The Airline Chair

Maryanna Estomba

KEM Weber's rare design captures the sleek yet easygoing style of 1930s California

KEM Weber (Karl Emanuel Martin Weber) is a well-known mid-century architect who was part of a distinctive movement known as West Coast Modernism. He influenced California style during the mid-20th century, and his chair designs—including his famed Airline Chair—are now part of the furniture collections at museums around the world like the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Weber is best known as the architect of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Following the success of Snow White in the late-1930s, Disney hired Weber to not only design the studio but also the interiors and custom furnishings needed to operate the animation studio. Weber even created a font for the studio that is still used today.

KEM Weber design for Walt Disney Studios; Image © Walt Disney Studios

Weber’s rare and iconic Airline Chair was designed in 1934 and produced in 1938 for the Walt Disney Studios animation offices. It was the realization of Weber’s career-long goal: to achieve a wholly American form of modern design—sleek, trim, and stylish; yet comfortable, easygoing, and practical. With its raked, gently angular frame and cantilevered seat, the form of the chair suggests movement, speed, and forward progression. Weber named it the Airline Chair to associate the design with the technological triumph of the day, commercial aviation.

The Airline Chair by KEM Weber. Photo © Peter Blake Gallery

In a practical innovation far ahead of its time, the Airline Chair was designed to be sold flat-packed in segments for easy home assembly. Although the chair seemed destined for great commercial success, factory production never became a reality—despite extensive discussions between Weber and many American manufacturers. In the end, only 300 chairs were produced for the Walt Disney Studios, for use in the projection rooms, lounges, and offices. ◆

Details of the Airline Chair by KEM Weber. Photo © Peter Blake Gallery 

This text was written in collaboration with KEM Weber expert Peter Blake.

The Airline Chair by KEM Weber is available through Peter Blake Gallery.

Founded in 1993, the Peter Blake Gallery is the longest standing and leading exhibitor of West Coast minimalism, with a focus on California light and space. In 2015, the gallery's program expanded to include collectible design with the aim of merging the disciplines of art, architecture, and design.