The Lounge Chair and Ottoman are indeed Eames first products for the high-end market. Model No. 670, as it was named then, retailed for the proud sum of 634 US$ in 1957. Initially conceived as a gift for director Billy Wilder the chair has the explicit purpose to invite the executive owner to a power nap in the office.
Under the patronage of Hermann Miller Charles and Ray Eames have created an adventurous and congenial collection of furniture designs as diverse as their other creative interests. Their furniture reflects the same ambition that is obvious throughout their architectural and educational work. Most of the design classics by Charles Eames build on the hugely successful entries for the exhibition Organic Design in Home Furnishing by the Museum of Modern Art in 1940 in collaboration with Eero Saarinen.
Undeniably a member of the plywood group of furniture by Eames the Lounge Chair doesn't strike the beholder as such. It stands apart in many ways. Despite the shell being made of the material that intended to make furniture affordable and available to many the Lounger exudes an exclusive flair. The plywood shell not only supports the body perfectly in a relaxed position it also provides the shape for the luxurious and sensationally comfortable upholstery. In combination the two contrasting materials create a harmonious picture and seating experience.
Plywood and innovative ways to shape it have been on Charles Eames’ mind for many years and not only related to furniture. During World War II he joined a group of inventors and developed leg splints, stretchers and aircraft parts for the U.S. Navy and military aviation industry. The company was later taken over by Hermann Miller. The expertise gained with the industry proved very useful for the commercial production of furniture made of the same material.
Even artistically Charles and Ray explored the material. Abstract plywood sculptures from 1943 beautifully unite the technical expertise and Ray’s artistic talent. Even the leg splint could be mistaken for a sculpture and Ray indeed carved one out of one of those splints. This is the beauty of their work, the realization that utility and art can live in one object.
Already in the late 30s Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen experimented with three-dimensional molding of plywood for furnishing leading them to compete in six categories of the Organic Design competition held by the MoMA New York.
By the time the Eames interpretation of a traditional club chair was launched by Hermann Miller in 1956 it had already gone through more than a decade of development and research. The rather complex construction of the Lounge Chair originates back to the developments for the Organic Design exhibition.
Despite experimenting with three-dimensionally molded forms made from a single piece of plywood like their winning entry in the category "Seating for a Living Room", early prototypes for the lounger from 1946 show the characteristic separation into three two-dimensionally bent plywood elements for shoulders, back, and seat, held together by a unique construction.
Many prototypes and models of that period show different approaches to solve the technical problems related to bending plywood three ways. In order to avoid the material to splinter they reduced the tension on the material by cutting slits and holes in the chair shells, which ultimately led them to abandon the idea of a shell out of one piece of material, at least in plywood. The plastic and wire mesh collection have the same goal and particularly fiberglass reinforced plastic turned out to be a much more appreciative choice for the task.
The separation of seat and back meant a breakthrough. For the Lounge Chair the key was the connection of the elements through shock mounts that give in a bit and compensate for the fact that the back is not adjustable.
The star base hints at the aluminum seating collection launched around the same time and add to the no nonsense charm of the chair.
It is this segmentation of the different functions and elements, the use of clearly distinguished materials that give the Eames lounger its slightly technical, masculine appearance while the initially goose feather filled cushions and slightly creased upholstery give a sneak preview of the gentle, comforting embrace the chair offers.
Billy Wilder should not be the only VIP seen in the equally famous chair. It has been featured in countless stage sets and advertisement always adding that special something to the scene.
Often associated with the interior of a psychoanalysts practice it is no surprise that the famous sitcom character Frasier, a psychoanalyst too, proudly owns one, prominently featured in almost every episode of the series.
This design classic has made its way into pop culture. And like a Mercedes Benz the lounge chair is much more than a luxurious utilitarian object. It’s a metaphor for classic style, savoir vivre and more.
Not only can the lounger claim to be part of the permanent collection of the MoMA it was also honored with its own exhibition. “The Eames Lounge Chair: An Icon of Modern Design” at The Museum of Arts and Design in New York celebrated the 50th anniversary of the famous two-piece furniture set in 2006. And that is not all. Model 670 is the main character in a two-minute short film showing an engineer assembling and then dismantling the chair into its single components in typical Eames style.