Last Updated on July 31, 2023 by bethrmartin
When it comes to designer chairs, it’s hard to find a more iconic piece than the original Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. This chair was an instant hit when it was introduced in 1956, and since then, it has become a fixture in modern art museums, frequently seen in movies and TV shows, and to some design enthusiasts, it’s even the ultimate status symbol.
And if you’ve ever been in the market for a new Eames Chair, you know these chairs are pricey.
Most articles on this topic just tell you this price is due to the quality of materials, but they are pretty abstract as to what exactly this means.
The luxurious materials are one significant reason for the price, but that’s not the whole story. In this article, I will explain the five primary reasons why Eames Chairs are so expensive and, more importantly, if they are worth it.
Let’s jump in and determine if a new Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman is worth the investment!
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How Much Does an Eames Lounge Chair Cost?
This price may be shocking, but when husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames first introduced this unique design in the mid-50s, it only cost $310. Adjusting for time, that would be just over $3,000 in today’s money.
But today, a brand new authentic Eames Chair from Herman Miller Furniture Company comes with a sky-high price tag of around $7,000+, depending on the materials you select.
These lounge chairs are so expensive that even a good Eames replica costs about $700-$2000.
So Why Are Eames Chairs So Expensive?
1. High Quality Materials + Craftsmanship Are Critical
The Eames Chair and Ottoman is crafted with multiple supremely high-quality raw materials making this piece of furniture extremely durable. And this all contributes to its price point.
One of the first materials you will notice is the upholstery. Leather upholstery is the most popular choise for most Eames Lounge Chairs, but today you can also choose various fabric options.
Herman Miller offers a range of leathers, but most are varieties of full-grain leather with a premium aniline leather finish.
While there is a lot of nuance in the durability and aging qualities of the different types of leather, no matter which you select, you can trust you will be getting an excellent product. You can learn more about different types of leather grades and finishes here.
The Eames Chair cushion’s were originally filled with feathers and down, but today they are made from polyurethane foam. The foam fill ensures a plush, comfortable seat and has more longevity than the previous material choice.
Next, the seven ply veneer shell is one of the quintessential materials used in construction. The multiple layers of molded plywood are highly durable, and the upper veneer layer is most commonly either walnut or palisander.
The back brace, the base of the chair, and the base of the ottoman are made from shiny die-cast aluminum. These parts are highly sturdy and allow for seamless swivel and tilt motion.
The Eames Chair’s manufacturing process still includes hand-assembled construction, ensuring the finest attention to detail.
This type of quality craftsmanship and premium materials is costly.
2. Three Major Trades Are Needed To Make This Icon.
The fact that the Eames Lounge requires three different materials to make the design was a significant departure for the Eameses, which comes at a premium.
Charles and Ray Eames always viewed their designs as works in progress, constantly expanding upon their ideas. One of their main obsessions was stripping away any unnecessary details and only leaving the purest form of the design. Not only did this create a streamlined and beautiful design, but it kept costs to a minimum, which was vital to them.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the LCW Chair (1946) and Molded Plastic Chairs (1950) were predecessors to the Eames Lounge Chair. With these designs, they experimented with the technical finesse of molding plywood, creating the metal Eifel base, and mastering ergonomics.
The Eames Lounge combined these previous designs and made a true statement piece. An icon was born by mixing molded plywood, a die-cast aluminum base, and leather upholstery.
But this also means that three different specialty trades and materials types are needed to create each Eames Chair, contributing to consistently increasing prices over time.
3. Heritage Quality + Appreciation
An Eames Lounge Chair is built to last and should be passed down and appreciated by future generations. Creating heritage quality furniture costs more, but it’s definitely worth it.
This chair is designed to be an investment that will only appreciate with value.
If, for some reason, you no longer want your Eames Chair, then you can sell it for more than you originally paid. Vintage Eames Chairs are worth even more than new models, sometimes by a staggering amount.
Since so much thought and effort goes into their construction, an Eames Chair is also easy to repair if anything ever happens to it. The plywood shell can be mended, the cushions can be re-upholstered or replaced, and the rubber shocks can be easily changed.
The longevity of this design is just as essential as the timeless design and comfort, but it comes at a price.
4. Environmental Impact Is Essential
The enduring craftsmanship and iconic design of Eames Chairs make it less likely that they will end up in landfills. Herman Miller has worked for decades to create a product that will be valuable for a long time while standing behind significant environmental practices. And that’s worth investing in.
It’s so easy to buy cheap furniture these days that will only last a few years at most, and then it will be thrown away. Not only is this a burden on the environment, but it’s a waste of money.
Sustainability is an important factor of the Herman Miller brand, and investing in the brand is also investing in its values. They work hard to be transparent about their goals, values, and initiatives, and this is an excellent reason to invest in a company.
5. Marketing Is Inevitable
At the end of the day, any piece of furniture from Herman Miller is ultimately a luxury brand, and a portion of the high price tags inevitably go to the marketing department.
And trust me, I’ve worked on marketing campaigns for many luxury companies.
Herman Miller has been in business since 1905 and partnered with designers like the Eameses to bring their designs to life. Their impact on modern design is incredibly significant, and they have revolutionized modern furniture design with their innovative outlook on materials, quality, construction, and aesthetics.
It’s no wonder that so many people covet their designs. But Herman Miller is a business, and to keep the lights on and their furniture in high demand, marketing is a necessary evil. Their marketing budget in 2022 is reported to be at just under $100 million.
Also, in 2021, Herman Miller purchased Knoll, one of their biggest competitors, for $1.8 billion. Knoll was probably the next biggest modern furniture company, making heritage quality products.
Only time will tell how the merger will impact the furniture world, but undoubtedly marketing costs and other business factors are leading to increased costs that trickle down to the consumer.
I was lucky enough to visit the Eames House, and it was amazing to see their original Eames Lounge. The leather was completely worn, but the patina and age only made this chair more beautiful.
Seeing how the timeless design aged made the Eames Chair and Ottoman feel even more like a masterpiece.
This mid-century design is iconic for a reason, and when you sit in one for the first time, it’s incredible how comfortable it is. It’s absolutely mind-boggling that a chair designed over six decades ago could still complement almost any room and still feels current.
It’s impossible to tell someone they should spend such a massive amount of money on a piece of furniture, but an authentic Eames Lounge Chair is a functional piece of art designed for comfort. If you’re in the market for one of these beauties, then I doubt you will regret your decision.
And hey, if you do, you can sell it for more than you paid!