Introduced in 1956, the lounge chair with its coordinating ottoman continues to be one of the most recognizable of the Eames chair designs. Herman Miller, a furniture manufacturer, has manufactured this iconic chair since it was first put into production. The first loungers were made of molded plywood bases and finished in black leather with button tufting. It was described to have "soft, wrinkly leather and plush down feathers" akin to more traditional upholstered chair styles.
Herman Miller currently offers the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman in a variety of leather colors with coordinating woods for the shell. Vitra, a Swiss maker of modern-style furniture, was authorized to produce the furniture using the original Eames specifications to distribute overseas. However, there are plenty of replicas (detailed copies) and reproductions (close copies) on the market. If you'd like to know how to spot an original from a replica or reproduction, learn to look for telling details.
A Star Is Born
"The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman debuted on national television in 1956. Charles and Ray Eames appeared on the NBC television network Home show hosted by Arlene Francis. Stardom ensued for both design and designers. Yet, as popular as the lounge chair and ottoman have become, they remain grounded in the handcrafted details that continue to distinguish this classic, authentic design," according to the Herman Miller website.
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Check the Reclining Feature
One of the features that make this chair so comfortable is the way the seat permanently tilts back. It was designed that way to take the weight off the lower back and spine. This design was made to rest in a reclining position without any adjustment. If a similar chair has a reclining mechanism to adjust the tilt, it's a major clue that it's not an authentic Eames piece.
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Measure the Chair
Most copies of the Eames Lounge Chair won't fit the original specifications of the design. They're usually larger and somewhat clumsier. Look for three specific measurements:
- An authentic Eames Lounge Chair should measure 32 inches from the floor to the top of the headrest. Many copies will be several inches to 10 or more inches taller than an original.
- The front seat edge will be about 15 inches above the floor, but note that some copies have that same measurement.
- Measure the distance across the arms and from front to back. Each of these areas will be 32.75 inches in an authentic Eames Lounge Chair. Deviations from these measurements can indicate that your chair isn't authentic.
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Look for Labels and Shell Details
Every original Eames Lounge Chair was marked with one of several different types of paper labels. Some of the labels stated that the chair was made by Herman Miller, and others provided patent information. Labels were located under a cushion or on the underside of the chair. However, these types of labels can be removed or fall off for one reason or another over time.
Two other important details on the shell can help you determine whether or not a chair is a genuine article:
- There should be no exposed screws in the three molded plywood shells that make up the outer body of the chair.
- Look at the number of layers of plywood that were used in the construction of the shells. Vintage chairs have five layers, while modern versions have seven.
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Look at the Base and Feet
The legs of a genuine Eames lounger have a bit of an angle, but they're not steep or flat. Often copies have a base constructed with square feet or the feet may have a steep incline. Also, look at the ottoman. A genuine Eames lounger ottoman will have four legs coming from the base, not five as seen in copies of the design.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Consider the Price
Vintage and new production loungers often sell in the same price range of between $5,000 and $6,500, depending on the materials. Vintage examples hold their value well, as does Eames furniture in general. Copies of the Eames lounger, however, usually sell between $1,200 and $1,500, and far less when used. If you see a chair you think is authentic at a too-good-to-be-true price, be sure to look further for signs that will confirm whether it is a copy or the real deal.