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How to Authenticate an Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman

How to Authenticate an Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman

THE EAMES LOUNGE CHAIR & OTTOMAN

Charles and Ray Eames had ideas about making a better world with design, one in which things like furniture could bring greater pleasure and functionality to our lives. The Eames spent much of their careers learning to bend plywood and fiberglass. During WWII, Charles Eames designed and molded bentwood leg splints for the military. After the war he focused on designing and manufacturing furniture out of wood, metal, and fiberglass that could be modern, versatile and low cost. They envisioned chairs that could be at home in a university lecture hall or a formal dining room with just the change of the base. In 1950, the power couple turned their attention to the luxury market. Their aim, to re-envision the classic club chair for the changing American market.  

‘Take your pleasure seriously.’
Charles & Ray Eames

 

The Eames Lounge Chair (1956), was their first foray into the world of high-end luxury goods. The Eames wanted their new chair to be a luxurious refuge from the strains of modern living. The culmination of knowledge from the last 10 years of forming wood into new shapes. It was a significant departure from their early work, in that no expense was spared in its creation. Nearly 6 years in the making, multiple revisions, 13 arm redesigns, finally in 1956 the Eames Lounge chair made its debut when Arlene Francis introduced it to a national audience on prime time TV ( Eames Office). Charles Eames described that he wanted the chair to emit the “warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” Pairing soft, inviting leather with the sleek form of molded rosewood, it was the culmination of the Eames’ efforts creating a new club chair using technology that they pioneered years earlier. Entirely hand-assembled and made of the highest quality parts and materials, the timeless Eames Lounge Chair was built to last a lifetime. Shortly after it’s debut, it was placed in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

In 1961, Playboy sang the chair’s praises by saying the Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman “sank the sitter into a voluptuous luxury that few mortals since Nero have known”. In continuous production since its introduction in 1956, the Eames Lounge chair is widely considered one of the most significant designs of the 20th century. 

 

Authenticity

The best way to know if the lounge chair you are looking at is real, is to study the real thing.  Just like with money, you look at the real thing long enough and you will know if something is off. At Hobbs Modern we have worked on countless Authentic Eames Lounge Chairs and have studied the chair in great detail. As Eames famously put it, “The details make the design,” when determining authenticity it's all in the details.  

THE BASE

5 and 4 Legs - an authentic Eames Lounge Chair will have 5 legs on the base of the chair and 4 legs on the base of the ottoman.

Slight Angle - the legs have a slight angle. They are not flat and do not angle up steeply.

Swivels- the chair should be able to swivel a full 360°. An authentic Eames ottoman does not swivel. *The first few Eames chairs built had a swiveling ottoman. Eames worried a spinning ottoman may be dangerous for children so it was quickly discontinued within the first few chairs. A spinning ottoman with a bronze bushing and boot glides is the stuff of Eames Lounge chair legends. If you have or find a chair like this, cherish it, it's the rarest of all Eames lounge chairs, the ultimate collectors item. 

The Flex - It Does Not Recline - knock-offs will often have a mechanism for reclining but authentic Eames Lounge Chairs do not recline. Instead, Eames Lounge Chairs have a flex. The shock mounts allow the chair to have a natural give that adjusts with the person. (Click to see the chair flex @ minute 1:17) 

 Die Cast Aluminum - the legs are made from a solid piece of aluminum.  The end of each leg is round, not square. The chair and ottoman legs have a heavy, very substantial feel to them. 

Finishes - the legs are polished aluminum. Often they patina over time and can develop a dull look to them. The bottom of the bases are a matte black lacquer finish. 

Adjustable Glides - the feet are made of rubber and metal and will have the markings "Domes of Silence" on them. Modern Eames lounge chairs have adjustable glides but no longer say "Domes of Silence" 

15° Angle - the chair is set at a permanent 15° angle.


THE SHELLS

No Exposed Screws - all the screws are on the inside of the chair, hidden from view, except at the armrests. If you see a screw on the outside of the wood shells, the chair is surely a knock-off. 

3 Shells - the Eames Lounge Chair is made up of three shells, the seat (bottom), the back (middle) and the headrest (top). They should look like they are all floating. On Vintage Eames lounge chairs every shell should have rosewood veneer on the inside as well as the outside. 

