The design of the Womb Chair was conceived by Eero Saarinen, an iconic Finnish American architect and industrial designer, and Florence Knoll, an American architect and furniture designer who had studied under the supervision of legendary Mies van der Rohe. The history of their collaboration on the chair dates back to the early 1940’s, when Saarinen received a briefing from Knoll, which said: “I want a chair that is like a basket full of cushions to curl up and read a book in.”
Needless to say, he took up the challenge. However, Saarinen, who was always fascinated by materials and shapes, was keen to achieve the comfort of sitting through the form of the chair, rather than the depth of its cushioning. The final design came into the limelight in 1946. Well received by the critics and public, the Womb Chair was an instant success. It is still commercially available and it is manufactured under the Knoll brand since 1948.
“I designed the Womb Chair because there seemed to be a need for a large and really comfortable chair to take the place of the old overstuffed chair. Today, more than ever before, we need to relax”. This quote by Eero Saarinen from 1948 fully embraces the fact that the Womb Chair was designed to provide the maximum comfort for its users. The shape of the chair is sculpted to fit the curvatures of the human body. Before Saarinen reached the ideal form, which does not restrict its user from assuming a wide range of positions, he had worked on a number of different prototypes and full-scale mock-ups. In the process, he developed the single-piece shell that curves around the person sitting in it, giving the chair its famous cozy, intimate feel and a sense of security – hence its name – “The Womb Chair”. The sophisticated shape of the shell required the utilization of new materials and advanced manufacturing processes, which were still in their infancy back in the 1940’s. Saarinen’s material of choice was the fiberglass and resin composite, which could be molded into the desired shape. After a long and painstaking search, Eero and Florence found a boat builder from New Jersey, who was experimenting with the fiberglass and resin composite. They managed to convince him to assist with the production of the Womb Chair. Florence Knoll later recalled that: “The boat builder was initially very skeptical. We just begged him. I guess we were so young and so enthusiastic he finally gave in and worked with us. We had lots of problems and failures until they finally got a chair that would work.”
The high level of comfort can be attributed to the high-density foam, which is then covered in the KnollTextiles fabric upholstery, available in three different variants: Classic Bouclé (52% wool, 48% nylon), Cato (86% wool, 14% rayon) and Sonnet (100% polyester). Although the original briefing mentioned “a basket full of cushions”, the actual chair has just two cushions placed on the seating pan and the back rest. The shell is fixed to the four-legged base made from the bent steel rods, equipped with the stainless steel and nylon glides at the ends. The base is finished with the chrome coating. In order to reach the absolute heights of comfort and relaxation, customers can combine the Womb Chair with the matching ottoman. Produced utilizing the same materials and processes, the ottoman is a perfect supplement to the chair.
Summing up, the iconic design of Saarinen and Knoll not only caters to one’s physiological needs, but it also appeals to the most sublime tastes of any aesthete. Its cutting-edge futuristic design, combined with the impeccable quality of craftsmanship, has earned the chair a very special place in the interior design history.
- Produced since 1948, the Womb was the first mass-produced fiberglass chair in America.
- Not only were the Womb Chair’s prototypes made by a boat builder, but also the first two years of the commercial production were carried out there as well; as it was the only company able to produce the complex, organic form of the Womb Chair.
- Saarinen is mostly known for his architectural designs, rather than furniture designs. He worked as an architect on the following structures: the Gateway Arch, the TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport, New York and the Kresge Auditorium at MIT.
- The chair can be seen in a multitude of cinematic productions, including: The Moon is Blue, Legally Blonde, Torch Song and Down with Love.