It was designed in 1956 for Hollywood film director Billy Wilder, unveiled to the nation by Arlene Francis on NBC’s Home show, and featured in Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace comic strip.
Now the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman – designed by Charles and Ray Eames for “the warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt” – have been introduced with a jet-black, ebonized finish.
“The design has been in continuous production and has undergone some changes over time, in terms of finishes,” says Herman Miller spokesman Mark Schurman. “This one is ebonized ash – a very rich and thorough black stain.”
The chair’s original and most popular veneer was Brazilian rosewood, discontinued in the late 1980s due to deforestation in Brazil and elsewhere. At that point, the company began to produce it with walnut, cherry and ash. Now it’s also available in white ash and santos palisander, a sustainably harvested, rosewood-like veneer.
Schurman estimates that upwards of 100,000 of the iconic chairs have been produced over the years, with a recent acceleration.
“There’s been a greater volume of sales in last 10 or 20 years,” he says. “Popular culture has something to do with it, and it’s hard to turn on a television and not see it in an ad or a film or a TV show.”
From the day of its introduction, it stood out as a markedly different entry for the club chair category. “It’s a different design that’s visually striking,” he says. “When you sit in it, it’s very comfortable, so it’s got great performance and good looks.”
Over time, that’s become a winning combination, with a cultural association that shows up on Mad Men – and elsewhere.
“There’s a classic photo of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as young men, with Jobs in the chair with no socks and shoes on,” he says.
That ought to be enough for anybody.
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