Great wood furniture design is at the heart of what we do. You might say we’re aficionados. That’s why we’re launching a new blog series that pays homage to some of most iconic wood furniture designs of modern times. We’ll look at the pieces that innovated the home and office environment, moved the bar for design, and really walked the line between art and the everyday. These are the icons of wood furniture design.
“The chair of the century.”
In today’s blog we take a look at the Eames Lounge Chair. This icon of modern furniture design is so distinct, so well-known, that its form is a registered trademark. There are even examples of it in museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
But this fantastic piece of furniture is not just a design statement. The Eames Lounge Chair is still in production and still used in homes today. It was designed to be supremely comfortable, offering a much-needed respite from the daily grind of life.
Creators Charles and Ray Eames were known for their democratic, mass-produced, affordable pieces. This chair was their first luxury item. Despite that, its pared-down design consists simply of three curved rosewood veneer plywood shells: the headrest, the backrest and the seat.
As Charles Eames said,
The details are not the details; they make the product.
Why is it so iconic? For a start, just look at it. It’s a beautiful mix of old-school comfort and sleek modernism. It had familiar echoes of traditional design even when it was first made, and yet it was something totally new and fresh. Its modernist curved wooden elements rejected the fussy, decorative styles of the Victorian and Art Deco eras while its chrome feet spoke of an industrial age.
Secondly, it’s as comfortable as it is stylish. It’s incredibly inviting to sit on with its leather upholstery, reclining back, and body-hugging form. The rosewood veneer and black leather are a nod to the cosy, comforting world of English gentlemen’s clubs. Charles Eames famously said that he wanted it to have “the warm, receptive look of a well-used first-baseman’s mitt.”
Finally, it straddles the line between luxury and affordability. The Eameses struggled for many years to perfect a way of mass-producing the complex shapes involved in producing this chair, and they pioneered ways of bending plywood so it could be manufactured at a reasonable price. The original was half hand-crafted and half machine-made.
Who made it? Husband and wife design power couple Charles and Ray Eames. Production on the chair began in 1956, but it took many years of trial and error to get the design to production stage. Herman Miller still manufacture the classic in their Michigan factory and the Eameses still oversee production today.
Charles and Ray worked together on hugely influential design and architecture projects in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, developing new ways of moulding plywood into sculptural curved modern forms. They learnt some of their early techniques working for the US Navy on the design of glider shells, splints and stretchers.
The Eameses referred to the lounge chair as the 670 and its accompanying foot rest (often called simply “Ottoman” today) as the 671 after the parts used in their construction.
The couple’s design philosophy is best expressed by this pithy quote from Charles Eames:
The role of the designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.