The Reinvention of a Failed, Forgotten Chair

The Reinvention of a Failed, Forgotten Chair

Out of production since 1951, Eero Saarinen’s once impossible-to-build loveseat has returned to market, thanks to the power of technology.

When Eero Saarinen first launched the Model 73 Womb Settee in 1948, it was a beautiful dud. The double-width version of his endlessly popular Model 70 Womb Chair, the settee was beset with structural problems that caused the arms to bend and break. After a three-year production run, it was set aside and pretty much forgotten.

A team at Knoll rediscovered the settee a few years ago during a routine sweep of the archives. Working with original models old enough to crumble if handled too roughly, the team retooled the seat’s construction using modern-day production elements. The goal, says Colleen James, director of marketing at KnollStudio, was to “use technology to make something a bit more durable and much easier to produce.”

Improved injection moulding and a steel weldment have strengthened the seat’s framework so the arms are no longer vulnerable to bending or breaking.

Improved injection moulding and a steel weldment have strengthened the seat’s framework so the arms are no longer vulnerable to bending or breaking.

Saarinen originally sought out a boat maker to create the sculpted resin interior of the seat, which was formed in two parts and bonded with plywood. In the new version, structural reaction injection moulding (SRIM) – the same substance used in the automotive industry to create bumpers and fenders – is used for the one-piece seat. A steel-tube weldment insert moulded within the shell adds the necessary support to keep the arms upright, and clamps attach the metal frame to the shell for added flexibility.

With the success of its recent debut, Knoll is now giving new life to the Bertoia Side Chair, replacing the fibreglass seat with one made of a high-pressure injection moulding with thermoplastic polypropylene.

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