Few lounge chairs come close to the Eames chair and ottoman. This iconic chair, designed by Ray and Charles Eames, was an instant success when it was released in 1956.
Photographed for magazines worldwide, the models, No.670 and No.671, were the first designs from Charles and Ray Eames aimed at the luxury end of the market – until then, their focus had been on producing affordable furniture for the mass market. Initially conceived for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) exhibition ‘Organic Design in Home Furnishings’, this prototype was considerably more complex than previous designs. It featured rosewood-faced moulded plywood seat shells with leather-covered cushions for the armchair supported on a cast aluminium base. Credit for this design should also be given to Don Albinson, who was working at the Eames’ office and was a collaborator for this iconic design.
The Eames chair and ottoman, produced by Herman Miller and sold through Living Edge, is regularly seen in both homes and offices, the latter more commonly found in the CEO’s office, in a corner that offers panoramic views through large picture windows.
For this writer, the resurgence in popularity for this sumptuous set started in the mid-to-late 1990s in Australia, coinciding with the renewed interest in modernist post-war housing, spurred on by magazines such as wallpaper*. The Eames’ own home in the Pacific Palisades neighbourhood of Los Angeles, which was regularly featured, included the couple’s armchair and ottoman in their open plan living area. Surrounded by objects and artefacts from travels, the interior was an eclectic mixture of furniture and items from different periods – a trend that can be seen today.
There have been numerous comparisons for the Eames chair and ottoman – from a 20th century gentleman’s chair (think high back and footstool) that would be at home next to an open fireplace, to a baseball mitt – although Joe Columbo’s Baseball chair with its five-fingered backrest and chunky stitching is a closer resemblance.
Architect Peter Maddison, director of Maddison Architects and host of Grand Designs Australia, has an Eames chair and 0ttoman in his home in bayside Melbourne. “I love the chair’s five-star base which allows for easy rotation. But I also appreciate how the Eames chair and ottoman has been assembled,” Peter says, pointing out the leather piping that separates the black leather upholstery from the plywood shells that form part of the chair’s shell or carcass. “It’s also a deconstructed piece where you can appreciate how all the components fit perfectly together,” Peter adds.
The Eames chair and ottoman, whether in walnut or ebony, covered in black or pearl (white) leather, are as popular now as when it was first released. Whether in a contemporary or a period setting, it’s the type of chair with ‘one’s name’ written on it, the chair and ottoman to go to after a long day at work or even spent in the garden. And with its tilted backrest (the chair is permanently in this position), it’s not surprising that many doze off in the process.