Nick Davies highlights a modern design classic, born in the 1950s yet still being made – and highly sought after – today
Meet one of the hottest seats money can buy – the Eames Lounge Chair. In continuous production since its introduction in 1956, it is widely considered one of the most significant designs of the 20th century. Conceived by Charles Eames, who with his wife and professional partner Ray formed one of the most influential design teams of the time, it represented the culmination of their efforts to create a chair using the moulded plywood technology that they pioneered in the 1940s. In Charles’s own words, using a baseball analogy, his vision was to create a chair with the “warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt”.
Charles had first experimented with bent plywood with American architect and industrial designer Eero Saarinen. They produced a group of prize–winning designs submitted to the Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition. As good as they were, they proved difficult to manufacture, and most were upholstered for comfort. Intent on producing high quality objects at economical manufacturing costs, Charles and Ray devoted the better part of the next five years to refining the technique of moulding plywood to create thin shells with simple curves. The Second World War however meant that commercial design had to be suspended. Yet despite this set back, they did manage to continue with their plywood experimentation creating innovative leg splints with natural curvatures for use by the US Navy. Post-war, the couple went on to capitalise on their research for the Navy, creating what proved to be the precursor of their Lounger: the Eames Lounge Chair Wood. The Lounge Chair Wood is very much the archetypical Eames design and provided the template for their later works, not least their Lounge and Ottoman set. The finished Lounge Chair and Ottoman (correctly known as the 670 and 671 units) first appeared on the Arlene Francis Home show broadcast on the NBC television network in the US in 1956. Immediately following the debut, furniture maker Herman Miller launched an advertising campaign that highlighted the versatility of the chair. Print ads depicted the contemporary chair in traditional or unusual settings, including a Victorian parlour occupied by a grandmother shelling peas, on the front porch of an American gothic style house and in the middle of a sunny field of hay.
The Eames Lounge Chair appeals to people for several reasons. Not only is it super stylish but it is also very comfortable – a combination not always found in high design. Additionally, some people find it desirable purely for reasons of conspicuous consumption, a new example will set you back as much as £5,000, however at auction a good example will fetch about half that price. The result is a landmark of 20th century design as much admired today as when first created. And as with so many great designs, while often imitated it’s never been bettered!