2 Posts - two aluminum posts connect the middle and top shells together.  Each post has 3 screws, 1 for the top and 2 for the middle.

Rubber Cushions - the back posts will have thick rubber shock mounts between them and the wood, allowing for some flex. Chairs made from 1956 - ‘70 have threaded rubber shock mounts. Post 1971 Herman Miller switched to hollow plastic mounts.  

Armrests - the bottom and middle shells are held together at the armrests by shock mounts attached to a rigid black lacquered steel plate. The arms then attach to the steel plate with screws. 

Armrest (screws) - this is the only place you will see an exposed screw. Screws should be black oxidized. Pre-1960 chairs have 3 screws and post-1960 chairs have 2 screws under the arms. 


SHOCK MOUNTS

SHOCK MOUNTS 4 shock mounts under the arms.  This is arguably the single most significant innovation to the design and manufacture of furniture during the era. Each shock mount has a metal plate encased in rubber with threads. Every Eames chair has a total of 4 shock mounts under the arms. The shock mounts are a patented design, allowing an Eames lounge chair to flex when you sit in it. The unique flex is one major hallmark that separates the real Eames Lounge chair from a copy. ( Click to see the chair flex @ minute 1:17) 

After many years of use the shocks mount’s rubber can harden and loosen from the shell and fail completely. When this happens shock mounts can be replaced by a professional with experience, giving your chair new life.  We recommend replacing all four shock mounts if one has failed. 

CANTILEVERED: An Eames lounge chair is actually a cantilevered design. The back of the chair is completely held up by the arm rests. The design element gives the back of the chair the its unique floating appearance.  

 

THE WOOD

Molded Plywood - Vintage Eames Lounge Chairs are made of 5 layers of plywood. Modern versions have 7 layers of plywood.

Matching Veneer - The wood grain on the veneer of each shell matches because they are cut from a single log. Each shell of the chair is numbered in the factory to ensure the shells all stay together when the chair is built. Vintage chairs have the number impressed on the inside of the shell. Post- 1971 the chair is numbered with a black permanent marker. 

 Veneer Types - Vintage Eames lounge chairs have old growth Brazilian Rosewood. Modern chairs come in Cherry, Walnut, Santos Palisander (Bolivian Rosewood). 

Brazilian Rosewood - Was the only original veneer option but was discontinued due to sustainability concerns in 1991. Rosewood comes in many varieties. Its color can range from deep dark red to medium brown tones and even a light blondish color. The grain has characteristic black grain lines and can vary from straight to a smokey look. Rosewood has a strong, sweet flowery smell when sanded which could explain the origins of its name. 

Smooth Edges - All the edges should be smooth and rounded. You should be able to clearly see each layer of wood in the plywood shells, especially on the curve of each shell. The plywood layers are always clearly visible and never “melt” into one another.

THE CUSHIONS

Bottom Cushion - is the same size and interchangeable with the seat cushion and the ottoman. 

6 Inches of Padding - vintage chairs will have 6" of down feathers and newer chairs will have 6" of urethane foam. 

Always Leather - on the rare occasion you will see an Eames Lounge Chair covered in fabric. Most of the time it will be soft leather. Black leather with rosewood was always the way Eames intended the design to be executed but they do come in a variety of other colors: brown, white, red, etc.  The original premium leather option was from  Scotland because farmers there didn’t use barbed wire; this resulted in unmarked leather of highly refined quality.

2 Leather Buttons - are in the middle of each cushion with just the right amount of wrinkles. The leather never looks too tight. 

 Zippers - the leather attaches to hard plastic shells with a zipper. 

Clips - connect the cushions to the chair.  There should also be one snap at each end to keep the cushion from sliding off the clips.

Large Armrests - curve in towards the seat and are not flat. The edges will have tubed welting or piping rather than a solid piece of leather. 


 THE LABEL

Round Metal Disc - between 1956-1969  the Herman Miller logo was in the center and the legend "Designed by Charles Eames - Herman Miller Zeeland, Mich” around it. The label color was white and or black.  

