How the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman Revolutionized the Art of Sitting

For nearly 70 years, the iconic two-piece set has been a beacon of mid-century modern design

July 2, 2024 6:50 am
The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
Olivia Sheehy

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This is part of InsideHook’s list of The 100 Best American-Made Products, a celebration of the gear, clothes and goods that make up our lives, and are the life’s work of our fellow Americans.

To fully understand the enduring appeal of the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman — arguably the most iconic furniture design of the 20th century, designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1956 — we have to look to another American classic: baseball.

As Charles Eames famously described, “The leather cushions do have built-in wrinkles to start with, but that is a clue that spells comfort to come, like the warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” In other words, it’s ergonomically designed to maximize coziness. 

“This chair is designed to really embrace you and will get even more comfortable over time,” says Jennifer Nield, vice president of lifestyle product at MillerKnoll, the parent company of Eames producer Herman Miller. “The angle of the seat is perfectly reclined. The cushions are soft but still offer just the right amount of support. The chair is mounted to a swivel base which also allows for a bit of movement. All of this combined contributes to an incredibly relaxing sit and posture.” 

In the nearly 70 years since its debut, the Eames name has become synonymous with chairs in the same way that Starbucks is with coffee, Ferrari is with sports cars and Kleenex is with tissues. The Lounge Chair and Ottoman set is part of the permanent collections at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Chicago’s Art Institute, it’s been the subject of multiple documentaries and books, and it has graced the sets of countless TV shows and movies. 

When it was first introduced in the ‘50s, Nield says, “there was nothing like it, and there is still nothing to equal it.” And since then, it has remained in continuous production, assembled by hand in Michigan according to the Eameses’ original design. The only modification is one that became necessary due to the simple passage of time: Since the chair first was released, the average height of people worldwide has increased. In 2010, Herman Miller introduced a taller size of the product to accommodate longer legs and bigger frames.

Still, it’s the original — made from molded plywood and leather — that remains a staple. Herman Miller doesn’t disclose specific sales data, but Nield says that “the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman is consistently one of our best-selling products.” And who would ever assume otherwise? While it was inspired originally by the shape and design of the traditional English club chair, this furniture set has since become an American icon.

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