Surprisingly there isn’t a great deal to be found on the background of the wonderful tables Charles and Ray created. To look at them we can surmise that they wanted them to be able to perform, but at the same time, have a genuine and simple classic appeal.
The single segmented base tables were designed and manufactured from 1964 and took their inspiration from the conference room. Functionality was crucial as ever and practicality always won versus attractiveness. Clean lines are commonplace throughout all Eames tables regardless of whether their anticipated destination was to be the conference room or a family lounge.
In an old vintage photo of the couple’s lounge you can see Eames coffee tables on display as a regular part of their family life. In fact, Eames products are everywhere. They were obviously proud of their work and celebrated the work of others.
A vintage photograph of Charles and Ray Eames. (Source: The New York Times)
Ray Eames once said that, ‘What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts.’ Durability mattered then and it still matters. The type of people who aspire to own Eames furniture are not those who subscribe to the throw-away culture of consumerism. They are those that want their homes and offices to say something about who they are and what they admire. They value quality, simplicity and maybe even function over form, with the long-term view of investing in items that will last a lifetime.
There are a range of different tables made from different materials. There is the classic plywood collection made with either wooden or metal legs, as well as the single segmented base tables, perhaps with more of a professional edge, incorporating tops that are made from veneer, melamine, beech or walnut. These segmented base tables came with a four-star base, which can be fitted with castors to suit the intended context within which the piece is housed. The modular units support tops of different lengths and widths so as to increase usability in multiple and varying arenas.
These tables do not look out of place in homes or in boardrooms (the latter preferably surrounded by Eames office chairs!). One might be a suitable centre-piece for the lounge; the setting for a candle lit dinner for two, or maybe the companion to a co-worker in the midst of a business deal. Whatever place it may take, an Eames table belongs right at the heart of the room it’s within, serving those surrounding it with serious aplomb.
Most of us would approach our work with a sense of appreciation for a pay cheque. It is the luxury of a few to be ready for the working day, knowing that the challenges within it invigorate and somehow bring us alive. Ray and Charles certainly had that luxury, even though they worked hard and were so prolific in the body of work they created. When they approached a project with their team there would be certain questions asked: ‘Does it interest or intrigue us? Can we make it better? Can we have fun doing it?’
What do you get when you put artistic problem solvers, who aren’t afraid of failure, in a room together? An outstanding product that breaks boundaries. When you add into the mix a focus on the human connection and thoughtful consideration of need, you get an Eames product.
The Herman Miller black leather aluminium group chair and soft pad office chair are a breath of fresh air to the work place. Designed in 1958, this product—like their others—broke the mould in terms of process. Well-versed in the use of plywood and plastic their focus shifted this time to the use of aluminium and fabric. It wasn’t their first use of metal; the practice perhaps came from creating the wire base for chairs in 1951, but this was the first time that aluminium brackets were used to hold the fabric, thus creating the shell. This shell—completely different in concept from what had gone before it—was just as comfortable, flexible and appealing to the eye as everything that had been invented by Charles. The adjustable castor base, simplicity of filigree profile and leather upholstery make this a perfect luxury item for any office. It’s difficult to believe that these chairs originally started their life as indoor and outdoor chairs. One would like to think they should be protected behind a desk in our homes or offices.
Aluminium was always in the running to be the material of choice due to its durability, lightness, resistance to corrosion and capacity to carry a load. Although the frame may have remained the same, the weather resistant seat fabric was updated to soft and luxurious leather, which we all know only gets better with age.
A long standing relationship with Herman Miller meant that Eames’ creations were produced and shipped from the Herman Miller factory in the United States from the late 1950s.
It is easy to see that the love of inventing and connection flowed into every item. There was the goal to make people feel comfortable while they worked—it was as simple as that, and to be honest, it should be that simple. You also have to admit though that the chair looks pretty awesome, from any angle, and although it doesn’t have to make you feel better about working for your pay cheque, we wouldn’t hold it against you if you did.
With Charles and Ray Eames it was obvious that it wasn't just about style, which is incredible considering their iconic creations have influenced the decades that have proceeded them. Functionality and being fit for a specific purpose was and will always be a crucial element of what they have crafted, but now, to us, they are also clean, professional and, let's be honest, ooze iconic style.
