For nearly eight decades, Eames designs, synonymous with blue-chip mid-century modern, have influenced American architecture and furniture. Conceptualized and executed by Charles and Ray Eames, a married couple who worked collaboratively from 1941 to 1978, Eames furniture continues to appeal to a broad audience and are greatly valued for their pared-down, elegant forms and timeless comfort. While the Eames chair is perhaps the duo’s best known and iconic contribution, Charles and Ray also designed the interior and exterior of their home, produced decorative art in a variety media, and even developed a plywood leg sprint used by medical officers during World War II.
Charles and Ray Eames shared the belief that, no matter the medium, form follows function; or, as Charles put it, “Design addresses itself to the need.” The Eames’ sincere interest in human form and experience guided their artistic process and undoubtedly helped to ensure their legacy as two of America’s most beloved designers of mid-century modern furniture, with Eames chair designs at the helm.
Who are Charles and Ray Eames?
Charles Eames, Jr. (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1913-1988) met in 1940 while studying at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. They began working collaboratively soon thereafter, favoring practical and modern designs, and also developed a working relationship with Eero Saarinen, a Finnish-American architect known for his neo-futurist style.
Charles and Ray Eames married in 1941 and moved to Los Angeles, where they designed their home, Eames House, with the help of Saarinen. They quickly rose to prominence during the 1940s, producing popular textile designs, graphics, and various works in plywood. Their work during this time was especially experimental and informed later Eames chair designs, many of which were created the following decade. Charles and Ray lived in Eames House for the remainder of their lives, working closely with one another as they developed their timeless pieces.
7 Quintessential Eames Chair Styles
1. Eames Molded Plywood Chair
Charles and Ray experimented extensively with plywood during World War II, making leg splints and aircraft components to help with the war effort. They conceived the Eames Molded Plywood Chair in 1946, using their knowledge of the medium to craft its elegant design. The chair was introduced to the public at the Metropolitan Museum, where it was exhibited in a tumbling machine to demonstrate its industrial strength and durability. Its curved form, which almost hugs the sitter in a relaxed, upright posture, is a feature that is reimagined in later Eames chairs to serve the various needs of consumers.
Eames Molded Plywood Chairs are available as lounging (Low Chair-Wood, or “LCW”) and dining (Dining Chair-Wood, or “DCW”) versions with wooden legs and as lounging (Low Chair-Metal, or “LCM”) and dining (Dining Chair-Metal, or “DCM”) versions with metal legs. There is also a Child’s Chair, available in saturated hues of red, blue, yellow, black, and magenta with an endearing heart-shaped motif on the back of the chair. This Eames chair style typically sells for $2,000 to $3,000, although especially rare or well-kept pieces can sell for up to $15,000.
2. Eames Fiberglass Chair
Wood remained a popular medium for furniture designers during the 1950s, but there was also an increasing interest in more modern and industrial-grade materials during this time. Fiberglass, a type of glass-reinforced plastic, was widely used during World War II as a replacement for plywood aircraft parts. Both media are lightweight, easily moldable, and durable. The transition from plywood to fiberglass, therefore, was natural for Charles and Ray.
The Eames Fiberglass Chair hit the market in 1950 and 1951 and, like the Eames Molded Plywood Chair, was a huge success. The seat is composed of a singular fiberglass sheet molded to hold the sitter in a sturdy yet cradled fit. Eames Fiberglass Chairs are available in a variety of popular 1950s colors – Elephant Hide Grey, Parchment, Greige (a combination of grey and beige), Orange Red, Sea Foam Green, and Lemon Yellow – and in different models.
The Dining Side Rod (DSR) is admired for its unique, interconnected metal chrome base, which has led to its nickname as “the Eiffel chair.” There are also several variations of a model called the Shell Chair, referencing the molded fiberglass “shell” that comprises the seat. Shell chairs are available with or without arms and may have a wooden or metal base. The bases are constructed in different ways, with either four simple legs (Dining Side Chairs with Stacking Base, or “DSS”) or a rolling base, and a rocking version is available as well. Eames Fiberglass Chairs can sell anywhere from $100 to $3,000, depending on the model and condition.
3. Eames Wire Chair
Inspired by the widespread use of wire during the 1950s, Charles and Ray Eames invented the Eames Wire Chair in 1951. This chair borrows from the form of the Eames Fiberglass Chair but does so through a carefully constructed design of intersecting wires. In fact, the Wire Chair was in many ways a response to the technical difficulties that Charles and Ray Eames experienced while designing the Fiberglass Shell Chair, which cracked along the sides due to the weight of the sitter.
