Hey there, fellow design lovers! Let’s dive into a bit of design history and talk about the iconic Eames Lounge Chair and its matching ottoman. Crafted by the dynamic duo Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller, this stylish combo features molded plywood and sumptuous leather. It took the Eameses several years of meticulous work to finally unveil their luxurious creation in 1956, making it their very first foray into the upscale furniture market. To this day, these elegant pieces continue to grace the permanent collection of New York’s renowned Museum of Modern Art, though there are many replicas around now. How cool is that?
Let’s delve a little deeper into the history and evolution of the iconic Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman. Unlike most of their other creations that focused on affordability and mass production, Charles and Ray Eames crafted this luxurious piece, drawing inspiration from the classic English club chair. Despite its now-iconic status in modern design, Ray once wrote to Charles that the chair looked “comfortable and undesigny.” Charles had a vision of a chair that resembled “the welcoming, well-worn appearance of a first baseman’s mitt.” The chair is composed of three curved plywood shells, each coated with veneer: the headrest, the backrest, and the seat. These layers are bonded and shaped using heat and pressure, with the shells and seat cushions interlocking to form a solid mass.
Over the years, the Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman have seen various modifications. Initially, from 1956 until the early 1990s, the shells were made from five layers of plywood topped with a Brazilian rosewood veneer. Nowadays, the manufacturing process involves seven layers of plywood adorned with cherry, walnut, or sustainably-sourced palisander rosewood veneers, among other finishes. The use of Brazilian rosewood was discontinued in the early 1990s. Early on, rubber spacers were used between the aluminum spines and wood panels, later replaced by hard plastic washers. Second-series models saw a reduction in armrest screws from three to two, and the “domes of silence” (glides/feet) on the chair base had thinner screws than those on later chairs. Additionally, early ottomans had replaceable rubber feet with aluminum glides, and cushion zippers were either brown or black.
To authenticate the Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman, various labels have been used over time. In 1956, a silver/white circular medallion with the text ‘created by Charles Eames’ and ‘Herman Miller Zeeland, Mich.’ was the first authenticity indicator. This was followed by black oblong labels in the ’70s and ’80s, silver oblong labels in the ’90s and 2000s, and curved embossed labels from the 2000s to the present.
Back in 1956, the Eames Lounge Chair made its first television appearance on the Arlene Francis Home show, which aired on NBC in the United States.
Following the chair’s debut, Herman Miller launched a creative ad campaign that showcased its versatility. Ads for the 670 chair depicted it in a variety of settings, such as a Victorian parlor, on the front porch of an American Gothic-style house with a grandmother shelling peas, and even amid a sunlit hayfield.
The Eames Lounge Chair has been continually produced in the United States by MillerKnoll since its introduction. Eventually, Vitra, partnering with German furniture manufacturer Fritz Becker AG, began making the chair for the European market. In 1957, a 10-year license was granted to Hille International LTD. in the United Kingdom. Almost immediately, other furniture companies started creating designs inspired by or directly imitating the Eames 670 chair. The now-defunct Plycraft Corporation manufactured numerous chairs that were either exact copies or influenced by the iconic design. Later on, Chinese and European companies also started producing direct replicas. However, only Herman Miller and Vitra are authorized to create Eames-branded chairs.
In celebration of the chair’s 50th anniversary in 2006, Miller released limited edition replicas featuring sustainably sourced palisander rosewood veneers. In 2008, both Herman Miller and Vitra introduced a taller version (referred to as XL in Europe) with increased height and width dimensions.