Evolving furniture design

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The Eames Recliner

Yesterday I was sitting in a Eames laminated plywood recliner and thinking to myself about the process behind the chair.

It really is amazing when you think about it. This chair and possibly The Eames’ entire career spawned from a necessity. They were commissioned by the US military to design and build wooden splints for world war 2 using the laminated plywood technique, and shortly after evolved that expertise into making plywood furniture, as well as what could be considered one of the most famous chairs of all time.


See some other laminated plywood projects in my post here -Laminated Plywood

Human factors and ergonomics really became a thing during WW2. The military was pioneering this field in vehicles and planes, it’s awesome to see how this transferred from a military to a civilian field of study.

When designing splints the Eames’ obviously had to put a lot of thought into ergonomics and the best way to build these to fit a range of humans in the field. The same dedication to human factors shines in this lounge chair as well. I happen to fall into the average size that is designed around, for most US men my age. I even happen to have the “sample size foot” by shoe industry standards (which has landed me more than a few pairs of free sneakers from friends that work in shoe design, but that’s another story). I have to admit this chair is designed perfectly for my proportions and is super comfy!

Now for a little throwback to the only time I have dabbled in bent laminations in the past. I once made a DVD storage piece by creating a form, and then vacuum pressing multiple layers of birch ply together with probably excessive amounts of glue. I wanted to channel some of the old school jukebox vibe when the DVD’s were flipped across the rack. It actually came out pretty cool. Too bad it is now obsolete by Netflix and Hulu standards.

bent ply.JPG


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My Favorite Chair of ALL Time

I know, I know, that’s a big statement. In my last post I mentioned that I wanted to head the blog in a more personal direction, so what better way to start that off than with my all time favorite.

Someone once told me that when buying art, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, you should buy a piece if you truly love it, and feel a visceral connection to it. I think furniture can fall into this category. There is only one chair that I can honestly call my favorite of ALL time! I don’t own one yet, but maybe someday.

In 1969 Gaetano Pesce designed the “UP” series of furniture for C&B Italia. It wouldn’t be until many years later that I learned about it in design school and fell in love. The basic concept behind this series of furniture was coined “transformative furniture”. The concept was that the owner would have a much deeper connection with their piece of furniture if they could watch it grow and evolve into it’s “grown up” state.

The pieces that Pesce designed were built out of foam that could be vacuum packed and by doing so shrunk down to a much smaller package. When the consumer cut the vacuum sealed box open, their furniture would grow and expand over the next few hours into the final usable piece right in front of their eyes.  I have been enamored with this concept since hearing about it years ago, and only recently got to sit in these chairs on a trip to NYC.

Beyond the concept of the transformation, there is one chair and pattern that really caught my design eye, and without further ado, I present to you my FAVORITE CHAIR of ALL TIME!

The UP5 (la donna) by Gaetano Pesce.FullSizeRender.jpgFullSizeRender 2.jpgFullSizeRender 3.jpg

Now unfortunately this is not an original. It was found that the original foam degraded over time, so the modern versions are no longer made with the same vacuum sealing squishability. This is a new version with modern construction underneath which does take away some of the experience, however it was still just as comfortable as I could have imagined.

Leave me a comment and let me know what YOUR all time favorite piece of furniture is.


A little more history;  Not only was this chair innovative in the realm of flat pack shipping that we now take for granted, the UP5 was also called the La Donna chair because when Pesce was designing it, he wanted to speak to “the shackles that keep women subjugated.” The ball shaped ottoman is actually attached by a chain or cord to the chair itself. It really is a deeply artistic & meaningful piece. One thing Gaetano Pesce was famous for was the statement behind his pieces, more derived in artistic pursuit than necessarily wanting to produce for the mainstream market which is amazing considering what an incredibly comfortable chair this is, and how popular it has become.

Some photos of the originals, and yes. That would be Sean Connery in the last one.


Photo Credit to Modernica.net