Womb chairs seen as bed bug-friendly removed by university

by nobugsonme on January 14, 2014 · 3 comments

in bed bugs, bed bugs in colleges, libraries


The University of Utah has eliminated the much-loved “womb chairs” from its library, partly due to fear that bed bugs, now eliminated from the library, might appear in them in future.

The photo above shows an Eero Saarinen-designed womb chair in a retail store window, though Ellen Forsyth’s image here of womb chairs in use at the Marriott library of the University of Utah suggests the ottoman was not part of the package.

According to the Daily Utah Chronicle, a student paper,

The new arrangements, which feature more tables and easier access to outlets, were made because the library staff believes it is a better study setup for students. As far as the bedbugs go, Godfrey said there is no denying they were involved in the chairs’ removal.

“We did have the problem with bedbugs, which was on the third floor where those chairs were, so we figured it was the perfect time to upgrade,” Godfrey said. Students, however, are not as keen on the new arrangements. Juno Kim, an undeclared freshman, wishes the chairs were still around.

“The chairs provide a sense of home to those who does not have access to one during the day,” Kim said, referring to the common practice of students napping in the chairs during schedule breaks. “I love those things. [They’re] comfortable!”

There’s no implication in the article that bed bugs were ever found in the womb chairs before their removal.

In fact, it might be argued that as far as upholstered seating goes, there are much worse options when it comes to hiding bed bugs, or for that matter, encouraging naps.

However, if the chairs did become infested, cleaning off fecal stains might be tricky, and even if these are knockoffs, they still fetch upwards of $1000 each. (Knoll branded Womb Chairs retail for $4000-$5000.)

We’re always interested when bed bugs affect the design of any space. This isn’t the first time a college has made such a decision. For example, back in 2009, San Diego State University removed its much loved “egg chairs” from the counseling center — in this case, after bed bugs were actually found in the chairs.

As always, the best idea is for employees to learn what to look for and regularly inspect potential hot spots like upholstered seating, especially in places with high traffic or turnover, like library seating and hotel room chairs.

Perhaps one of the experts here can tell us how feasible it would be to clean fecal stains off wool or leather chairs?

Or perhaps are there better upholstery fabric options, and carefully choosing fabrics is the way to go here…

Photo credit: DWR by Jeremy Noble (uberculture on flickr.com) used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

1 David Cain January 14, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Its always such a shame when we see such needless waste associated with bedbugs.

For the sake of less than the cost of a cheap plastic stool they could have put a program in place for the next 500 years which would have cost less than replacing the chairs themselves.

Its not the chairs that bring the bedbugs into the library, its the people who sit on them so reacting in this way has zero affect on the likelihood of the library getting infested in the future.

If the money that has been wasted on programs like this over the years the problem could be resolved in less than 4 years and without the pollution of the planet.

I quite literally despair when I see people do stupid things like this.

David Cain
Bed Bugs Limited

The world premier bedbug specialists.

2 Ci Lecto January 26, 2014 at 5:41 pm

People seem to have knee-jerk reactions to bed bugs. Right now, there’s a low “signal to noise ratio” on the information the public needs in order to fight bed bugs. The stuff people here, including from industry and academia, does not sound clear, consistent or trustworthy.

I’ve always liked “mid-century” design, even when it was out of favor. Now, I wonder if the people who created them were, consciously or not, thinking of how to create attractive items that were easy to inspect and clean, as these seem to be. Walk into the Grand Central branch of the NY Public Library and it would seem that they designed it for bed bugs: Wire chairs with removable cushions. Big “comfy chairs”, but with simple construction. Metal floating shelves.

Utah may have banned these chairs because not because these can’t be inspected or treated, but because perhaps they think they can prevent bed bugs if students don’t nap.

3 Tracy June 4, 2014 at 9:36 am

So, first many eggs and bugs were found directly on the womb chairs. In fact, the first bug spotted by a student was on one of the womb chairs.

Secondly, not all of the womb chairs were removed, only those in a large group study area on one floor where the bugs were first discovered.

And finally all of the chairs were “cooked” etc… to be disinfected and the chairs from that area were then sold at auction prices by University Redistribution. They were not destroyed or wasted.

There are still several womb chairs throughout the rest of the building.

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