Every Piece of Furniture Has a Story: The Life of a Saarinen Womb Chair

By Tandy Hennings

The design of this iconic chair dates back to 1946, by Finnish-born architect and furniture designer, Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950). Popularly called a “womb chair,” its enveloping form is one of the most recognized representations of mid-century organic modernism. 

By applying foam molded over a fiberglass shell and upholstered in high quality wool, Saarinen created a single-piece form that perfectly facilitates a relaxed sitting posture. Saarinen commented on his design philosophy, saying “The necessity of changing one’s position is an important factor often forgotten in chair design.” The first-edition chairs were manufactured by Knoll design firm in the U.S.A. following the original specifications of the designer. 

The dimensions of this chair are as follows: 

H 35.5” W 40” D 34”

Seat H 16”

Arm H 20.5”

The Saarinen womb chair that I now own was purchased by my mother in 1960 or 1961, in consultation with her brother, who was a mid-century modern architect. When it was new, the chair was upholstered in a blue fabric. It is shown below, in the family living room in Bellevue, Washington. The couple pictured were guests at a Christmas party.

 Saarinen Womb chair on the left, upholstered in blue; Bellevue, WA

This chair remained in the living room of the family home in Bellevue, but the fabric became worn. My mother had it reupholstered in a hot pink fabric, probably during the 1990s. The original, blue fabric was left in place. However, the new layer of pink fabric was much less durable than the original. Due to the intense sunlight that entered the living room, with its full-on western exposure, the pink color quickly faded.

Eventually, the fabric itself became so worn in places that the underlying blue fabric showed through. Nevertheless, the chair remained a prominent fixture in the home. It was used as a prop for family group photos, as shown below.

2007: Saarinen Womb chair at the center of a family portrait, Bellevue, WA

Late in my mother’s life, her dog took to the chair, claiming it as her own. I expressed an interest in owning the chair eventually, stating that I would like to have it reupholstered in a beige-toned fabric. My mother was enthusiastic about the idea and offered to pay for the work herself, immediately. I demurred, saying, “Not as long as the dog has it.”

2017: Saarinen Womb chair, severely worn but still loved, Bellevue, WA

After my mother’s death in 2020, I took the chair to Queen Anne Upholstery in Bellevue. I selected a light beige colored fabric. The artisans who performed the restoration stripped down the chair to its fiberglass form, removing the pink and blue fabric and the underlying padding. They replaced the severely worn cushions. The result of their fine work is now situated in the living room of my and my husband’s home in Kirkland, Washington, as shown below.

2020: Saarinen Womb chair, Kirkland, WA
(restored by Queen Anne Upholstery – Thank you!)

To me, this chair is a precious work of art. It is also a memento of family times and of people I have loved who are now passed. My new challenge is to keep my cat off it.

[Related: Every Piece of Furniture Has a Story: A Well-Traveled 18th Century Hand-Carved Corner Cupboard]

We understand that certain pieces of furniture represent family, tradition, and treasured memories. Queen Anne Upholstery can help you maintain these stories and keep their history alive by restoring and reupholstering antique furniture. Our expert repair, restoration, and refinishing services can breathe new life into family heirlooms.

Contact us today to get started.