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Unveiled in 1956 by mid-century modern legends, Charles and Ray Eames, the Eames lounge chair has risen to the ranks of the most influential furniture pieces of the 20th century. Ray Eames may have once quipped to her husband that the chair looked “comfortable and un-designy,” but the Eames Lounger chair has since become so iconic that it sits among the few furniture pieces to have ever been officially trademarked. In the going-on seventy years since its creation, the Eames lounge chair has become the choice piece of design connoisseurs and CEOS, made dozens (if not hundreds) of cinematic cameos, and earned a permanent spot in the cultural zeitgeist.

The Eames, who met at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit (the Mid-Century design think tank that turned out fellow style savants like Florence Knoll and Eero Saarinen), designed no shortage of cherished chairs during their careers. That said, upholstered seats are notably scarce in their catalog, making the Eames lounger all the more prolific. Decked out in sumptuous, leather cushions and a graceful ergonomic form, the Eames lounger chair was designed to be the epitome of luxury. Likewise, the Eames spared no expense on their namesake lounger. Original lounge chairs were crafted from no less than five layers of Brazilian rosewood—an exquisite material that’s scarcity halted production of the chair for a time when an embargo was placed on rosewood in 1992. Today, Eames lounge chairs are renowned for their unparalleled craftsmanship and patented design. Let’s explore exactly what makes this chair a highly coveted status symbol.

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Photo by Lisa Romerein/OTTO.

The Anatomy of an Eames Lounge Chair

The Eames lounge chair consists of three curved-plywood shells designed to cradle the body. The headrest, lumbar rest, and seat are all composed of separate shells filled with plush leather-upholstered cushions. Though the Eames lounger is simple in its makeup, it’s the overall quality of its construction and attention to detail that lends the chair its unwavering prestige.

What Are the Dimensions of Eames Lounge Chairs?

In an effort to create that trademark “baseball glove” fit for an array of body types and comfort levels, the Eames lounge chair is available in two configurations: classic and tall. The tall version of the Eames chair offers an additional 2 inches of backrest height, 2 inches seat depth, and .25 inches of clearance from the base of the chair to the seat. In both configuration options, the dimensions of the ottoman remain the same.

What Are Eames Chairs Made Of?

Cost-effectiveness was paramount to the majority of the Eames’s designs. Classic Eames chairs are molded from plastic, plywood, mesh, fiberglass, and aluminum. With their lounge chair, however, the Eames had different ambitions, and paid little mind to cost mitigation when choosing the materials. Only the most luxurious of leather, wood grains, and metals met the discerning quality standard of the Eames lounge chair.

Leather and wood options: Upping the sophistication of this already timeless classic, the Eames lounge chair can be customized with four wood veneers and sixteen leather choices. The plethora of choices leaves nearly unlimited room for designers and homeowners to add their own personal touch.

Photo courtesy of Tracy Murdock

How are Eames Chairs Made?

Even though Charles and Ray Eames passed away in 1978 and 1988 respectively, the manufacturing process for an Eames lounge chair still meets the impeccably high standards put in play by the couple. The process has barely been altered in over 50 years, with a commitment to unyielding quality demanded every step of the way.

Today, Eames chairs are still almost entirely crafted by hand. Cushions are stuffed with high-density urethane foam and covered with hand-sewn leather. Up to seven sheets of plywood are then glued together and bent into their curved shapes by way of heat and pressure. Next, shocks are added (by hand to insure perfection) along with the signature five-footed base. To further demonstrate just how much attention to quality is paid, every chair is personally inspected by a quality control representative before rolling off of the assembly line.

Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg / Design by Dane Austin Design

What Makes Eames Chairs So Comfortable?

With hundreds of designs, armfuls of awards, and a union so enviable colleague and friend Eero Saarinen once famously rated it a 90 out of a possible 100, the Eames rightfully had a lot to be proud of. But the one accomplishment the duo was perhaps most fond of was their ability to maximize both form and function. If the Eames lounge chair was stunning, yet uncomfortable, it’s doubtful that the piece would have achieved the heights of notoriety it now enjoys. Like all works of impeccable craftsmanship, it is a myriad of small, thoughtful, and innovative details that coalesce beautifully to create the signature comfort of an Eames lounge chair.

First and foremost, the Eames lounge chair features a 15-degree tilt. The subtle angle is designed to relieve pressure from the base of the spine and bolster comfort. Adding to the comfort quota, the chair’s lower back pieces provide support to the low-back while the upper back pieces keep your chest supported and engaged.

The Eames lounge chair’s signature innovation is the patented “shock mounts.” Arguably the most critical contributing factors towards the chair’s legendary comfort, shocks are heavy rubber washers with nuts inside that are glued to the backrest of the chair and screwed into the lumbar support. This isolates various pieces of the chair and allows it to bend and flex slightly with the body (not unlike a rocking chair). This, combined with the signature Eames chair base, a five-legged, cast aluminum pedestal, creates a relaxing, weightless experience.

Additionally, Eames lounge chairs are covered with leather tufted with wide buttons—softening the leather so that it’s accommodating and compliant from the very first use. Last, but not least, the ottoman also plays a formidable role in the Eames lounge chair’s comfort score. After a long day of standing or sitting, propping one’s legs up on an ottoman is known to increase blood circulation from the legs to the torso.

Photo by Peter Vitale

Other Eames Chairs to Know

The Eames had a passion for distilling ergonomics into effortlessly fine-tuned forms. Their robust catalog includes dozens of chairs, ranging from wood, fiberglass, plastic, metal mesh, and aluminum. Eames chairs were also unique in that they came in a rainbow of color options. Below are some of the Eames’s most tried and true designs, not to be missed. 

Eames Wire Chair

A spin-off of the Eames’s ever-popular Molded Fiberglass Shell Chair, the Eames Wire chair aimed to pare down the iconic form to just its foundation. The Eames had reportedly been inspired by woven wire dress forms, as well as the wire mesh trays and baskets that were popular during the era. Lightweight and visually unimposing, the Eames Wire Chair is perfect for outfitting a dining table that demands to be showed off.

Eames Aluminum Group Management Chair

Ask ergonomic enthusiasts about their ideal desk mate and they’re likely to say the Eames Aluminum Management Chair. Featuring a lightweight aluminum frame with a supine back that seems to almost mimic the curvature of the spine, the executive chair also comes equipped with a supportive 5-star base, tilt-swivel mechanism, and adjustable seat-height.

Eames Molded Plywood Dining Chair

Dubbed the Best Design of the 20th Century by Time magazine, this ultra-versatile dining chair showcases an elevated seat and gently tilted back that holds the user in a gently reclined position. Cleverly-placed rubber shock mounts provide a buffer against any impactful movements. An ode to the beauty of wood, the DCW chair is also assembled entirely by planes of intersecting plywood with no other adornments of any kind.

Shop Eames Furniture >>

Lead photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg / Design by Dane Austin Design

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October 17, 2018

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