Eero Saarinen designed the groundbreaking Womb Chair at Florence Knoll's request for "a chair that was like a basket full of pillows - something she could really curl up in."
This mid-century classic supports countless positions and offers a comforting oasis of calm—hence the name.
History of the Saarinen Womb Chair
After winning the Museum of Modern Art Organic Design Competition with Charles Eames for their experiments with bent plywood in 1941, Eero Saarinen was eager to continue exploring the possibilities of a chair that achieved comfort through the shape of its shell, not the depth of its cushioning. Initially, he began the investigation with designs for smaller fiberglass task chairs, but changed direction when Florence Knoll approached him and asked, “Why not take the bull by the horns and do the big one first? I want a chair that is like a basket full of pillows…something I can curl up in.” While that’s not exactly where Saarinen ended up, the suggestion inspired one of the most iconic, and comfortable, chairs of the modern furniture movement.
Like many of Saarinen’s furniture designs, the Womb Chair required production techniques and materials still in the infancy of their existence. Saarinen and Florence Knoll found a boat builder in New Jersey who was experimenting with fiberglass and resin to help develop manufacturing methods for the new chair. Florence Knoll: “He was very skeptical. We just begged him. I guess we were so young and so enthusiastic he finally gave in and worked with us. We had lots of problems and failures until they finally got a chair that would work.”
With the Pedestal Collection, Eero Saarinen vowed to eliminate the "slum of legs" found under chairs and tables with four legs. He worked first with hundreds of drawings, which were followed by ¼ scale models. Since the compelling idea was to design chairs that looked good in a room, the model furniture was set up in a scaled model room the size of a doll house.
Drawing on his early training as a sculptor, Saarinen refined his design through full scale models, endlessly modifying the shape with clay. “What interests me is when and where to use these structural plastic shapes. Probing even more deeply into different possibilities one finds many different shapes are equally logical—some ugly, some exciting, some earthbound, some soaring. The choices really become a sculptor’s choice.”
Saarinen was assisted by Don Petitt, of Knoll’s Design Development Group, who introduced several ingenious methods of model making. Together with a Knoll design research team, they worked out the problems arising in production. Full scale models became furniture and, with family and friends acting as “guinea pigs,” the furniture was tested in the dining room and living room of the Saarinen house in Bloomfield Hills.