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Design Classic: Eero Saarinen's Womb Chair

A look at Eero Saarinen's Womb chair, an icon of midcentury modern design.

In the master bedroom of this modular prefab in Oregon, a Womb chair and ottoman, an Isamu Noguchi Akari lamp, and forest views make for a cozy reading nook.

Unlike Harry Bertoia, who created a single collection, Eero Saarinen produced numerous designs for Knoll that became inextricably linked to the history of the famous furniture company.

Saarinen designed the Womb chair in 1946 at the request of Florence Knoll, whom he met at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. "I told Eero I was sick and tired of the one-dimensional lounge chair…long and narrow…" Knoll said, "I want a chair I can sit in sideways or any other way I want to sit in it."

Saarinen rose to this challenge and created a chair that proved comfortable in a number of different positions. Originally named No. 70, it soon became known as the Womb chair because of its comfortable, organic appearance. "It was designed on the theory that a great number of people have never really felt comfortable and secure since they left the womb," Saarinen explained.

Apart from its novel appearance, the Womb chair is also highly innovative from a structural perspective. Saarinen wanted to construct the chair out of a single piece of material, and achieved this by experimenting with new materials and techniques drawn from the shipbuilding industry. The final result—a padded and upholstered fiberglass shell that sits on a polished chrome steel frame—combined simplicity of shape with true comfort and flexibility.

Initially released in 1948, the Womb chair quickly became a cultural icon. A 1958 Coca-Cola advertising campaign showed Santa Claus drinking a Coke in a Womb chair. The chair also made an appearance in a New Yorker cartoon as well as a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell.

"Every object, whether large or small, has a relationship with its context," Saarinen said in 1958. "Perhaps the most important thing I learned from my father was that in any design problem, one should seek the solution in terms of the next largest thing. If the problem is an ashtray, then the way it relates to the table will influence its design. If the problem is a chair, then its solution must be found in the way it relates to the room." The sculptural form of the Womb chair effortlessly achieves this balance, matching any interior while still drawing the eye to its colors and curves. Today, the Womb chair seems like an almost ubiquitous addition to any midcentury-inspired home. Click through the slideshow to view houses we've featured in Dwell in which the Womb chair is a fixture. 

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