‘Today, more than ever before, we need to relax,’ said Eero Saarinen in 1948 at the time of the ‘Womb’ chair’s launch – a sentiment that could just as easily be applied to today. It’s fitting, then, that The Conran Shop has chosen now as the time to release its limited-edition sheepskin-covered version of Saarinen’s groundbreaking design for Knoll.
It was Florence Knoll who first imagined the cosy concept, asking for ‘a chair that is like a basket of pillows’. To realise her vision, she turned to Saarinen, who she had met while they were both studying at Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Michigan, America. Saarinen, at the time, was known for his explorations of ergonomics, having won the Museum of Modern Art Organic Design Competition with Charles Eames in 1941 for their experiments with bent plywood. Comfort, for him, was not about padding, but more a question of form. He pictured a chair made from a single piece of material that would support those who sat upon it with its perfect curves.
As with many of Saarinen’s designs, his idea required new techniques and materials. The search for an innovative approach led him and Knoll to a boat builder in New Jersey. An unlikely collaborator, the craftsman was working with fibreglass and resin and, after some persuasion, agreed to turn his expertise to furniture. The path to production was not a smooth one, according to Knoll, who once remarked upon the number of problems and failures that occurred before they finally hit upon a chair that would work.
The pair’s perseverance has been rewarded, though. Since its launch, the ‘Womb’ chair has been in continuous production – that’s seven decades of popularity. Cementing its icon status, it even featured alongside Santa Claus in a 1958 advert for Coca-Cola.
Today, there are two sizes of the ‘Womb’ chair (from £3,260), as well as the ‘Womb’ sofa (from £6,210) and ‘Womb Relax’ (from £2,770), all available in a vast selection of upholstery fabrics, including leather and velvet. Covered in ‘Moonlight’-hued Australian sheepskin, which is naturally curly and hardwearing, not to mention comforting, it’s The Conran Shop’s latest addition to the ‘Womb’ family (£7,878) that has the most modern hygge appeal. We’re sure Florence Knoll would have approved. conranshop.co.uk; knoll.com
This article appeared in the February 2020 issue of ELLE Decoration.
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