You have probably seen an Eames Lounge Chair at some point in your life, but you may not have realized how significant of a design it was when you did. The distinctive leather and wood chair, along with its matching ottoman, has been considered an icon of modern furniture design since its debut in 1956.
Charles and Ray Eames were a married couple who were also creative partners. Throughout their successful careers, they made significant contributions to the fields of architecture, furniture design, and industrial design. The Eameses started designing furniture that emphasized practicality and simple, sleek design over expensive materials and over-the-top designs. They were pioneers in manufacturing furniture out of molded plywood, fiberglass, and plastic with the goal of designing furniture that could be mass-produced at an attainable price point. However, that wasn’t their goal when it came to their Lounge Chair, which is undoubtedly their most famous design.
What Makes the Eames Lounge Chair So Special?
The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman were the designers’ first foray into high-end design. They were inspired by 19th-century English club chairs, the bulky leather armchairs with rounded arms, tufted seat backs, and often nailhead or wood accents. Charles is quoted as having said he wanted the lounge chair to have “the warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman's mitt.” The modernist result is a distinctive shape that arguably looks like the blend of a luxurious office chair and a leather recliner. It is a show of craftsmanship that’s slimmer and more lightweight than a traditional club chair, and—many would argue—also more comfortable.
The chair is comprised of three molded plywood shells consisting of multiple layers of plywood with a top veneer layer of striking wood grain. The original design was finished with Brazilian rosewood, which was the only option until the 1990s. Now, you have a choice of walnut, ebony, white ash, or palisander wood. The leather cushions (also now available in mohair) are uniquely attached so as to not harm the wood shells and do have that distinctly worn-in yet refined appearance Charles Eames was aiming for. The back braces on the chair and the bases of both the chair and ottoman are aluminum, and the chair has a swivel mechanism.
Since its debut on NBC’s “Home” show in 1956, the chair (and its designers) was an instant success. And to call the design an icon is no understatement—versions of the chair are on display in the Museum of Modern Art, the Henry Ford Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
The Eameses designed the original for the Herman Miller furniture company, which has continuously produced the design since then in the United States. The furniture company Vitra also holds the copyright to produce the design in Europe. An authentic original with the Eames name from one of these companies will cost you—the cheapest combination of finishes starts at $5,295. And while there are plenty of replicas, they don’t necessarily fall into the “affordable” category either. Below are a few at various price points.
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