Behind the Design: Eames Lounge Chair

One of the most-celebrated pieces of 20th-century design, the Eames Lounge Chair was created by designers Charles and Ray Eames. This mid-century design classic has been a favourite of the design-savvy since it was originally released in 1956.

We’ve dug deep to discover the history of this iconic chair and the designers behind it.

Behind the design

The old English club chair inspired husband-and-wife duo Charles and Ray Eames to create the now-iconic lounger. Aiming to make it lighter, more elegant and more modern than its inspiration, the Eameses took several years to complete the ambitious design.

Eames Lounge Chair Tall v Classic | Image courtesy of Vitra

The chair made its debut in 1956 with an unveiling on Arlene Francis’ television show Home. The public received the chair with widespread acclaim. A 1961 article even described it as placing “the sitter into a voluptuous luxury that few mortals since Nero have known”. The Eames Lounge Chair has become so celebrated it is now featured in the permanent collection at New York’s MoMA.

In recent years, Vitra has made a series of changes to update the chair for the modern day. For example, sustainable Palisander rosewood has replaced the original Brazilian rosewood. As a heavily farmed wood, Brazilian rosewood is no longer considered an environmentally friendly material to create furniture with.

Similarly, Vitra has increased the chair’s size to suit a taller population. As the average human height has risen by 10cm over the last 60 years, this taller addition means everyone can experience the same comfort the Eameses originally intended. The classic edition of the Eames Lounge Chair is still widely available, including at Heal’s.

The Eames Lounge Chair in closer detail | Image courtesy of Vitra

“What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts.”

Ray Eames

How it’s made

Vitra has faithfully crafted the Eames Lounge Chair for the last 60 years. Even today, it uses the same manufacturing methods that were used to create the original chair. You can see the process of creating the Eames Lounge Chair in more detail thanks to the video at the bottom of this page.

Since the design was first released, Vitra has introduced a plethora of new finishes. These additions include new combinations of leather upholstery, wood veneers and bases. Most importantly, each new finish is created in close collaboration with the Eames Office to ensure it meets the duo’s uncompromising standards.

The Eames Lounge Chair’s design calls for premium upholstery, quality materials and time-consuming craftsmanship. Subsequently, the luxurious chair marked a break with the Eameses’ principle of making “the best for the most for the least”.

Trio of images showing how the chair is made | Images courtesy of Vitra

About the designers

Icons of the 20th Century, Charles and Ray Eames are most renowned for their transformation of modern furniture. Their influential designs remain as celebrated today as they were 50 years ago.

Having met at Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art, Eero Saarinen encouraged the couple to pursue a career in design. Together, they began experimenting with and honing the use of moulded plywood. This proved particularly useful throughout WWII, when the technique was used to make emergency splints for injured soldiers.

“The role of the designer is that of a very good thoughtful host anticipating the needs of their guests.”

Charles Eames

Post-war furniture design called for a more functional approach and the Eameses were more than ready to answer the brief. Over the next 50 years, the duo worked collaboratively to create furniture and accessories that still delight today.

Together they became a formidable force of the design industry. Charles’ strikingly modernist designs popularised the Bauhaus’s emphasis on functionality. Whilst Ray’s playful contribution enlivened designs that may have seemed somewhat austere otherwise.

Ray Eames famously said that “what works good is better than what looks good because what works good lasts”. This is certainly the case for their designs, which have been handed down through generations and feature in homes across the globe.

Charles and Ray Eames on an Eames Lougne Chair | Image courtesy of Vitra