The iconic Womb chair by Eero Saarinen turns 75 years old this year. Designed specifically for Florence Knoll, who headed up the furniture and design department for her family’s company, it’s difficult to reconcile the futuristic design to the date of 1948 when it was first released on the market. But when you look at some of the other futuristic designs Saarinen, a Finnish-born American architect (son of the renowned architect Eliel Saarinen) was creating at the time, it’s not surprising – including Terminal 5 TWA Flight Centre and hotel at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International airport, The Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri, which extends to a height of over 190 metres, and the impressive North Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana.

When the Womb chair, with its accompanying ottoman, was released, a bright red wool-covered chair was photographed with a chimney sweep taking a break. His lean silhouette, dressed in top-to-toe black and covered in soot, included a top hat and a black feather duster. This image remained on the pages of the New Yorker magazine for the next 15 years. While the chimney sweep created a rakish outline, the soft undulating form of the chair suggests more of a reclining mother, with arms spread out while feeding her newborn baby. Saarinen is quoted as saying the design represented “an attempt to achieve psychological comfort by providing a great big cup-like shell into which you can curl up”. Florence Knoll, who provided the brief for the design of the Womb chair, requested “a chair that was like sitting in a basket full of pillows – something I could really curl up in”.

While one can easily imagine mothers feeding their babies on the moulded fibreglass seat covered with sumptuous wool or leather, the chair lends itself more to reading in a living area or even a bedroom. “The chair’s wide armrests certainly suggest mothers resting their arms against their baby’s head, but it does speak of being cocooned,” Studio Doherty director and interior designer Mardi Doherty says. “But it’s also the type of cocooning that doesn’t make you feel trapped, given the chair’s scale and generosity of the armrests,” Mardi says.

Although Florence Knoll may have suggested filling the chair with cushions, Saarinen was thoughtful enough to create a built-in cushion at the base of the seat’s backrest to eliminate superfluous cushions that would likely end up on the floor. Dedece Melbourne showroom manager Roger Ludowyke sees one of the chair’s point-of-difference as being “one of the first chairs from that period that’s curved rather than square in form. It was also the first chair to use Saarinen’s novel boucle fabric.” Today, the mohair velvet or ‘Cato’, a woollen tweed fabric, are two of the most popular choices.

Given the Womb Chair’s importance in design history, having it crowded with other furniture doesn’t seem to feel quite appropriate. “This chair certainly needs to be placed on its own, not in pairs, and either in a lounge or in a bedroom, simply for reading or just relaxing,” Mardi says.

Some designs tend to only ‘speak’ to a certain period, formed in aspic and becoming a relic from the past. However, Saarinen’s Womb chair could have been designed today, with contemporary designers being inspired by its fluid and organic lines that easily oscillate between modernist and period homes. For Saarinen, his theory was that “A great number of people have never really felt comfortable and secure since they left the womb.” If anything, with the current turmoil in the world, politically, economically and socially, this sense of comfort and nurturing holds true like never before – so it’s timely to raise your glass and celebrate the 75th anniversary of the iconic Womb chair.

The post The ICON | The Knoll Saarinen Womb Chair appeared first on est living | exceptional living.