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Hailed as 'comfortable and un-designy' by its creator

by:Modern Century     2021-04-01

You've seen an Eames Lounge Chair. Even if you think you haven't, trust me, you have. OK, OK, I'm no mind reader, but the Eames Lounge Chair is an icon of modern American design. First launched in 1956 as the Eames Lounge (670) and Ottoman (671) (the latter is the little footstool that accompanies it), the chair's co-designer Charles Eames described it as being 'comfortable and un-designy'. It's that discrete, familiar comfort that made this most of famous Eames chair (for Charles and his wife Ray designed many) an icon of the Modern movement and as ubiquitous a piece of unshowy but stylish design as a Vettriano painting.

It's also why anyone who has ever watched an American TV series or film has seen one. Even if you don't think you have. Gilbert Grissom had one in his apartment in 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation'. Donald Draper and Dr Gregory House both have them in their offices. Doctor Who took a doze in one back in the Sixties. It's hard to describe the piece without pictures, but I'll try. The Eames chair is almost a bucket seat in design. Its back, arms and seat are joined together by aluminium supports. The whole thing is fitted at a backwards angle to its swivel base, pulling the sitter back into its mitt-like shape. The raising of the legs makes the accompanying footstool (the one we mentioned earlier, remember?) near essential and the whole thing almost ridiculously comfortable.

My referencing so many television appearances isn't accidental. The Eames Lounge Chair's popularity and many, many appearances on the box are symbiotic. Its first public appearance came in 1956, when it was featured on the 'Home' show, NBC's hugely popular daytime magazine programme fronted by actress and game show panellist Arlene Francis and a huge advertising campaign followed immediately. The campaign - which showed the Eames chair in a variety of unlikely locales including a hay field, a Victorian parlour and on the front porch of a house straight out of the America Gothic - focused on the Eames chair's versatility. It's that same versatility which explains its continuous place in popular culture - and, in particular, the American popular imagination. The Eames Lounge Chair is comfortable yet smart, stylish yet understated. That's why it can sit as easily in Frasier's luxurious Seattle apartment as it can in Iron Man's cluttered workshop.

The Eames Lounge Chair has been in continuous production ever since. In America, Herman Miller have continued to turn out units since its premier in 1956, while Vitra have continued to produce it for the American market. It has also inspired replicas, imitations and knock offs of varying quality - China being the source of many. Some replicas can be of extremely poor quality. Spray painted cushions, exposed screws and poor quality materials are amongst the complaints that have come from those who bought cheap, fast buck knock offs. On the other hand, some replica Eames chairs have been hailed as even better than the originals, offering increased versatility and the option to customise the colours of your purchase to fit your tastes and the design of your home or office.

The Eames Lounge Chair has long been an icon of usability and style. You've seen it so many times that you don't even realise it. Now you've come to understand why it's so popular, maybe it's time you started paying it a bit more attention.

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