Written by Diyana J/27 October 2021
It took me days’ worth of research about the iconic Eames Longue Chair to realize that the complexities of furniture design are far from its face value. The intentions behind the Eames Longue Chair design are distinctly what sets it apart from the modern furniture style of its age, and even fifty years into the future. Charles and Ray set about the project to prove that modern furniture could also be comfortable which was very unlike their past work. Ray had written to Charles in a letter that the chair looked “comfortable and un-designy.”
The most spell-binding quality of this piece (out of many) is its ability to transcend time. It’s hard to pin-point the exact reasons as to why the Eames Longue Chair has become such a cult favourite but predominantly, the Eameses had taken into account two critical elements when working on the design; materiality and functionality. The couple were the first to experiment with plywood and used it to create the smooth contours that make up the Eames Longue Chair as well as its matching Ottoman. They also made a point to use feathers and down that “give on the feeling of settling down.”
“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.” – Charles and Ray Eames.
Fast forward to the present, and many owners of the Eames Longue Chair can vouch for the absolute serenity this iconic piece has carried. Many users have claimed that it gives them a sense of peace and solitude, as if the longue chair itself had the ability to cocoon them away from the stresses of fast-paced urban life. It’s absolutely clear that the impact of this chair alone had made its waves throughout the history of the furniture industry and modern-day culture. It may be a piece of furniture to some, yet I would argue that the motivations behind the design is exactly what makes it such a vulnerable, down-to-earth piece sought out by countless consumers till present-day.
I believe the Eameses achieved this by work of subtraction. The couple have been quoted many a time that the Eames Longue Chair was inspired by the popular club chairs of its time. The bulky form of these leather armchairs commonly found in longue rooms or smoking areas was at the time, popular because of its status symbol. Completely upholstered in leather, with arms and a low back, these club chairs were made exclusively for Gentlemen’s Clubs which is henceforth, where it got its name. Essentially, the Eameses took the concept and made it accessible to the masses by ensuring the design was light-weight and able to be mass-produced without compromising on the comfort value of a so-called longue experience. They took the essential parts of what made a typical longue chair and reformatted these pieces in such a way that it would be a chair to be used by anyone of any social standing in the comfort of their own homes.
I feel that this sentiment, no matter how idealistic, is what built the Eamses legacy as a designer couple. Though perhaps the cultural impact that the Eames’ Longue Chair achieved was not the primary goal, it is still a prime example of what can be achieved when qualities of ‘luxury high-end furniture’ are made accessible to the average household. In today’s world, luxury is now (unfortunately) associated with ‘sustainability’ as it is of course, infinitely cheaper to cash into the fast-fashion pace of the furniture industry.
On a global scale, companies are now conducting studies on their R&D sectors, and relaunching best seller products fashioned into a more sustainable approach by demand of a more conscious audience. Consumers are now putting forth qualities such as durability and the life-cycle of their products into account before making their purchases- especially ones that adorn their homes in a post-endemic world.
While the Eames’ Longue Chair, in their time, pushed the boundaries of what defined modern furniture, it now challenges what defines ‘good furniture design.’ Would your set of priorities be according to style, comfort or functionality, or would you consider its impact on our world, or the future of the piece of furniture itself?