7 Vital Things To Know Before Buying An Authentic Eames Chair

Last Updated on March 22, 2024 by Beth Martin

Have you been lusting after an authentic Eames chair and ottoman? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Buying an Eames lounge chair is more like buying modern art than an ordinary piece of furniture for your home. It’s a significant investment and not the right decision for every home.

I’ve owned this iconic lounge chair for a decade, but there are a few things I wish I had known before purchasing it. Lucky for you, you get to learn from my mistakes.

So, let’s go.

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7 Things to Consider Before Buying An Eames Lounge Chair:

1. Not everyone thinks Eames lounge chairs are comfortable.

The Eames lounge chair has been a coveted design ever since Charles Eames released it on national television in 1956. However, furniture standards have changed significantly since the mid-50s, and today, not everyone thinks this classic is so dreamy to lounge on.

Some people mistakenly think the Eames lounge chair is adjustable. Although this isn’t true, the clever design of the rubber shock mounts allows the seat to adjust somewhat to ensure a comfortable position.

These slight movements make the original Eames chair so genius, but not everyone is into subtlety. The low seat height paired with the minimal movement is offputting to some.

My husband and I find this lounge chair exceptionally comfortable, but comfort is very personal.

Before you click purchase, I highly recommend finding a local dealer and sitting on an authentic Eames lounge chair for yourself. Even if you have been dreaming of buying this chair for years, it’s still worth double-checking and making sure this is the right chair for you.

2. The Eames lounge chair is available in two sizes.

The original Charles and Ray Eames-designed chair was introduced in one size, but today, people are significantly taller than they were in the 1950s. The tall size was added in 2010 to accommodate this fact.

My husband and I tested out this chair at a Design Within Reach before buying it, but somehow, we left without knowing about the tall version. My husband is very comfortable with the original Eames chair, but I wonder if he would prefer the taller style since he is 6′-2″.

Most people 5′-8″ and taller will prefer the tall version of the chair, but this isn’t always true. Don’t be like us, and try both options.

3. There will be maintenance.

Herman Miller could clarify this better, but the chair needs to be disassembled, tightened, and cleaned at least once a year – at a minimum. This upkeep isn’t tricky, but you should know it before buying.

The die-cast aluminum base needs to be polished once a quarter, but if you live near the ocean like me, you should do it monthly to keep it looking shiny.

The cushions unsnap and then slide off, but they can be tight, so it’s sometimes nice to have a second hand. My husband and I can do all this maintenance in about 30 minutes.

For the first few years of owning our Eames lounge chair, we did not know about this upkeep. The base became dull, and the chair creaked whenever my husband sat down. Fortunately, these issues were remedied once we learned how to take care of them.

I feel this maintenance should be obvious for a purchase as expensive as an Eames chair, and it’s really not. But now you’ve been warned.

4. Authentic Eames chairs are art, not just furniture.

For decades, the Eames lounge chair and ottoman has been considered one of the most significant furniture designs in modern history. Still, this piece is fragile compared to its contemporary counterparts.

One of the great things about the Eames lounge chair is its fine craftsmanship and extremely sturdy construction. It’s common to find this design from the 1960s that still looks pristine.

But you can’t treat it like a modern La-Z-Boy.

Charles and Ray Eames made history when they invented the unique cantilever system that supports this iconic chair. Four hidden screws under the armrests attach the seat to the backrest, supporting all the weight in the chair.

That’s a lot of work for four screws.

If an Eames chair breaks, it will usually fail at this point, and it’s almost impossible to fix the shell without a noticeable repair.

It’s possible to lessen this stress by being conscious of how you sit and putting weight on the armrests. However, this is not a design you can plop down on after a long workday without causing damage in the long run.

This is not a piece of furniture to have kids jumping on, cats scratching, and drinks sitting on the leather ottoman. 

An Eames chair needs to be babied. If you aren’t willing to do that, another lounge chair may better suit your home.

