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The Uncommon Allure of the World's Most Iconic Chair

It all starts with Eames.


Architect Emily Huang of Huang Iboshi Architecture owns one, as do interior designer Susan Greenleaf, Joshua Aidlin of Aidlin Darling Design, architect Mark Macy of Macy Architecture, and Denise Cherry of O+A. Sought-after tech-office designer Lauren Geremia (Instagram, Dropbox, Lumosity) nabbed an all-black version—an aesthetic compromise with her recliner-craving boyfriend—while architect Gary Nichols opted for all-white. The same silhouette beckoned to Dzine furniture buyer Austin Forbord from his childhood living room and cradled developer Patrick Kennedy throughout law school. Architect Kurt Melander received his as a gift from a satisfied client 15 years ago. Architect Owen Kennerly reads to his three-year-old daughter in a vintage version inherited from his stepfather. Fuseproject founder Yves Béhar describes it in almost worshipful terms: “It’s both sensual and ergonomically perfect.”

The coveted item invariably gracing the homes of the Bay Area’s top design minds is none other than the Eames lounge and ottoman, the leather-and-plywood masterpiece created in 1956 by design duo Charles and Ray Eames. Yes, it’s just a chair. But it’s also much more than that: a mark of taste, a password to an exclusive club, and a rite of passage for design nerds.

“It’s one of those chairs you learn about in design school, and you just start planning for the day you’ll be able to get it,” says Brandon Clark, 31-year-old co-owner of the Outer Richmond vintage furniture store Mixed Nuts, who has been eyeing a particular ’50s-era model—for sale by a retired industrial designer in Sausalito—for over a year.

“What we frequently encounter in the design community is someone who says, ‘This chair was the first thing I bought with my first real paycheck,’” says Eames Demetrios, director of Eames Office and grandson of Charles and Ray. “That’s a big responsibility. If someone is going to mark a milestone in their life with a piece of furniture, it had better be great.” (Demetrios’s lounge belonged to his grandmother Ray.)

Even as tastes have changed and wingbacks have supplanted traditional lounges, the Eames remains a must-have. Though the chair is still in production, new models are considered inferior to timeworn originals. “People pay for the patina now,” says mid-century dealer Steve Cabella. “The ones that go for the most money are fucked up so beautifully, you could never reproduce that loving wear.” A brand-new Eames lounge starts at $4,859, while an original rosewood model can run to $14,000.

As for those who haven’t yet acquired their lounge, the dream burns brighter still. “I wish I had one,” sighs Hans Baldauf of BCV Architects. “I aspire to, one day,” breathes architect Mark Jensen. Clark is still preparing for his; in the meantime, he calls the Sausalito seller every six months to check on what he’s convinced is his future lounge. “I feel like I have to be established first,” he says solemnly, “to give it the environment it deserves.”

Read more New Rules of Design coverage here.

Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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