You didn’t have to be a big shot to have one of these in your office in the old Disney days. Back in the sixties I had one of these exceptional lounge chairs in my office and I was pretty much a nobody. The chairs were amazingly comfortable and extremely well designed. Today, they’ve become a sought after prize and big shot Disney executives brag about having a KEM Weber in their corner office. However, back in the day the KEM Weber chairs were enjoyed by practically everyone in the Walt Disney Studio regardless of their status in the company.
While working late on Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty back in the fifties, the KEM Weber chair allowed the animation artists to relax and take a needed break. Not only was the chair great for reading, you only had to give a push or nudge to allow the chair to flatten out and become a bed. This proved handy when a tired animation artist needed to take forty winks after a long evening at the drawing board. As you can imagine, the KEM Weber chair allowed other kinds of “relaxing” as well. Remember, this was the day of private offices. Offices that had a door that would lock and afford the artist a degree of privacy. This is unheard of today where most employees work in cubicles with little to no privacy at all. However, back in the good old days of Disney we could grab a quick snooze in complete privacy. However, a few artists decided to use their KEM Weber chair for another purpose altogether. I hope this audacious behavior doesn’t shock you. After all, this kind of thing has been going on since the Snow White wrap party back in the thirties. Exactly where do you think the new generation of Disney artists come from anyway?
However, let’s get back to our exceptional designer. His full name was, Karl Emanuel Martin Weber. Weber took on the rounded corners of the streamlined style, almost obliterating any right angles in his work. Of his famous ‘Airline’ chair (1934-35), with rounded wooden corners and an upholstered seat and back, Weber wrote that he was driven by the “desire to make a comfortable, hygienic and beautiful chair inexpensively.” The chair came disassembled and flat-packaged to be put together by the consumer. They enjoyed only a very limited manufacturing run, although the Walt Disney Studios ordered hundreds for their offices. This now-classic chair is an obvious precursor to the biomorphic plywood shapes that would soon become popular. Designers such as Charles and Rae Eames took what Weber had started to the next level. Weber was able to capitalize on the visual trend of the period to design furniture that took on a sculptural quality within a space. From 1931-1941 Weber was a teacher at the influential Los Angeles Art Center School now known as The Art Center College of Design. In 1945 he moved back to my home town of Santa Barbara where he designed private homes for the next decade.
If you’re employed by the Walt Disney Company today don’t expect to find a KEM Weber chair in your cubicle space. I’m afraid that day has passed.