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Curated Furniture at Optima Lakeview: the Womb™ Chair

One of the ways we honor the Forever Modern promise and keep it relevant at Optima is by curating both public and residential spaces in our communities with timeless furniture. As we put the finishing touches on the furniture selections for the lobby and model apartments at Optima Lakeview, it’s a perfect time to take a closer look at the Womb™ Chair.

In 1946, Florence Knoll, the pioneering architect who led the furniture empire Knoll Associates with her husband Hans, reached out to friend and fellow architect Eero Saarinen to design a lounge chair for the company. In numerous interviews following the release of the chair, Knoll explained, “I told Eero I was sick and tired of the one-dimensional lounge chair … long and narrow … I want a chair I can sit in sideways or any other way I want to sit in it.” She envisioned “a chair that was like a basket of pillows … something I could really curl up in.”

Originally named No. 70, the chair quickly took on its more intuitive name as people raved about its countless positions and the deep sense of comfort and tranquility it provides. “There seemed to be a need for a large and really comfortable chair to take the place of the old overstuffed chair,” Saarinen explained. “Today, more than ever before, we need to relax.” 

Apart from its novel appearance, the Womb™ chair is also highly innovative from a structural perspective. To achieve a balance between comfort and a modernist silhouette, Saarinen wanted to construct the chair out of a single piece of material. This led him to a groundbreaking new material that had recently been developed to produce minimalistic, yet-durable hulls for Navy vessels during World War II. He then turned to a New Jersey boat builder to use this reinforced-fiberglass-and-resin to produce a prototype of the cropped, folded cone shape he had designed. The final result — a padded and upholstered fiberglass shell that sits on a polished chrome steel frame — combined simplicity of shape with true comfort and flexibility.

A sketch of the Womb™ chair, designed by Eero Saarinen, courtesy of Bob Ewing

Once released, the Womb™ chair quickly became a cultural icon. A 1958 Coca-Cola advertising campaign showed Santa Claus drinking a Coke in a Womb™ chair. The chair also made an appearance in a New Yorker cartoon as well as a Saturday Evening Post cover by American Painter, Norman Rockwell.

Discover the iconic Womb™ Chairs as part of our invitation to “Expect the Extraordinary” when you visit Optima Lakeview. Experience for yourself what it means to lounge in absolute comfort and modernist simplicity, just as Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll imagined 75 years ago.

A Brief History of Modernist Furniture

The modernist architecture movement gained traction in the late 19th century and was influenced by the post-war notion of practicality and eliminating excess. 

Notable modernist architects include Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Frank Gehry, and Zaha Hadid. Along with designing structures, these architects also designed furniture that would harmonize with their buildings, while making their works more accessible to many.

Prior to the modernist movement, furniture was seen as ornamentation. Rather than taking comfort and practicality into consideration, the value of furniture was determined by the amount of time and level of craftsmanship that went into its production. The Industrial Revolution enabled the mechanization of furniture production, enabling furniture to become affordable and functional rather than ornaments reserved for the wealthy.

Modernist principles of furniture considered the interaction of the design and the user, creating designs that fit with the human form rather than forcing bodies to conform to the furniture.

Two Barcelona Chairs sit next to each other in front of glass windows.
Barcelona Chairs, designed by Mies van der Rohe

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona Chair was inspired by the simplicity of ancient folding chairs. Supported on each side by two chrome-plated flat steel bars, the Barcelona Chair is upholstered in leather and combines simple elegance with comfort. Mies van der Rohe designed the Barcelona chair to sit in the lobbies of his buildings, where they accent the architecture and blend in with the surrounding space. 

The Eames Lounge Chair sits in front of a marble fire place.
Eames Lounge Chair, designed by Charles and Ray Eames

The Eames Lounge Chair, another iconic piece of modernist furniture, was released in 1956 and designed by Charles and Ray Eames. The Eames Lounge Chair is a rare example of modernist furniture that was not designed to be mass-produced and affordable. Yet, the chair still relied on the principles of simplicity, practicality, and comfort core to modernist furniture design. The chair, inspired by the English Club Chair, is composed of molded plywood and leather and became a cultural icon for its un-design-like appearance that invites sitters to rest for hours within the chair’s leather cushions.

