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Knoll Womb Chair – The History of a Classic
Eero Saarinen’s brief for the Womb Chair, back in the early 1940s, was to design a chair that was ‘like a basket full of pillows, something I could really curl up in’.
Though this brief from fellow designer Florence Knoll may have been abstract to most, Eero understood from the outset. He was very aware there was a gap in the market for a large, comfortable chair – something that would take the place of the old, over-stuffed armchairs of the day – so he set about realising Florence’s idea.
Eero Saarinen, who was always fascinated by materials, was eager to explore the possibilities of a chair that achieved comfort through the shape of its shell, not necessarily the depth of its cushioning. He worked endlessly on this idea and built a number of full-scale prototypes.
When he had a successful prototype in place, the next step was to source materials for the chair – which was not an easy task considering that the production techniques and materials Eero wanted to use were still in their infancy. Eventually, Eero, with help from fellow designer Florence Knoll, found a boat builder in New Jersey who was experimenting with fibreglass and resin and persuaded him to assist with the manufacturing of the Womb Chair. Florence Knoll later remarked that the boat builder was initially ‘very sceptical. 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.’
After many revisions and full-scale mock-ups, the Womb Chair was eventually finalised in 1946. Manufactured exclusively for Knoll, the chair displays the Finnish-born designer’s flair for challenging rules, breaking moulds and setting new standards for modern design. It is designed to facilitate a relaxed sitting posture, providing emotional comfort and a sense of security, hence the name ‘womb’.
Although we associate the name ‘Eero Saarinen’ with furniture design, Eero also had a passion for architecture and, in his time, constructed a number of iconic structures. These included the TWA Terminal at Kennedy International Airport, New York, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri and the Dulles International Airport in Washington DC.
You can see Eero below with his model and sketches for the Gateway Arch, and beneath that, the TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport, New York.
To find out more about Eero, the Womb Chair, and many more of the Finnish designer’s iconic designs, head over to our Eero Saarinen designer page.
All images: Knoll.