The Stories Behind The Eames Lounge Chair

Every Eames Lounge Chair has its stories woven into the strands of its buttery, soft leather seating and moulded plywood case.

There are not many chairs that can connect generations so powerfully, a reason why many call it 'The world's favourite chair'.

To own an Eames Lounge Chair is to hold the power of stories close, to create a legacy that whispers your stories to the next generation who play and rest in the same fabric that you did. 

A symbol of mid-century modern design, a piece of collectable art, a contemporary statement of modernism. But, how did the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman come to be (arguably) the world’s most famous chair? 

The Eames effect

As couples go, it is hard to overstate the influence and gift that Ray and Charles Eames left not only on the world of design, but on how we live, creating iconic furniture to invest in. Furthermore, it is more important than ever to acknowledge that their work really was an equal and joint partnership. 

As Charles famously said : “Anything I can do, Ray can do better”.

The couple met at the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art that produced talents such as Florence Knoll and Eero Saarinen, He was a designer and architect, she was an artist.

Forward-thinking in a male-dominated world, Charles was focused on form and Ray added the vital element of play and a human-touch that they are now renowned for.

"When Ray and Charles Eames designed a piece of furniture, they always took a human-centred approach," notes Amy Auscherman, Head of Archive and Brand Heritage at Herman Miller, who first licensed the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman.

Following their graduation the Eames’ moved to Los Angeles where the founded the Eames Office and began experimenting with plastic and plywood with the goal of mass-producing furniture using their "Kazam! machine" to press together layers of thin wood veneer (originally they made beautiful splints during the war using this same machine).

By the time the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman was released in 1956, the dynamic, playful and creative couple were already established pioneers in the world of modernism, especially in North America, having become known through competitions organised by MoMA, where Charles had originally collaborated with his Cranbook friend Eero Saarinen on the "Eiffel" DSW Chair. 


The story of the Eames Lounge chair starts with a Hollywood story

The story of the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman (first named as 600 and 601 repsectively) starts, fittingly, in Hollywood. 

Ray and Charles paid visit to their friend, famed British film director, screenwriter and producer, Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, The Seven Year Itch) on set. 

photo credit Eames Office

After watching Wilder try and nap on makeshift lounge chairs in between takes, they were inspired to create a chair with a look of an old English club chair but with their playful, forward-thinking aesthetic applied. Comfort and functionality were as important as the look to the couple.

“The leather cushions do have built-in wrinkles to start with, but that is a clue that spells comfort to come, like the warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” 

- Ray and Charles Eames

The design

The humble use of plywood set against the premium fine wood, with a functional pivoting base with extreme comfort as a core part of the design, the chair is a functioning piece of art.

But it is more than that. The comfort and functionality, as with all of the Eames' designs is paramount. According to New York's MoMA:

"The Eames® Lounge Chair and Ottoman takes full advantage of the potential of the contours of the moulded plywood, creating a form that is comfortable to relax in. The seat of the Lounge Chair has a permanent tilt. This angle supports your chest, so you’ll be more comfortable while reading, watching TV and conversing. This takes weight off your lower spine and distributes it to the back of the chair. Your lower back is supported by the seat’s lower cushions. (This makes you feel more relaxed.) The ottoman provides a health benefit: besides being a comfortable place to rest your feet, it helps restore normal blood circulation after a work day of constant sitting or standing."

It's signature reclined position and contouring are iconic and still as modern and relevant as ever today. There are many companies creating replicas today, but the original chair is only manufactured by Herman Miller and Vitra.

Here at Cimmermann, we only sell the Eames Office licensed product made by their long-term collaborator and trusted partner in Europe, Vitra.

The Vitra Partnership

Vitra has been the sole authorised manufacturer of the Eames Lounge Chair in Europe and the Middle East. Just like 60 years ago, the production of the chair requires 47 different steps, many of which are hand-crafted.

This is what ensures the Lounge Chair last for generations. 

The legacy factor is important to many customers; actress Birgitte von Halling-Koch shares her story with Vitra Magazine:

"When Birgitte von Halling-Koch was 15 years old, a special delivery from Vitra arrived at her childhood home in Copenhagen: an Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. That was back in 1958, and it was one of the first Lounge Chairs in Scandinavia– if not the very first. A decade or so later, the family took the armchair from Denmark to their summer home in Sweden. Today Birgitte, her sister, brother and all the children and grandchildren share this house, which is where we met Birgitte."

Read more on Vitra Magazine's The Bedtime Stories May Change, the Armchair Stays the Same.

Click here to shop the Original Vitra Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman collection

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