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Object Lessons: The Iconic Eames Lounge Chair

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Object Lessons: The Iconic Eames Lounge Chair

March 10, 2015

This story begins with Billy Wilder, director of Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard, and other movie classics. Wilder was a noted collector of modern art and design, and when Wilder met Charles and Ray Eames in Los Angeles in the 1940s, they struck up a friendship; its legacy is the Eames Lounge Chair (which owes its existence to the developments in bent plywood spearheaded by the Eameses themselves during WWII, when they created splints and stretchers for the US Navy).

Wilder wanted a comfortable chair for reading and extended napping, one that would have the “warm, receptive look of a well-worn first baseman’s mitt” combined with the elegance of an English club chair. The resulting lounge is composed of three curved shells, each made of five layers of plywood covered in Brazilian rosewood veneer (it’s now available in other finishes as well). The leather cushions are identical in size to the shells and are attached with zips and hidden clips that allow the exterior to remain unmarred by bolts. The flexible chairback is angled in permanent recline, the seat swivels, and the whole thing is balanced on a slender but robust cast aluminum base.

This modern masterpiece suited not only Mr. Wilder, who was presented with one of the first chairs for his 50th birthday in 1956, but has also been enjoyed by readers, psychiatrists, writers (it’s Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Chabon’s work chair of choice), and afternoon nappers ever since.

A vintage Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman in the corner of Joan McNamara&#8
Above: A vintage Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman in the corner of Joan McNamara’s loft bedroom (see Joan at Home in LA). The chair starts at $4,860 at Design Within Reach. Photograph by Laure Joliet for Remodelista.
The Eames Lounge Chair is available in a variety of colors and finishes, including ivory leather and natural cherrywood.
Above: The Eames Lounge Chair is available in a variety of colors and finishes, including ivory leather and natural cherrywood.
The wood veneer shell is unmarred by bolts.
Above: The wood veneer shell is unmarred by bolts.
Charles and Ray Eames at home; image courtesy of Pencil.
Above: Charles and Ray Eames at home; image courtesy of Pencil.

On Gardenista, have a look at Michael Chabon’s Eames lounge in the Shingled Backyard Studio that he shares with his wife, novelist Ayelet Waldman.

Object Lessons columnist Megan Wilson is the owner of Ancient Industries and curator of the Remodelista 100 presented in the Remodelista book. Watch for her column every Tuesday, and have a look at her past lessons on the Atlas Pepper Mill and another midcentury classic, the Butterfly Chair.

N.B.: This post is an update; it originally ran on June 10, 2014.

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