But let’s go back for a moment and think about the Eames Fibreglass Armchair, which is perhaps one of their most famous pieces. How did it come about?
It originated because of a problem. The classic armchair first saw the light of day as an answer to the problem of affordable furniture following the second world war. The need was urgent and the Eames brand answered the call. It had to meet the need and be affordable for every-day people. The chairs were first produced with a metal 'H' base and with a choice of three colours but the colour palette and base options expanded to satisfy both the wallet and the eye. A range of these can be seen in our shop including the 'H' base, which according to an Eames family member, was their favourite as it was much more practical and functional. The 'X' model is a favourite with collectors and is—along with the other styles—available for those looking to convey a message of vintage class.
The Eames Armchair range is loved because of its flexibility and strength. Its ability to be mass produced, look and feel good was perfect for the time period. Made from polyester reinforced fiberglass or Zenaloy (created in World War II by the US Army), it took a high degree of product development and investment. Over the years manufacturing processes have taken into account the environmental impact of the chair’s production to create a safer workplace for production staff, which can only be a good thing.
So, what started as a solution to a problem became the birthing place of creativity that many have tried to emulate. 'Surrendering to the design journey' as Charles or Ray would say, came about from their indwelling passion to meet a need. We have the same challenges ahead of us. It isn't always about innovation, although it certainly has its place. Perhaps a job finished and well done will always imbue us with a fuzzy glow of achievement but, Charles and Ray managed to go further than that with The Eames Fibreglass Armchair. It signified both dignity and comfort, all at the same time.
There is no doubt that when we sit on a vintage Eames Armchair from the comfort of our office, dining table, nursery or lounge we are sitting on a piece of history that changed the market then, and continues to influence design now. Owning an Eames piece we have the immense privilege of being connected with Charles and Ray—the great problem solvers—as we continue the Eames story in our own lives and add to their heritage and legacy.
There aren't many items of furniture that you can point to, which claim luxury and comfort in one breath. Sometimes the style of a piece can be overly complex in its quest to look impressive and end up compromising the pleasure of actually sitting on it.
There’s no lack of integrity, however in using the words ‘luxury’ and ‘comfort' when describing the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. Back in the chair’s embryonic stage it was said that its creators wanted it to feel like sitting in a well worn baseball mitt and perhaps—like the mitt—it would only improve over time as the chair and owner became more intimately acquainted.
There are a number of films and television series featuring this iconic duo that give a nod to the refined tastes and personal statements of the characters fortunate enough to own them. For example, it was easily placed in Tony Starks sea view villa in Iron Man and is illustrated in the animated spy dark comedy Archer. It featured in Click with Adam Sandler and is a well worn companion of Dr Frasier Crane in Frasier. Other films and series, portraying any kind of grand residence or mansion are on safe ground featuring this opulent furniture as part of its furnishing family.
Charles Eames once said, “Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.” The Eames Fiberglass Armchair was made to solve a problem in its day, but the Lounge Chair and Ottoman are the choice of those with good taste and an inherent understanding of design. In comparison to the other Eames creations there is an unapologetic stand alone quality to the Lounge chair and its partner, they are at ease in their alignment with decadence and class. Those with the means or determination to possess the pair know what it is to take pleasure seriously.
It would be easy to think that this rather magnificent creation is a contradiction to the desire of the Eames couple to solve problems and cater for the everyday person rather than just surrender to style. Perhaps it is. However, Charles and Ray were just doing what they had to do. To live was to create, and just as they lived, they had to keep creating, manifesting that which was within them.
Saul Bass (1920-1996), a graphic designer and filmmaker once said, “I just want to make beautiful things even if nobody cares.” Could this indwelling creative momentum be one that also spurred Charles and Ray to such great design feats? They couldn’t help it—inertia was not their playmate. They had managed, with meticulous planning and attention to detail, to make something so beautiful and with such masculine elegance and were not about to apologise for doing so. The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman continue to beckon us to come sit, comfortably, with our feet up, a smile on our face and our heart full of joy.