The Cowling Chair & Other Ball Chairs

A classic of industrial design, the Ball Chair is a swiveling room within a room. These newly-designed Cowling Chairs are an industrial-modern take on that classic design.
The Cowling Chair
The ‘Cowling Chair’ is a surprisingly comfortable, industrial-modern piece made from a salvaged jet-engine cover. inset Salvaged jet-engine cowlings before stripping. Photo courtesy Plane Industries

Without knowing quite what they would do with them, brothers Ben and Harry Tucker bought several Boeing 737 cowlings early last year. (A cowling is the removable cover of a jet engine.) They’d started a company called Plane Industries, which gave new life to salvaged airplane parts: fuselages made into clocks, doors repurposed as coffee tables. One hot summer afternoon they caught their father resting inside one of the engine covers. Remembering Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair design of 1963, they had their concept.

The Story of the Cowling Chair

This is not a DIY project, so we’re summarizing Plane Industries’ process:

A raw cowling salvaged from a local airfield is trimmed down, the excess honeycomb cut off until just the exterior metal ring is left. Then, three fiberglass molds are fabricated: one for the seat, and a pair to create each half of the seat back.

An intricate, 18 m. plywood frame is cut with a CNC router, in three different segments for the interior of the chair, and attached to the cowling. Plywood is laminated to create six different curved seating inserts for the interior of the chair, which are then upholstered with 2″ foam and covered with black Alcantara, a suede-like synthetic fabric.

The fiberglass shell is then meticulously fit onto the frame and cowling—a laborious process that involves fitting over 300 bolts and also sanding and shaping the molded fiberglass; it can take up to two weeks. Then the shell is sprayed in the customer’s choice of color, black being the most popular.

Once the shell and interior are complete, the cowling is temporarily detached from the wooden frame and shell, and work on the metal exterior begins. The metal is sanded from 80 grit to ultra-fine 800 grit, then polished three times for a mirror finish. The polished cowling case is reattached, the upholstered plywood fitted inside, and the painted fiberglass shell given its final, post-finishing fit onto the cowling. A welded steel stand supports the chair, which weighs over 500 pounds and stands six feet tall.

Reminiscent of mid-century design, with a unique salvage story, the cowling chairs are a hit. The U.K. workshop ships them to the U.S. and Australia, Mexico and the Bahamas, and beyond.

The Ball Chair & Other Pods

A classic of industrial design, the Ball Chair (aka Globe or Global chair) was created in 1963 by Finnish designer Eero Aarnio. Quoting the designer: “We had no proper big chair, so I decided to make one. . . . After some drawing I noticed that the shape of the chair had become so simple that it was merely a ball. I pinned the full-scale drawing on the wall and sat in the chair. . . . My wife drew the course of my head on the wall. This is how I determined the height of the chair. Since I aimed at a ball shape, the other lines were easy to draw, just remembering that the chair would have to fit through a doorway.

Ball Chair
Ball Chair
Womb Chair
Egg Chair
Egg Chair

“After this I made the first prototype myself using an inside mold, made using the same principle as a glider fuselage or wing. I covered the plywood body mold with wet paper and laminated the surface with fiberglass, rubbed down the outside, removed the mold from inside, had it upholstered, and added the leg. The naming part of the chair was easy.”

Like other pod chairs, the Ball chair is a room within a room, but one that swivels and so is connected to its surroundings. Today the Aarnio Ball Chair, Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair (Copenhagen, 1958), and the elongated Egg Pod or Easter Egg Chair (Scandinavian, 1968) have been reissued. All are related to the Womb Chair, designed for Knoll in 1948 by Eero Saarinen. Depending on authenticity and materials chosen, prices for all range from about $995 to $17,800.


Aarnio Ball Chair

Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair

Cowling Chair
Plane Industries:

Egg Pod Chair

Saarinen Womb Chair

Tags: OHJ April 2022

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