The Origins of the Eames Office Chair

Charles and Ray Eames remain amongst the greatest designers of the modern era. True polymaths, they created groundbreaking films, buildings and textiles. In furniture, they produced iconic designs that combined sleek aesthetics, major technical achievements and, above all else, comfort. Today, their legacy lives on in a whole of range of Eames chairs inspired by their work. Amongst the Eameses' most famous designs was the Aluminium Group, commonly known these days as Eames office chairs.

The design was born out of a challenge set almost sixty years ago. The Miller House is now a National Historic Landmark, but in the mid-1950s it was a building site. The house was to be the epitome of modern design and its interior uncluttered, but homely. Girard was a long time collaborator of the Eameses and asked them to design high-quality seating that could be used both inside and outside the house.

Charles and Ray Eames’ chair was to be a revolution. The seat frame was made from cast aluminium, making it light enough to be moved in and out fo the house easily, whilst also being strong enough to resist the inevitable bumps and knocks. The frame was designed to support a stretched synthetic mesh. The material was secure, but fitted loosely enough that it could conform to the body of anyone sitting in it. This mesh was not a standard cover for the seat, but an integral, load bearing part of the chair’s design. This form of seat suspension was a major technical breakthrough, throwing out the rulebook that had existed since the Ancient Greeks which said chairs should be a solid shell.

The potential of this Eames chair was quickly realised. The Miller House was completed in 1957 and in 1958 the chair was released to the mass market as the Aluminium Group and has been on sale ever since. Times and circumstances move on and the design has seen some notable changes over the years. Nowadays the chairs are used almost exclusively indoors and have become associated with corporate environments such as offices, boardrooms and the like: hence the unofficial title “the Eames Office Chair”. To accommodate this change of environment, the original synthetic mesh was removed. It was designed for outdoor use and its removal allowed a wider variety of fabrics and upholstery to be fitted. New fittings have included different, more modern forms of mesh, fabric upholstery and, perhaps most famously, black padded leather.

Nowadays, the Eames’s legacy lives on in a range of chairs inspired by the Eames office chair. These new designs borrow many of the chair’s key features while continuing the process of innovation that the original designers so valued. In describing his design philosophy, Charles Eames used the parable of a banana leaf; used as a simple dish in southern India, the banana leaf was gradually made more and more ornate, until some finally returned to just using the simple leaf.

"I'm not prepared to say that the banana leaf that one eats off of is the same as the other eats off of, but it's that process that has happened within the man that changes the banana leaf"

This philosophy of returning to and recognising the elegance of simplicity can be seen in the designs the Eames have inspired.

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Comments: 3
  • #1

    Hanz (Saturday, 14 July 2012 00:11)

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  • #2

    Filda (Wednesday, 08 August 2012 11:03)

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  • #3

    Juicer Review (Wednesday, 10 April 2013 17:49)

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