Architect Peter Maddison, director of Maddison Architects, has been a long-time admirer of mid-century modernism since he was a student. His first position was working with the late architect Peter Crone, who instilled in him an even greater appreciation of modernist architecture and design.
Maddison’s wish to own the Eames® Lounge Chair & Ottoman, designed by husband-and-wife duo Charles and Ray Eames in 1956, and produced by Herman Miller, became a reality 33 years ago, when he married his wife Andrea. “The timing was perfect. She was breast feeding our son Fin and the chair was just perfectly poised for a very natural and comfortable recline,” says Maddison, who sees this chair as somewhere between a more upright chair and a chaise lounge. And as the chair is permanently tilted, it takes the weight off one’s lower spine and distributes it across the backrest. Made from three components of curved plywood, the veneered-covered shells comprise the headrest, the backrest and the seat. At the time of its release, Charles Eames said that he sought to design a modern version of an English-style club chair (think stiff high-back velvet upholstery with fringed edges). “I wanted to create the feel of the warm receptive look of a well-used baseball mitt.”
The Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman was an equally snug fit when Maddison purchased a modernist house in Melbourne 22 years ago. Designed by Walter & Grodzki Architects, the house features spilt levels, built-in timber furniture and feature screens that loosely delineate the open plan kitchen and living areas. “I love the change in levels and the beautiful built-in joinery (in the style of Dario Zoureff),” says Maddison, who enjoys reclining in the Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman after a busy day’s film shoot or coming home from his office.
Maddison continues to be passionate about modernism, whether it’s the fine 1960s or ‘70s houses in Melbourne or discovering some of the finest examples in the United States. He recently went to Palm Springs as part of the Palm Springs Modernist Week. And while he was travelling, he took the opportunity to visit the iconic Charles & Ray Eames house in the Pacific Palisades neighbourhood of Los Angeles. There, he not only enjoyed a personalised tour of the house given by the Eames’ granddaughter, but also looking at the furniture and objects designed by the Eames and some of their contemporaries. The Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman was in the mix, providing a context for Maddison’s own combo, thousands of miles away.
“I love the chair’s five-star base which allows for easy rotation. But I also appreciate the way the Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman has been assembled,” says Maddison, pointing out the leather piping that separates the black leather upholstery from the plywood shells that form the chair’s shell or carcass. “It’s also a deconstructed piece where you can appreciate how all the various components fit perfectly together,” says Maddison, running his hand across the rosewood veneer backrest. “They don’t produce these in rosewood any more which makes this piece even more special (the Brazilian rosewood was discontinued in the early 1990s),” he adds.
Unlike some of the other designs produced by Charles and Ray Eames that were designed for the mass market, the Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman, or ‘Model Nos. 670 and 671) was designed for the luxury end of the market, with a price tag of $US634 when it was released in 1957 (Approximately $AU827). Originally conceived as a birthday gift for the film director Billy Wild, the Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman has a distinctly masculine feel, a sense of male executive power. However, as the shift in male/female roles change, so does its use, becoming a chair and ottoman that’s regularly used by the entire family. However, they can also be found in more corporate environments, ideal as a place to contemplate in one’s office, whether at home or at work.
Maddison’s Eames® Lounge Chair & Ottoman, which takes pride-of-place in his living area, is certainly worn and well-loved. It’s not only a treasured item of furniture, but recalls his wedding anniversary, 33 years ago. “It’s one of those chairs that will remain in our lives, only getting better with age,” adds Maddison.
Photography: Derek Swalwell