Eames Lounge Chair
The Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman are furnishings made of molded plywood and leather, designed by Charles and Ray Eames for the Herman Miller furniture company. They are officially titled Eames Lounge (670) and Ottoman (671) and were released in 1956 after years of development by designers. It was the first chair that the Eameses designed for a high-end market. Examples of these furnishings are part of the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Charles and Ray Eames aimed to develop furniture that could be mass-produced and affordable, with the exception of the Eames Lounge Chair. This luxury item was inspired by the traditional English Club Chair. The Eames Lounge Chair has become iconic with Modern style design, although when it was first made, Ray Eames remarked in a letter to Charles that the chair looked "comfortable and un-designy". Charles's vision was for a chair with "the warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman's mitt." The chair is composed of three curved plywood shells: the headrest, the backrest and the seat. In early production, beginning in 1956 and running through the very early 1990s, the shells were made up of five thin layers of plywood which were covered by a veneer of Brazilian rosewood veneer. The use of Brazilian rosewood was discontinued in the early 1990s, and current production since then consists of seven layers of plywood covered by finishing veneers of cherry, walnut, Palisander rosewood (a sustainably grown wood with similar grain patterns to the original Brazilian versions), and other finishes.
The layers are glued together and shaped under heat and pressure. These earlier models are differentiated from newer models by the sets of rubber spacers between the aluminum spines and the wood panels first used in the earliest production models (and then hard plastic washers used in later versions) early first series versions of the chair used three screws to secure the armrests, second series models used two. In the earlier models, the zipper around the cushions may have been brown or black as well, and in newer models the zippers are black. The shells and the seat cushions are essentially the same shape, and composed of two curved forms interlocking to form a solid mass. The chair back and headrest are identical in proportion, as are the seat and the ottoman. Early ottomans had removable rubber slide on feet with metal glides.
The Eameses constantly made use of new materials. The pair's first plywood chair—the Eames Lounge Chair Wood (LCW)—made use of a heavy rubber washer glued to the backrest of the chair and screwed to the lumbar support. These washers, which have come to be called 'shock mounts', allow the backrest to flex slightly. This technology was brought back in the 670 Lounge chair. The backrest and headrest are screwed together by a pair of aluminum supports. This unit is suspended on the seat via two connection points in the armrests. The armrests are screwed to shock mounts which are connected only via glue to the interior of the backrest shell, allowing the backrest and headrest to flex when the chair is in use. This is part of the chair's unusual design, as well as its weakest link. The shock mounts have been known to tear free causing catastrophic collapse and damage.
Other creative uses of materials include the seat cushions - which eschew standard stapled or nailed upholstery. Instead, the cushions are sewn with a zipper around the outer edge that connects them to a stiff plastic backing. The backing affixes to the plywood shells with a series of hidden clips and rings. This design, along with the hidden shock mounts in the armrest allow the outside veneer of the chair to be unmarred by screws or bolts. The chair has a low seat which is permanently fixed at a recline. The seat of the chair swivels on a cast aluminum base, with glides that are threaded so that the chair may remain level.
The Eames Lounge Chair first appeared on the Arlene Francis Home show broadcast on the NBC television network in the USA in 1956. Immediately following the debut, Herman Miller launched an advertising campaign that highlighted the versatility of the chair. Print ads depicted the 670 in a Victorian parlor, 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. One notable advertisement was produced by the Eameses for Herman Miller warning consumers against imitations and knockoffs. It has been frequently featured in Frasier as a piece of furniture in the title character's apartment. In the final episode of the series, Martin Crane remarks that he finds it comfortable and hints that he may not have needed his recliner after all. A knockoff of the Eames Lounge Chair has been frequently featured in the show House, in the protagonist's office.
Since its introduction, the chair has been in continuous production by Herman Miller in America. Later, Vitra (in cooperation with the German furniture company Fritz Becker KG) began producing the chair for the European market. It was licenced for a short period to Hille in the mid 1960s, but the licence was withdrawn due to quality issues (thinner plywood was used for the shells & the leather was less hardy) also some slight changes to the original design - notably the cast base which was altered to be thinner. Immediately following its release, other furniture companies began to copy the chair's design. Some made direct copies, others were merely 'influenced' by the design. Most notably the former Plycraft Company issued dozens of chairs that were direct copies of or in-the-style-of the Eames 670. Later Chinese and European companies began making direct copies. However, Herman Miller and Vitra remain the only two companies to produce these chairs with the Eames name attached.
In 2006, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the chair, Herman Miller released models using a sustainable Palisander rosewood veneer.
- A 1956 rosewood Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The set was a gift of the Herman Miller Company, donated in 1960.
- A rosewood Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman are on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
- Martin Eidelberg, Thomas Hine, Pat Kirkham: The Eames Lounge Chair: An Icon of Modern Design. Merrell Holberton 2006, ISBN 978-1-85894-302-2.
- Herman Miller product page
- Eames Office - vintage
- California Academy of Sciences - Science in Action - Episode 379 - The Chair - guest Charles Eames (March 14, 1960)