According to Charles, “we thought we would go to the opposite extreme and do a molded, body-conforming shell depending on many, many connections—but connections that we as an industrial society were prepared to cope with on the production level. If you looked around you found these fantastic things being made of wire—trays, baskets, rat traps, using a wire fabricating technique perfected over a period of many years. We looked into it and found that it was a good production technique and also a good use of material. Before the molded plastic chair had been solved, the molded wire chair was well under way.”
Eames Wire Chairs are always composed of a wire base, but they can also include an optional full-piece leather seat pad or a crisscross, two-piece “bikini” pad. They are also available with a simple four-leg base, an “Eiffel” base, or a rocking base and come in a variety of colors. This Eames chair typically sells between $500 and $2,000.
4. Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman, perhaps the Eames’ most famous design, was introduced in 1956 and has been made and sold by Herman Miller continuously since then. The inspiration behind this chair, according to Eames Office, is that it should have “the warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.”
Like the Eames’ previous designs, this chair envelops the sitter in a cozy, cradled position. However, it dials up the comfort by tilting the sitter’s body into a reclined position, effectively taking the weight off of the spine. Each chair and ottoman are constructed with a plywood base with leather and button tufting and are available in a variety of colors. Since there is considerable demand for the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman, Vitra, a Swiss family-owned furniture company, is authorized to sell this furniture set abroad, particularly in Europe and the Middle East. This Eames chair typically sells between $1,500 and $7,000.
5. Eames Aluminum Group Chair
Charles and Ray created the Eames Aluminum Group Chair in 1958 at the request of their close friend Saarinen, who wanted a chair design that would fit the aesthetic of his mid-century modern home. The frame of the chair is made with aluminum cast in one piece, and in this way is conceptualized in a similar manner as the Eames Fiberglass Chair. However, this design also combines the comfort of leather with a sleek, office-appropriate look. The wheels at the bottom of the legs add to its functionality, as well. All of these features work together to create a multi-functional chair well suited to both the workplace and a home office.
There are several variations of the Eames Aluminum Group Chair. The Side Chair, available with or without arms, consists of a chromed aluminum chair with the seat and back upholstered with black leather. This particular model encourages the sitter to assume an upright posture. The Lounge Chair, in contrast, has a higher back than the Side Chair and tilts back slightly, promoting a more casual lounging experience, as its name suggests. Eames Aluminum Group Chairs are typically priced between $500 and $2,000.
6. Eames Lobby Chair
In 1960, Henry Luce, the founder of Time, Inc., commissioned Charles and Ray to create the Eames Lobby Chair, or “Time Life Lobby Chair.” This model combines the overall shape of the Eames Aluminum Group Chair with the luxury of the Eames Lounge Chair, using the same leather with button tufting to create a more inviting appearance. As the name suggests, this design was intended for use in lobbies or conference rooms, but it could equally serve as an office or desk chair. The Eames Lobby Chair sells for $2,000 to $6,000 and can be purchased with or without an accompanying ottoman.
7. Eames Soft Pad Group Chair
Charles and Ray Eames designed the Eames Soft Pad Group Chair in 1969. The structure of this chair is similar to the Eames Aluminum Group Chair from 1958, but the use of cushions on the seat and back transform this earlier model into a more luxurious version. The sewn-on cushions, covered by either leather or fabric, adapt to the form of the sitter and provide more comfort than the Aluminum Group Chair. Eames Soft Pad Group Chairs are lightweight and feature adjustable frames. They are available with or without arms and with backs of varying heights, and there is also a version with no back. They typically sell between $1,800 and $4,500.
How to Buy an Authentic Eames Chair
The best way to ensure that an Eames chair is authentic is to purchase it directly from Herman Miller, Vitra, or an accredited auction house that has experts overseeing the sale. Many Eames chairs also have decals or stencils on the underside of the chair indicating where the chair was produced and sold. Eames Molded Plywood Chairs, for example, usually have an Evans decal or Herman Miller stencil. However, this is not always the case, so when in doubt it is best to consult with a decorative art specialist to determine whether or not an Eames chair is authentic.
Charles and Ray Eames dedicated their lives to perfecting their craft. Their chairs are perhaps their most treasured contribution, striking the perfect balance between modernity, comfort, and practicality. The genius of their designs is evidenced by the overwhelming presence of their chairs in homes and workplaces across the world, as well as the countless references to Eames chairs in pop culture. It seems that Charles and Ray fully understood the appeal of their aesthetic – as Charles put it, “Whoever said that pleasure wasn’t functional?”
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