presenting an interpretation of the gracious living the Vanderbilts enjoyed with friends and family at Biltmore House," stated Jeff Cook, Magnussen Home president and chief executive officer.

An example of the inspiration and interpretation is the metal cocktail table. There were no metal cocktail tables at the French Renaissance Chateau built for George Vanderbilt in 1894. The table offered by Magnussen has ornate metal scrolling patterned after the metal rail on the second floor of the Vanderbilt library.

Some of the pieces based on furniture in the historic house are downsized a bit to accommodate a typical American home with eight foot ceilings and 2,200 square feet of living area. Other pieces are made a little bigger to compensate for the taller and wider Americans living in those homes.

In finding ideas for these products, the designers from Magnussen were allowed to boldly go where no tourists have gone before inside the manse. And they made some wonderful discoveries.

"We discovered everyday furniture that was under tarps that had incredible turnings, carvings and other detail," said Richard Olmeda, Magnussen Home executive vice president.

About the Author
By Rosemary Thornton, contributing editor

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