The Eames Identity

Americans Charles Eames and his wife, known as Ray, made some of the most significant contributions to the development of modern furniture. Although they also worked in graphic design, architecture, photography, fine art and film; their legacy remains in some of the world’s best-known designs of chairs.

The couple wanted to create designs that followed the natural contours of the body for the ultimate in comfort, yet were affordable, light and durable. As they died in the late seventies and eighties respectively, the origins of some of their greatest works has been lost behind a flood of replicas and imitations. Here you can discover the stories of some of the greatest chairs in history and how they came to be in your home today. 

LOUNGE CHAIR WOOD (1945-1946)

Named by Time Magazine as the greatest design of the 20th century, the Lounge Chair Wood (LCW) consisted of two separate pieces of plywood for the seat and backrest joined by a plywood spine and supported by plywood legs. It was designed using technology Charles developed at the start of WWII whilst commissioned to create leg splints for wounded soldiers by shaping plywood into compound curves. A version of this chair constructed in the same way but with a narrower seat and longer legs was created to make the all-plywood Dining Chair Wood (DCW) for sitting at a dinner table. Their organic lines were echoed throughout a family of plywood furniture including tables and folding screens known as the ‘Plywood Group’.

LOUNGE CHAIR METAL (1946)

As an extension of the ‘Plywood Group’ and iteration of the LCW, the Lounge Chair Metal (LCM) and Dining Chair Metal (DCM) were created, constructed of the same plywood seats and backrests as the LCW & DCW but set on a welded metal frame. The result was a chair that moved and flexed with the sitter and was stronger and more versatile than the LCW. A variety of wood is available for the seat and back sections or the chair could be padded and upholstered.

MOULDED PLASTIC / FIBREGLASS SIDE CHAIR (1948-1950)

Probably the most recognisable Eames chair to modern audiences, the infamous Eames Moulded Plastic Side Chair was actually a version of the first industrially produced plastic chair – the Eames Moulded Plastic Armchair, with its distinctive Eiffel Tower inspired wire base and range of crayon bright colours. Then came the Moulded Plastic Rocking Armchair (DAR) whose copies have become a nursery staple for the new millennium.

The Side Chair was next – a copy of which now graces most homes in some form or another. The wire mesh version of the side chair (DKR) was developed in 1951, for which you could buy triangular ‘bikini’ style cushions if you disliked grid lines in your cellulite.

You can pick an original Eames side chair by its size; modern versions and replicas have had the length of the legs increased and the geometry of the seat readjusted to cater to the increase in average human height. You will also find versions with swivel, dowel, stacking and four leg bases.

LOUNGE CHAIR AND OTTOMAN (1956)

The Eameses created furniture that would be affordable and mass-produced with the exception of the Lounge Chair and Ottoman. Designed for the Herman Miller furniture company to sell to a high-end market, it was released in 1956 to instant success, and has been in constant production ever since. Made from moulded plywood and leather, Charles’s vision was to create a chair with the warm, inviting look of a well-used baseball glove. It’s place in the dens of the educated and well moneyed was cemented when one lived for 11 years in the lounge of Seattle therapist Dr. Frasier Crane. Today an original from Herman Miller will set you back US$5000.

How do you think the Eamses would feel about the plethora of replicas available today? Perhaps they would be pleased to see their dreams of mass market furniture come to fruition, and a little flattered to know that their designs will endure for years to come.


For more advice on design & trends or any other home improvement projects, make sure you visit the upcoming Christchurch Home Show, 22-24 March at Horncastle Arena, Addington, to source quality products and services from 140+ quality home building and renovating businesses. Get free expert advice, inspirational ideas and great deals from leading industry experts and suppliers.  See www.christchurchhomeshow.co.nz to book your tickets and for more info!