Black Label - between 1970-90 a black rectangular label with rounded corners that says "herman miller" (in lowercase) was used.

Silver Label - after 1990 the black label was switched to a silver one with black text. The text says "Herman Miller” in capital letters.

Paper Label - Eames Lounge Chairs are signed with a paper label, though it is easy for these labels to fall off especially due to heat, humidity, and age. The paper label will list all of the chairs patents.

 

Bottom Shell - look under the chair where the base connects to the shell, you should see a label here.

Under the Cushion - if you can not find a label on the bottom of the chair, slide off the cushions, there may be additional ones there.

 

 SIGNS OF A FAKE

 Oversized - most knock-offs and reproductions get the proportions all wrong and make the chairs too large, especially the arms.

Recliner - if your chair reclines, it is not an Eames Lounge Chair. Period. 

Flat Feet - often the base will be made with square, flat legs and feet/glides that do not adjust.

Tip Toes - other times the legs will be at such a steep incline that the chair looks like it is standing on its tip toes.

 42-45" Tall - replicas often bring the headrest up another 10-13 inches higher than an Eames Lounge Chair.

Visible Screws - it is a lot of work to hide the screws and keep the chair structurally sound.  

CHANGES OVER THE YEARS

While the basic chair has stayed relatively the same throughout the years there have been some small changes. These small details can help determine its age. 

 

VERSION 1:  1956 - 1960

If you own one of these chairs, you are part of the lucky few.  Enjoy and cherish your chair. You own a piece of design history. 

  • 5 layers of plywood
  • Silver circular cushion clips
  • 100% down filled cushions
  • Boot glides to ottoman base (pre '57) 
  • Adjustable feet glides to the chair 
  • Three screws to armrests
  • White Round Herman Miller label
  • Brazilian rosewood veneer
  • Oil finish
  • Bronze swivel bushing 

 

 VERSION 2:  1960 - 1970

An amazing vintage chair and a rare find. Count yourself lucky to have an icon. 

  • 5 layers of plywood
  • Silver circular cushion clips
  • Down cushions + some fiber foam materials
  • Adjustable glides to chair and ottoman base
  • Two screws to armrests
  • Black or White Round Herman Miller label
  • Brazilian rosewood veneer
  • Oil finish
  • Bronze swivel bushing 

 

VERSION 3:  1971 - 1991

These chairs are still considered vintage, and are still made of rosewood but no longer have down feather filled cushions.

  • 5 layers of plywood
  • Long black rectangular shaped cushion clips (Oct '71)
  • Foam and fiberfill cushions
  • Adjustable glides to chair and ottoman base
  • Two screws to armrests
  • Long rectangular Black Herman Miller label
  • Brazilian rosewood veneer
  • Lacquer finish since 1980
  • Plastic and metal swivel Bushing 

 

VERSION 4:  1991 - TODAY

You have great taste and have bought an iconic piece of furniture. 

  • 7 layers of plywood
  • Long black rectangular shaped cushion clips
  • Foam and fiberfill cushions
  • Adjustable glides to chair and ottoman base no longer read “Domes of Silence”
  •  Two screws to armrests
  • Long silver Herman Miller label as well as a barcode and other serial numbers
  • Walnut, Cherry or Santos Palisander veneer  (farm raised Bolivian Rosewood) starting in 2006 
  • Lacquer finish
  • Plastic and metal swivel bushing. 

 

**It should be noted that the Eames Lounge Chair is manufactured by Herman Miller for the US market, Vitra produces for the European and Middle Eastern market. The Vitra chair does have some differences to the Herman Miller chair. The base of the chair has rounded feet and some other differences. This is not meant to be a definitive guide to the authenticate a Vitra model of the Eames Lounge chair. 

 Additional Links & Credits: 

My Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman

Bedtime Stories of the First Eames Lounge Chair in Europe 

Interview of Floor manager where the Eames 670 Lounge Chair is Manufactured (Skip to minute 1:17 to see how shock mounts flex) 

Herman Miller Video showing production of Eames Lounge Chairs

The Making and Design of the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman

Eames Lounge Chair TODAY Show Debut 

The Eames Lounge Chair Assembly (1956 Promotional Film)