In Defense of the Chair

I think my post on Friday was a little misleading. You see, this was not in fact the first time that I have referenced “the chair.”


The first time I featured it as a topic was in one of my Friday Confessions last November. I suggest reading that post for full details (don’t worry – it’s not as long my my usual novels). But here’s the short version: This chair is very popular with current style makers. It is well designed and is also somewhat historical. When I “confessed” to not liking it, I wasn’t trying to say, “hey look at this ugly chair.” I was really saying, “this celebrated chair is beloved by design gurus throughout the world….but I personally, think it’s ugly.” This was a confession, not a statement of personal opinion. Okay – well it was actually a statement of personal opinion, but in a wincing, “please don’t egg my house,” kind of way.

Truthfully, I was surprised to see how many people agreed with me. Because seriously – this is kind of a famous chair. And with modern/retro furniture so well represented in interior design publications, one would think that MOST readers would like it.

Even though I wasn’t looking for a debate per se (again – I was confessing to an abhorrence of something considered quite stylish), I was happy to see at least a few comments with opposing views. This would indicate that the post had a somewhat diverse readership. validating the actual topic as worthy of some discussion. Namely – who defines beauty?

My position when I first wrote about the chair (I know – like I had a “position” other than, “I think that’s one ugly chair” – but just play along okay?), was that beauty is subjective. Not everyone will agree on a given label, and sometimes we find ourselves in the minority camp. BUT – I do think that opinions are given more weight if they are well informed. So I will attempt to defend the chair in all of its plastic glory in order to show that I do actually appreciate the fact that it is deserving of love (if not from me).

So without further ado, I will now arbitrate for the maligned chair. Much like a defense attorney who doesn’t really believe her client.

As I explained in my original post, this chair has a prominent place in design history. It is an Eames. The one I specifically featured was an Eames Molded Plastic Armchair Rocker from Herman Miller.

In the early 1940s, Charles and Ray Eames experimented with new methods of bending plywood in the work they did for the navy wartime effort. They then applied these techniques to furniture, specifically chairs they designed for Herman Miller. They used molded plywood, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, bent and welded wire mesh, and cast aluminum. Their goal as to create a design that provided comfortable support through molding of the seat and back as opposed to the addition of cushioning.

Several chair bases were designed. The RAR (rocking armchair rod) pictured above has a molded fibreglass-reinforced polyester seat and an “Eiffel tower” base with birch wood rockers on the bottom. RAR rockers were first given as gifts to Herman Miller employees who just had babies.

The prototype of the RAR rocking chair was designed for the Museum of Modern Art’s international competition for low-cost furniture design in 1948.


This design was not initially mass-produced since fiberglass shells had not yet been developed at time of the competition. A condition that has happily since been remedied so that mass quantities of these chairs can now be found in:

private homes


Dooce has one in her office (on top of a filing cabinet – which I find puzzling…but have ultimately decided that it was just placed there for effect in the photo shoot).

catalogs and magazines


Anthropologie catalog, Fall 2008


and blog after blog after blog…

The picture I featured on Friday comes from the blog, Making It Lovely via Black Eiffel (again – it is ONLY the chair that I didn’t like, I do love the pillows).

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this chair cannot only be judged only by the material of which it is made. There is far more to this chair than plastic, metal and a striking similarity to subway seating. It has a rich history in interior design. And 50 years of accolades and public demand don’t lie. This is not a chair to be taken lightly. Nor is the question of its beauty a decision to be taken lightly.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are not asking you to love this chair (god knows I sure as hell don’t) – but we are asking you to decide whether the chair is in fact worthy of love.

You have heard the defendant plead “not guilty” to the charge of “truly ugly.” If and only if the defendant is judged UNWORTHY of love, can this charge be supported. Based on the evidence that has been presented today, only one answer can possibly be given in good conscience: Not guilty.

I now leave it in your hands to make this decision and ultimately confirm the public’s right to decide where they choose to find beauty in the world – a freedom upon which this, our great nation was founded. Thank you.

So now you know my vote: not guilty of true ugliness. Just the subjective kind that I apply as is my freedom to do so. Feel free to make your own choice – you won’t get any argument from me.

*Source material on the Eames Molded Plastic Armchair Rocker from designboom.com.

17 thoughts on “In Defense of the Chair

  1. robin

    Wow. I had no idea it was a famous chair! We used to have kitchen chairs like that in the 70s, except it had a long pole attached to a saucer like-base. (If that makes sense.) I had assumed that someone just took off the top part and decided to add sleigh bottom to it. Who knew!
    Oh, congrats on your big win over at Scary Mommy! Couldn’t have happened to a better blogger!

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    I tried to buy that chair to rock your babies, but, alas, it was no longer on sale. I love Eames. Even been to his design store in Santa Monica!! The Eames are no longer with us but….. Old guys rock, so do their wives……

    Reply
  3. Alicia @ Oh2122

    I don’t like it either.

    Like, at all.

    And I don’t care who knows it!

    (Though I’m really hoping this isn’t like the time I told a group of female cousins that I truly did not care for the movie Dirty Dancing, and outright despised the movie Grease… You guys won’t chase me out of town with torches, will you?)

    Reply
  4. Christy

    I will stand by my husband’s comment: It looks like a commode; there should be a hole in it with a bedpan below.

    Ewww…I’m personally not one for potty humor, but I agree with him – it’s basically really ugly.

    Nonetheless, well researched and eloquent post Kate!

    Reply
  5. Ashley

    Part of me is inclined to just say “That’s what makes the world go ’round” or “It takes all kinds” or some other great quote.

    The other part of me just wants to say “Still an ugly chair”.

    It is, afterall.

    But that’s what makes the world…oh, nevermind.

    Reply
  6. Shawn

    I’m just kind of tired of this chair. I had a dream about it last night and it is starting to annoy me.

    End of story.

    Reply
  7. Sal

    Sigh. I wish I could be swayed by historical and cultural significance, but my taste is too strong. And I don’t dig this chair. Never have, never will.

    Reply
  8. Debbie

    I’ve been saying it is ugly since you posted the first picture way back when. It’s still ugly. I don’t care who puts it on top of their file cabinet or their truck driving to Beverly Hills. It looks cold, hard, and uncomfortable to me. I want a chair with a little padding – just like me!
    And congrats on winning the big giveaway from all those blogs! I was so happy it was you.

    Reply
  9. A Woman Of No Importance

    I understand its design importance, but I could not give it houseroom.

    It looks like it would be very uncomfortable, albeit stylish, and as if it were a science experiment combining malleable plastics with a child’s snow sledge!

    I am wholly with you, Kate!

    Reply
  10. mel

    Ah, it was made for pregos?! No wonder I feel drawn to it in that ‘No one but your mother could love something that ugly’ kind of way. :) Love the post.

    Reply
  11. Jo

    I don’t think any baby rocked in that chair could feel cozy and nurtured. Who could feel cozy and nurtured on a cold plastic bus seat? Love you in attorney mode – very convincing.

    Reply
  12. heartatpreschool

    Ok, I totally had a nightmare about that chair. I dreamt that my firm decided to get us all that chair, instead of a bonus this year. The designer of the chair was at our office to help install them all. I was so pissed, that I started a fight with the designer and told him I hated the chair.

    Guess I’m taking my anger out on that chair…

    Reply

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