Eames Lounge Chair with Ottoman
Today, what is considered an icon of modern design began with the Eames’ modest desire to create a chair with “the warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” Swaths of top-grain leather and sleek veneered plywood work hand in glove to create a seat set that has come to symbolize style, comfort, and sophistication that appeal to the contemporary taste for mid century modern furniture.
Originally referred to as the 670/671 after the Herman Miller part numbers used to make the seating, the first iteration was conceived as a birthday gift for Billy Wilder, the Academy Award–winning film director. The set made its public debut on the Arlene Francis Home Show in 1956 and helped skyrocket the furniture pairing to superstardom.
Husband-and-wife team Charles (1907–1978) and Ray (1912–1988) Eames were two of the most influential designers of the twentieth century and their groundbreaking work has appeared in dozens of exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art. From furniture to film, architecture to children’s toys, the Eames approached every project with a sense of adventure, combining ambitious, out-of-the-box thinking with wonder and whimsy.
The Eames’ pioneering use of new materials and technologies—specifically plastics and molded plywood—influenced the sculptural forms, functionality, and affordability for which their designs are renowned. While studying at Cranbrook Academy of Art, Charles and his colleague, architect Eero Saarinen, collaborated on a series of experimental molded plywood chairs, which won the Museum of Modern Art's "Organic Design in Home Furnishings Competition" in 1940. After moving to Los Angeles in 1941, Charles and Ray continued their experiments with the material, even creating a special machine for manufacturing molded plywood dubbed the “Kazam! Machine.” During World War II, they were commissioned by the U.S. Navy to develop lightweight, mass-produced splints for injured servicemen. They created a wafer-thin glider nose as a study in aerodynamic precision, leveraging their new ability to create multidimensional curves in wood. And after the war, they adapted these body-hugging, biomorphic forms to their furniture designs.
Their lounge chair and ottoman take full advantage of the malleability and ergonomic potential of molded plywood. The chair is composed of three curved plywood shells topped with padded leather cushions that let the user to melt into the design. The seat pivots on a five-pronged base, and an ottoman of similar design transforms the chair into a recliner when in use. The set borrows an additional innovation from their original plywood chairs, rubber “shock mounts,” which allow the backrest and headrest to flex with the weight of the user.
In the catalog for a solo exhibition of Charles Eames furniture from 1973, MoMA Director of Architecture and Design Arthur Drexler praised the now-eponymous chair, writing “Eames is the only designer to attempt a lounge chair which would surpass in comfort anything an English club can offer.” Although initially described by Ray as “comfortable and un-designy,” the set struck the perfect balance of luxury and laidback to create an instant classic. Offering “a special refuge from the strains of modern living”—in Charles Eames’ words—this iconic design is revered as one the designers’ most distinguished contributions to the mid-century modern canon.
DesignerCharles and Ray Eames
SizeChair: 32.75h x 32.75w x 32.75"d
Ottoman: 17h x 26w x 21.75"d
Year of Design1956