A Leg Splint Inspired Charles and Ray Eames' Famous Molded Plywood Lounge Chair

The classic chair developed from a commission for the army.
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The goofy antics of Charles and Ray Eames produced what Time magazine called "the chair of the century," also known as the LCW, or Lounge Chair Wood. In the early 1940s, the young married couple both held day jobs, but in the evening they’d gather together to experiment with molding plywood. Their trials were carried out with the "Kazam! Machine" which could mold together thin sheets of wood with the help of copious amounts of glue and a bicycle pump. "Ala Kazam—like magic!" a new form emerged and they set to work shaping it with handsaws.

The LCW debuted in 1946, when it caused a stir at national design festivals.

The first innovation of the Kazam! Machine was a molded plywood splint, which was made to mimic the curves of a human leg. A large order from the U.S. Air Force allowed Charles to quit his day job and the practice of shaping plywood facilitated the subsequent development of the LCW.

An annotated page from a 1952 dealer packet (“Wow! What a chair”) highlights the “selling slants” that can be used.

When WWII drew to a close, the couple pulled together a design studio and set to work on a molded plywood collection. Simple and comfortable, the LCW marked a departure from the heavy, clunky furniture Americans were used to. But it wasn’t just formally innovative; with the low-slung seat and ergonomic design, the LCW commanded a place in design history. As Ray Eames once explained, "What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts." A testament to their skill, the LCW looks good and works good, too.

In a March 1, 1953 strip, an LCW and Knoll Hardoy Butterfly chair made an appearance in Charlie Brown’s home.

A photograph by Phil Schaafsma highlights the ergonomic design of the chair.

Architect Mark Dixon inspects a drawing in his office, which includes two café cahirs and a LCW.

This Portland living room pays tribute to a variety of woods, with an LCW facing the couch, Douglas fir on the ceiling, hemlock on the walls, and stained oak on the floor.

The literal and figurative centerpiece of this Portland home is the atrium. An LCW adds a natural touch to an otherwise white space.

Shot from another angle, the chair plays off the home’s Finnish floral wallpaper.


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