Eames in the Seventies: The Eames Loose Cushion Arm Chair

Arthur Drexler had a record run as the Curator of Architecture and Industrial Design at the Museum of Modern Art, 1951 to 1985, interpreting modern architecture and design through dozens of important exhibitions. In 1973, he curated Charles Eames: Furniture from the Design Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, and wrote an accompanying catalog. A comprehensive overview of all Eames designs, his text also brings into a focus an Eames chair that hasn’t been given much “love” by the public for whom it was intended, by collectors or by other scholars. Given Drexler’s outstanding body of work and pre-eminence among design curators, it’s worth noting.

Of the Eames Loose Cushion Arm Chair, first introduced in 1972, he wrote, Technically this chair is among Eames’s most sophisticated and carefully studied productions. Its plastic shell receives a formed-in-place urethane foam padding, covered, like the upholstered side chair, by a vinyl or fabric skin. Dents in this material slowly disappear, the urethane having a “memory” for its original contours. A fabric or leather covering must be stitched; every modulation of its curved surface is emphasized.

Early Model of the Eames Loose Cushion Arm Chair in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art

The padding varies in thickness from 3/4″ to 3″, and its mass is suggested by the rolled edge of the shell. As in the upholstered side chair, a thick vinyl binding provides a strong outline, but in this case, it relates only marginally to the linear quality of the base which is the shaped aluminum design originally developed for the office [Eames Aluminum Group and Eames Soft Pad Group] lounge chair and later adapted for other models.

Sleek, polished, impeccably detailed, the molded and padded shell suggests the world of aviation. It also manages to be at once precise and voluptuous and seems to convey as much the mood of its day as the plywood furniture did in the “forties.”

In the Eames Office oral histories, there is an interesting story about this design’s development. Long-time Herman Miller executive Johnny Johnson worked closely with Charles and Ray Eames in putting their designs into production. Of the Loose Cushion Arm Chair, he noted: “The cushion, which was set on the seat and fastened to it by Velcro strips, was designed and re-designed,” Johnny Johnson recalled, “at least 40 times” for Ray’s approval. “There were cushions everywhere.” Johnson remembered that Herman Miller’s production people kept asking, “What is it they want?” In the end, confronted by the looming production schedule, the cushion that was least objectionable to Ray was chosen as the production model.

In the gallery below, you can see pages from a 1970s Herman Miller brochure featuring this chair. The design was in production from 1972 to 1983.