Design Classic: Eero Saarinen's Womb Chair

Design Classic: Eero Saarinen's Womb Chair

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

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.

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.

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."

Eero Saarinen sitting in a Womb chair. Photo courtesy of Harvey Croze, Cranbrook.

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.

In this Connecticut cottage, classic modernist staples, such as the Womb chair, an Eames lounge chair, and an Eileen Grey E1027 side table, look at home alongside newer pieces, such as an Encore sofa from Room & Board and a Doka rug designed and produced by Stephanie Odegard. Photo by Mark Mahaney.

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.

In the master suite of this Long Island home, an Emma Gardner rug matches a Womb chair, perfect for lounging. Photo by João Canziani.

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.

In this family home in Kansas City, Missouri, a Womb chair sits in the master bedroom, which also has a small office space. Photo by Chad Holder.

"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. 

In this lakeside home in Texas, a Womb Chair upholstered in Knoll fabric is accented with a Maharam pillow and a ceramic Oppiacei ottoman from Skitsch. Photo by Kimberly Davis.

This Los Angeles apartment is furnished with an eclectic mix of furniture, including a Womb chair. Photo by Bryce Duffy.

The living room of this San Francisco home provides a lounge area outfitted with a Womb chair and ottoman, and a Tulip coffee table—also by Eero Saarinen for Knoll—as well as a Delano sectional sofa by Sphere Designs. Photo by Sharon Risedorph.

In the living room of this California home, a blue Womb chair contrasts the the bold colors of the red wall. Photo by Justin Fantl.

Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post cover featuring the Womb chair. Image courtesy of Saturday Evening Post.

Knoll Womb Chair and Ottoman
When Florence Knoll challenged Eero Saarinen to create a chair that she could curl up in, she found the right candidate for the task. The Womb Chair and Ottoman (1946) feature enveloping forms that continue as one of the most iconic representations of midcentury organic modernism.


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