Whether we even knew (or not) the name of the inventor, the maker or the model, one thing is almost for certain, we have probably all at some point used, seen and experienced the seating of Charles and Ray Eames.
From humble beginnings in the spare room of their Hollywood apartment, to the heights of being the US’ most famous design team, Charles and Ray Eames will always be most synonymous with furniture and especially the famous seating designs that will no doubt outlive us all.
You could be forgiven for comparing the career of the seating designs of Charles Eames to that of a rock star or band! The early days had the spark of invention and touch of genius before making it big with a flurry of huge hits, then transforming into quieter years and even a posthumous release or two. Of course, even Charles would admit he had a helping hand along the way. He once famously stated that ‘whatever he could do, Ray could do better’ a quote as an ode to the support of his wife and partner in crime. There was the talented team at the original Eames Office over the years and of course the commitment and enterprise of Herman Miller, George Nelson and family friend Alexander Girard to name just a few.
Charles’ first notable seating and furniture designs occurred in his years at the Cranbrook Academy, producing some pieces of note in collaboration with his great friend and peer Eero Saarinen for the Organic Furniture competition held by the Museum of Modern Art in 1940. These early years were essential in Charles’ development, especially in terms of the experience he gained, the friends he made and the connections he forged for the future.
Charles developed his skills immensely and was at the forefront of pioneering new materials in which to work with. His early attempts at molding plywood would be the catalyst to a great collaboration with the Evans Plywood Company, one which would essentially kick-start his career and turn those early experiments into fully fledged marketable seating.
The first of the plywood seating designs to hit the market were the Children’s Nested Chairs and Stools, a limited series of 5000 beautiful pieces in differing color finishes. The small measure of success with the early Children’s chairs was more of a measure of the Evans company’s expertise in marketing and distribution than it was the designs of Charles. Up stepped Herman Miller, first as distributor and then later as product and design owner, to really getting things moving. The first adult series of plywood chairs, the DCM, LCM, DCW and LCW went on (through a great deal of hard work) to be a fantastic success with the series becoming known to many as ‘The Eames Chair’.
For many designers, even getting to the production stage for one or a handful of designs can be a lifetime achievement, but for Charles it was only the beginning. With a team of talented people assembled together in the original Eames Office, the output was the gift that kept on giving. From a design originally intended to be made from aluminium came one of, if not the most, versatile and practical furniture designs ever. Not only was this seating series practical, adaptable, functional, durable and beautiful it also matched the real design need for low cost (post war) 1950’s seating, it was of course the fiberglass plastic seating range.
Made from molded fiberglass, the plastic arm and side chairs were an unbelievable success. Available with an array of different bases from a home rocking chair to commercial stacking and stadium seating, the fiberglass chairs became the go to option for everything. The DAW and DSW had gorgeous wooden dowel legs, the famous DAR & DSR Eiffel Chairs mirrored the look of the famous tower, the RAR Rocking Chair was for the youngest member of the household and the workplace PAC and DAT desk chairs were so practical and useful.
The 1950’s swiftly moved along and design after design would emanate form the house of Charles and Ray Eames. The hugely successful fiberglass sides would also lead to Wire versions using the same bases, namely the DKR, DKX, LKR and DKW. Following the real need for early 50’s post war furniture, by 1956 Herman Miller commissioned Charles to turn his attention to designing and producing seating with a luxurious vision. Just when one may expect that things couldn’t get any better, Charles stepped up to the plate and produced what is perhaps the most iconic seating and furniture design of all time, the Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman. A combination of his pioneering plywood work, gorgeous best leather and sumptuous cushioning, the Eames Lounge Chair is undoubtedly one of the most comfortable and beautiful designs to grace the industry. Still as popular now as the day it was invented and certainly one of the most inspirational and most copied pieces ever.
Following in the Lounge Chair footsteps were the luxurious 1958 Alu Group Chairs. A beautiful combination of fabrics and polished aluminium. They were versatile and available as Alu Loungers, Alu Desk and dining chairs and Alu Recliners. This wonderful seating design would be widened into the 1960’s with the Time Life Chairs and the Soft Pad Work and Loungers added too. The 60’s would also see more in the way of workplace seating such as the Intermediate Chair and other designs such as the Sling Seating, 3473 Sofa and even a chaise longue designed for acting royalty too.
It was fair to say that by the last decade of Charles Eames’ life his attention was very much focused on more artistic ventures and the output of seating designs had slowed to the point where only one or two new designs would appear including that of the Loose Cushion Armchair. Following Charles’ untimely passing in 1978 there was a Herman Miller posthumous release of an Eames Teak Sofa in 1984 and even a reproduction of some of his concept work by the European maker Vitra in the 90’s of his La Chaise and Plywood Elephant design.
Charles and Ray Eames produced a great deal of high quality designs and work that will continue to grow new audiences as time passes but it will always be their famous seating that we will remember the most.