Design Icon #2: Plastic Chairs by Charles & Ray Eames

Design icon 2 plastic chairs eames

Today for the section dedicated to design icons, I’ll share with you the Plastic Chairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1950: the very first mass-produced plastic chairs in the history of furniture…

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The Plastic Chairs by Ray and Charles Eames are a line of chairs, produced by Vitra, available both for the home and for the office. The chairs are made of polypropylene and are treated with special additives to slow down the process of discoloration due to UV rays. The legs available are very different: chrome, painted in gray or maple or adjustable swivel in height, available with different wheels for soft surfaces or the hard ones.  Eames Plastic can be stacked or request with lateral coupling to lock laterally to another chair. Alse, they are available in different colors, to fit in every home or office. Today Vitra manufactures the comfortable seat shells of the Plastic Side Chairs and Plastic Armchairs in polypropylene, offering a multitude of bases, shell colours and upholstery options. This allows customers to specify countless different combinations and to use the chairs in the widest range of settings – from dining rooms, living rooms and home offices to office workspaces and conference rooms; from restaurants and cafés to break rooms and cafeterias; from waiting areas and auditoriums to terraces and gardens.

Behind the Design

“Getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least”: with these words, Charles and Ray Eames described one of their main goals as furniture designers. None of their other designs come as close to achieving this ideal as the Plastic Chairs. For years, the designer couple explored the fundamental idea of a one-piece seat shell moulded to fit the contours of the human body. After experiments with plywood and sheet aluminium in the 1940s produce unsatisfactory results, their search for alternative materials led them to glass-fibre reinforced polyester resin.

The Eameses recognised and fully exploited the advantages of the material: mouldability, rigidity, pleasant tactile qualities, suitability for industrial manufacturing methods. With this material, which was previously unknown in the furniture industry, they successfully developed the shell designs for serial production. After their debut at the ‘Low-Cost Furniture Design’ competition organised by the Museum of Modern Art in 1948, the Plastic Armchair (A-shell) and Plastic Side Chair (S-shell) were launched on the market in 1950 and they are still in production by Vitra.
The Eames Plastic Chairs also introduced a new furniture typology that has since become widespread: the multifunctional chair whose shell can be joined with a variety of different bases to serve diverse purposes. As early as 1950, Charles and Ray Eames presented a series of bases that enabled various sitting positions. An especially striking model is the so-called Eiffel Tower base – an intricate and graceful design made of steel wire that inimitably combines light, elegant forms with structural strength.

Here is a little bit of inspiration

Thanks to the various combinations available, the Plastic Chairs allows you to play in different ways to get you unique look…

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Designer

Now it’s time to talk about the amazing Ray and Charles Eames, the designers of this design icon…

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Charles and Ray Eames are counted among the most important figures of twentieth-century design. Their work spans the fields of furniture design, filmmaking, photography and exhibition design.

Charles Eames was born in 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri.  He attended school there and developed an interest in engineering and architecture.  After attending Washington University in St. Louis on scholarship for two years and being thrown out for his advocacy of Frank Lloyd Wright, he began working in an architectural office. In 1930, Charles started his own architectural office.  He began extending his design ideas beyond architecture and received a fellowship to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he eventually became head of the design department.

Ray Kaiser Eames was born in 1912 in Sacramento, California.  She studied painting with Hans Hofmann in New York before moving on to Cranbrook Academy where she met and assisted Charles and Eero Saarinen in preparing designs for the Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Furniture Competition.  Charles and Eero’s designs, created by molding plywood into complex curves, won them the two first prizes.

Charles and Ray married in 1941 and moved to California where they continued their furniture design work with molding plywood and then with glass-fibre reinforced polyester resin.  A design critic once said that this extraordinary couple “just wanted to make the world a better place.” They succeeded. They also made it much more interesting…

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If you want to know more about the Eameses’ work and philosophy, check out these interesting books:

The World of Charles and Ray Eames, by  Catherine Ince and Lotte Johnson here

Eames, by Brigitte Fitoussi here 

An Eames Anthology: Articles, Film Scripts, Interviews, Letters, Notes, and Speeches, by Charles Eames, Ray Eames and Daniel Ostroff here

Charles Eames famously said, “The role of the designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.” With the molded plastic, fiberglass, and wood shell chairs—as well as the wire chair—the Eames have created a universal response to what everyone wants from a
chair: a simple, gracious form that fits any body and every place… Do you like as much as I do these chairs by Ray and Charles Eames?

Do you miss the first chapter of design icon about the Arco lamp by Castiglioni brothers? You can read it here 🙂

-Roberta

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