As thousands of schoolchildren squirm in their molded plywood seats, little do they know that they are sitting in a material that is the base of a design world icon – the Eames Lounge Chair.
A classic piece that combines comfort, natural style and modern design, the Eames Lounge Chair has been in high demand since its debut in 1956 on the Arlene Francis Show, the predecessor to NBC’s Today Show. Its sensuous curves and leather cushions make up a lounge that is the epitome of comfort.
The development of the aforementioned plywood is what made the Eames Lounge Chair possible. According to Hermanmiller, this material had never been seen before, and was made through a completely new process of super-heating the wood and then bending it into impossibly perfect and smooth curves.
Charles and Ray (Kaiser) Eames met at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, which was also the spawning ground for other famed designers such as Eero Saarinen and Harry Bertoia. They married and moved to Los Angeles where they set to work. By 1945, they found a way to make the curved molded plywood and created their first piece with manufacturer Evans Products: a children’s chair and stool made of birch wood. From there, the Eameses created the lounge chair in rosewood and launched their relationship with the Herman Miller Furniture Company. Today, it is the only US licensed manufacturer of the Eames Lounge Chair, made in cherry and walnut. In Europe, Vitra International, manufactures the furniture.
According to Eames Office, the official company for communicating, preserving and extending the work of the Eameses, the couple was commissioned by the US Navy During World War II to produce molded plywood splints, stretchers, and experimental glider shells. Their molded plywood chair was called ‘the chair of the century’ by the influential architectural critic Esther McCoy.
The Eames Lounge Chair production process is fascinating and can be seen on the Eames official site website.The couple was known for their hands-on design process in their studio, which was known as “an intellectual playground” for many designers who would go on to become icons in their own right: Henry Beer, Richard Foy, Deborah Sussman, Harry Bertoia and Gregory Ain, among others.
Beyond the plywood material there are many other aspects of the chair that make it special. In a feature story, the Washington Post described it perfectly: “Unlike other chairs that are also considered ‘icons of modern design,’ this one is uncommonly comfortable, so much so that when you sit in it, you’re not aware that you’re actually sitting on something.” The three upholstered pieces that make up the chair are purposefully angled to be more comfortable. As the Post points out, Ray and Charles Eames may have been pioneers of ergonomics long before it became a science in the 1970’s.
Bill Dowell, certified professional ergonomist and director of research at Herman Miller, is quoted in the Post saying “that the angle of the seat takes the weight off the base of your spine while the lower back piece supports your lower back; this makes you feel relaxed. Meanwhile, the angle of the upper back piece that supports your chest allows you to be active — you can comfortably read, chat or look straight ahead and watch TV.”
Like many iconic pieces of furniture, a genuine Eames Lounge chair and ottoman will make a dent in your wallet, at $5,000 and up. Many vintage pieces are available, along with unofficial knock-offs. If you’re shopping for a vintage piece – or if you already own one – and want to know if it’s truly an Eames, there are a number of ways to determine if it’s real or fake. Some telling characteristics:
- Size – Many knock-offs are much larger than the original.
- The Base — A true Herman Miller base is powder-coated black with chrome on the top and each foot is height adjustable.
- Spring – A real Eames Lounge chair does not have a spring for reclining.
- Hardware – Many knock-off lounges have visible screws on the wood. A true Eames does not.
- Clips – Cushions on a real Eames are clipped in, not screwed.
No matter your décor, the Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman can be a comfortable and integral part of your design. Its classic modern lines blend well in any space – living room, office area, or bedroom. It’s a happy place to sink into and relax!