Design Classic: Eero Saarinen's Womb Chair

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By Dora Vanette
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.

Design Classic: Eero Saarinen's Womb Chair - Photo 1 of 10 - 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.

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."

Design Classic: Eero Saarinen's Womb Chair - Photo 2 of 10 - Eero Saarinen sitting in a Womb chair. Photo courtesy of Harvey Croze, Cranbrook.

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.

Design Classic: Eero Saarinen's Womb Chair - Photo 3 of 10 - 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.

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.

Design Classic: Eero Saarinen's Womb Chair - Photo 4 of 10 - In the master suite of this Long Island home, an Emma Gardner rug matches a Womb chair, perfect for lounging. Photo by João Canziani.

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.

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