5. Make sure you choose the right veneer.

The molded wood shell of the Eames lounge chair and ottoman is one of its most quintessential trademarks. When buying a new Eames lounger, you can choose from the following veneers on the molded plywood shell:

Both oiled finishes are unfinished wood veneers that have been oil-treated and require frequent oiling. The regular walnut and palisander are sealed, so they don’t require any more work.

The santos palisander is the more popular veneer choice because the grain is the most vibrant, making the Eames chair look like a true work of art. The walnut shell is subtle in comparison but still stunning. We chose the standard walnut finish, and I love how easy it is to style with other wood tones in our house.

Oiled Palisander
Oiled Walnut
Ebony Ash
White Ash
White Oak

Some people receive their Eames chairs and are unhappy with how distinct the grain looks on the molded wood shell. Wood grain has tons of variation, which is a significant part of its natural beauty.

Unfortunately, you can’t select your specific wood shell. If this level of detail bothers you, there may be better choices for your home than the Eames lounge chair.

6. Consider the weight capacity.

The weight capacity of a Herman Miller Eames chair is 250 lbs, which is low compared to modern design standards. Consider that this capacity includes your body weight, the force of sitting down, and anything you may be holding in your hands or lap.

Investing in a replica may be better if you are worried about the weight capacity but still love this chair. Most replicas have a minimum weight capacity of 300 lb, and many are even higher.

An Eames chair replica will give you peace of mind, knowing that you aren’t putting as much stress on the joints as they are made for more weight.

The Iconic Chair is my favorite Eames chair replica, and this chair has a weight capacity of 300 lbs compared to the original’s 250 lbs. Wayfair sells a version with a 350lb capacity.

7. Vintage chairs are worth more for a reason.

Herman Miller proudly states that the Eames lounge chair and ottoman is still “assembled by hand in Michigan.” But typically, that’s just a tricky way of saying the actual parts aren’t made in America. 

I’ve done a ton of research on this, but I have yet to find any recent information about their production in Michigan. So, are the Eames lounge chair parts actually manufactured at Herman Miller’s largest factory in China? I’ll keep working on this, and if you have any information, I would love to hear from you. 

The original Eames lounge chair had cushions made with down feathers and a Brazilian rosewood shell.

Vintage examples of this chair develop a beautiful slouchy patina that practically begs you to sit down. For sustainability purposes, these materials have been swapped for more eco-conscious choices, but today, the previous versions are highly prized.

An authentic Eames lounge chair from the 1950's.
This is a beautiful vintage Eames lounge chair from the 1950s. It has some flaws, but the patina adds to its character.

The black leather upholstery now includes polyurethane foam cushions. While these are still high-quality and comfy, they will eventually break down and need to be replaced. Slouchy foam is not as charming as the previous down feathers.

The Herman Miller Furniture Company is a huge corporation today—in 2021, it even acquired Knoll for a whopping $1.8 billion. Some of its practices are admirable, while others are not, and its customer service can be iffy.

In the last few years, the Eames lounge chair and ottoman have been in extremely high demand, which has put major pressure on the entire Herman Miller infrastructure.

Final Thoughts

Purchasing an authentic Eames chair and ottoman means owning a small piece of design history. It feels like an honor to relax in this iconic design, but it does require some care and gentle handling.

I couldn’t recommend this chair more, and I know my husband agrees. If you are a design enthusiast like us who doesn’t mind occasional maintenance, then you will agree.

However, price is a great barrier to Eames lounge chair ownership, and this fact is only getting worse. Since we purchased in 2014, the price has astonishingly almost doubled. If you are willing to consider an alternative, many fantastic other options are on the market for a current Eames chair’s nearly $8,000 price tag.

At the end of the day, understanding the story behind the chair adds an extra layer of appreciation for the design world that can’t be replicated. As you consider bringing an Eames chair into your home, remember to take your time and do your research. After all, it’s not just a chair – it’s a piece of history.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions about my Eames chair or the buying experience in general.

If you are a huge fan of Eames’ history, I highly recommend visiting their Case Study House #8 in Los Angeles. There, you can see the original Eames chair owned by the couple and many of their other designs. It’s fantastic!


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