The Noguchi Table
Noguchi Table, designed by Isamu Noguchi

Japanese-American artist and industrial designer, Isamu Noguchi, designed the famed Noguchi Table for the furniture company, Herman Miller. The Noguchi Table is a sleek glass-topped table supported by two curved pieces of wood at the base. The table became popular for its ability to fit both in the domestic and corporate spaces. 

The ability for modernist furniture to fit effortlessly into any space combined with its practicality made modernist designs into classic pieces recognized across generations. Modernist furniture can be found in suburban households and steel office buildings alike. Families gather around Noguchi Tables for chess games and curl up into Eames Lounge Chairs with long novels. Business moguls and architects meet in Barcelona Chairs and sign documents over Noguchi Tables. The versatility of modernist furniture and ease with which it is produced revolutionized how the general public views furniture and furniture’s place in the spaces it takes up.

The Folly Bench by Ron Arad

It’s no secret that we take pride in showcasing statement Modernist furniture throughout our communities, from the Wassily chair to the Egg chair to the Barcelona chair. That’s why we get excited when fresh designs are added to the mix. The Folly bench, designed by Ron Arad for Magis, exemplifies new furniture being designed in the Modernist discipline — and makes a great addition to our space at the new 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments. 

Ron Arad was born in Tel Aviv and studied at both the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and at the Architectural Association in London. He has established the design practice One Off Ltd., design and architecture firm Chalk Farm and opened his own studio in Italy, Ron Arad Studio. He’s best known for unique and sculptural chairs that meld high-tech materials with found objects. Of his own practice, he says, “Some people confuse function with being practical. You can make a chair that’s totally impractical, but it’s still a chair because it’s about sitting.”

The Folly bench, designed for Magis by Ron Arad, in the 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments
The Folly bench, designed for Magis by Ron Arad, in the 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments

Arad exemplifies just that philosophy with the Folly bench, designed for Italian design firm Magis. The sculptural form of the bench provides immediate intrigue with its dramatically sweeping, undulating curves. Despite its drama, the bench’s seat and back surfaces merge seamlessly, creating an undeniably comfortable place to sit any which way. Furthermore, the bench is molded in “nearly indestructible polyethylene,” making it available for both indoor and outdoor use.

Gracefully dotting the amenity floor in the new 7140 Tower at Optima Kierland Apartments, the Folly bench beckons as an artful installation, and a truly functional piece of furniture. 

A Brief History of the Wassily Chair

When we set out to build intentional spaces, we extend our design sensibilities into every finish and furnishing. And with most of our selections, each piece has a story behind it. Today, we explore the history of the distinct and iconic Wassily Chair.

The chair itself started with Marcel Breuer, the Hungarian architect and designer. Breuer studied at the Bauhaus under Walter Gropius, quickly becoming his protégé with his outstanding sense of design and ingenuity. By the early 1920s, he was considered a master carpenter at the school. The legend goes that Breuer purchased his first bicycle and was so inspired by the lightness of its frame, he wanted to experiment with something similar in furniture design, using curves and tubing in construction. Thus, the Wassily chair was born.

Marcel Breuer sitting in a Wassily Chair. Image courtesy of Britannica
Marcel Breuer sitting in a Wassily Chair. Image courtesy of Britannica

Fabricated using the techniques of local plumbers, the tubular-steel structure would become Breuer’s signature touch on furniture. At the time, the design was only technologically feasible because German manufacturers had perfected the process for seamless steel tubing. Without a welding seam, the tubing could be bent without collapsing. The structure was finished by straps of fabric, pulled tightly to create a sturdy but comfortable place to sit. Like many other designs in the Modernism movement, the Wassily Chair has been mass-produced since the 1920s, its allure is still impactful today. At present, the trademark name rights to the design are owned by Knoll, who integrated the Wassily Chair into their catalog in the 1960s. 

Whether it welcomes residents as they enter the lobby or invites conversation in an amenity space, the Wassily Chair plays perfectly with the design aesthetic and sensibility of our spaces at Optima. 

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