When Charles and Ray Eames designed the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman in 1956, they famously set their sights on a chair that had “the warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” Sixty-some years on, it’s hard to imagine the iconic chair upholstered in anything but handsome, inviting leather. But the truth of the matter is that, though Charles and Ray may have had a baseball glove in mind, they actually experimented with a variety of cover materials for the chair, including fabrics. In fact, a fabric-covered Lounge Chair was available for a short period after the chair launched, though just a small number were produced.
Like other legendary twentieth-century architects and designers, Charles and Ray Eames were deeply invested in the materials that comprised their products and, as such, designed textiles to put their ideas about colors, shape, and materials into practice. Before taking up product design, Ray Eames had studied under painter Hans Hofmann, which provided her with a vocabulary and visual syntax that she applied to the design of textiles, graphic patterns, and colors.
In typical Eames fashion, early versions of the Lounge Chair and Ottoman were exhaustively documented. In photographs Charles Eames took for a 1956 advertisement for the Lounge Chair and Ottoman, the chair is upholstered in a soft, warm, and inviting fabric—a perfect spot to spend a cold winter evening. Another photograph from the same shoot features actress Amanda Dunne—a close friend of the couple, and wife of screenwriter Philip Dunne, for whom Charles and Ray designed an office—resting in a fabric-covered Lounge Chair. A later photograph, taken in Herman Miller’s Los Angeles showroom in 1959, shows the set upholstered in Alexander Girard’s 1958 textile, Wooldot. All these images clearly express what the Eameses sought to achieve with their design: a comfortable, receptive place to rest, enhanced by a soft fabric cover.
While these examples may be the exception to the rule of well-worn black leather, they demonstrate the Eameses’ willingness to explore differing design approaches—often continuing to iterate and explore even after a design was considered complete. For example, multiple designs were created for covers for the Molded Fiberglass Chairs and Wire Chairs through the years, and the Soft Pad evolved from the Aluminum Group by taking a wholly new approach to its textile covering.
In this spirit, Herman Miller recently worked with the Eames Office to arrive at a new standardized fabric option for the Eames Lounge and Ottoman. Maharam Mohair Supreme was selected for its luxurious hand and the visual quality of how the textile follows the creases of the tufted upholstery design.
Published on Tuesday, January 30, 2018