Of all the designs, all the wonderful furniture pieces of Charles and Ray Eames, it is surely the Side Chairs that we see, know and love the most.
Even if we don’t physically own them, we must all know them, have seen or used them and their notoriety is not without good reason, they were designs that transformed the way we see furniture. What is even more remarkable is just how many amazing designs were produced and in so many materials. From plywood and fiberglass to aluminium and steel, the side chairs of Charles and Ray Eames are still as fresh today as the day they were conceived.
Charles Eames once said that the ‘design is in the details’ and this ethic was certainly put into good practice through the years and more than evident in his side chair designs. Take an overused saying such as ‘way ahead of its time’ for instance and apply it to most designs and the simple truth is it is not the case. But this is part of what made the side chair designs of Charles and Ray Eames so enduring, so popular, so versatile and so brilliant, because they were indeed, well ahead of their time.
Imagine post war design in the 1940’s and 1950’s, with materials scarce and traditional design very much the norm. It took creativity, perseverance and ingenuity to change that and the way people saw the future of design and furniture. The side chair designs took into account ergonomics (and who had even heard of this term until the 1990’s), it took into account the look and feel of new materials, it weighed up the cost and value to reflect the times, they offered modern and interesting concept and visual beauty and above all met the needs of the user in every single way.
It all began with the plywood series, the DCM and LCM with metal legs against the golden hue of the veneer and the DCW and LCW with the all wood look. Despite the use of wood, look closely and you could see bent plywood layers curved and molded into something quite special, very new and yet always comfortable. These were a real change to what was generally available in the US at the time and the new methods of harnessing the natural (and sustainable) materials was paramount to the success. The chair series was popular and even with this first foray into the commercial selling of furniture, Charles had already attracted a design that had been coined with the phrase ‘Eames Chair’.
Rather than resting on his laurels with the strength and success of the plywood series, Charles and the team of the original Eames Office would go on to provide even better Side Chairs and from more and more materials. The 1950 release of the Fiberglass Arm chairs and subsequent Side Chairs would be the pinnacle and perhaps the design we most associate with Eames. Originally intended to be made with Aluminum, the fiberglass material provided the means to mass produce the chairs with the strength and durability required with a very low net cost to each.
The fiberglass models were numerous due to the ingenious design of being able to interchange the tops of the series with multiple bases. This gave rise to such a versatile seating series that was good for both homes, commercial or workplace use. Some of the most well-known designs include the dowel leg DSW and DAW, the Eiffel base DSR and DAR, the rocking RAR and RSR, workplace PSC and PAC as well as the DSS stacking chairs used in great numbers in institutions throughout the US and beyond.
Hot on the heels of the fiberglass series was a personal favorite of Charles, the K-Wire series. In large parts the hard work was already done as the shape of the tops were exact to the fiberglass side chairs and the interchanging bases were the same. They were constructed using steel wire which was then resistance welded into place. The PKX, PKC and DKW were the most famous of the wire chair series.
The prolificacy of the early period subsided as the focus of the Eames Office would be elsewhere. The most notable inclusion to the portfolio of Side Chairs would be the Alu Group of 1958 and the Soft Pad side chairs of a decade later.
The Side Chairs of Charles and Ray Eames are designs that endure, that develop, that we all know and all love.