Eames Lounge Chair Wood
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The Eames Lounge Chair Wood (LCW) (also known as Low Chair Wood or Eames Plywood Lounge Chair) is a low seated easy chair designed by husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames.
The chair was designed using technology for molding plywood that the Eames developed before and during the Second World War. Before American involvement in the war, Charles Eames and his friend, architect Eero Saarinen, entered a furniture group into the Museum of Modern Art's "Organic Design in Home Furnishings Competition" in 1940, a contest exploring the natural evolution of furniture in response to the rapidly changing world. Eames & Saarinen won the competition. However, production of the chairs was postponed due to production difficulties, and then by the United States' entry into WWII. Saarinen left the project due to frustration with production.
Charles Eames and his wife Ray Kaiser Eames moved to Venice Beach, CA in 1941. Charles took a job as a set painter for MGM Studios to support them. Ray, formally trained as a painter and sculptor, continued experiments with molded plywood designs in the spare room of their apartment. In 1942 Charles left MGM to begin making molded plywood splints for the United States Navy. The splints used compound curves to mimic the shape of the human leg. The experience of shaping plywood into compound curves contributed greatly to the development of the LCW.
The entries Charles Eames & Eero Saarinen submitted into the Organic Furniture competition were designed with the seat and backrest joined together in a single 'shell'. The plywood, however, was prone to crack when bent into the sharp curves the furniture demanded. The competition entries were covered with upholstery to hide these cracks.
Through extensive trial and error, Charles and Ray arrived at an alternate solution: create two separate pieces for the seat and backrest, joined by a plywood spine and supported by plywood legs. The result was a chair with a sleek and honest appearance. All of the connections were visible and the material was not hidden beneath upholstery. The seat was joined to the spine and legs with a series of four heavy rubber washers with nuts embedded in them (later these came to be called 'shock mounts'). The shock mounts were glued to the underside of the seat, and screwed in through the bottom of the chair. The backrest was also attached using shock mounts. From the front and top the seat and back are uninterrupted by fasteners. The rubber mounts were pliable, allowing the backrest to flex and move with the sitter. This unique technology is also one of the chair's greatest flaws. The shock mounts are glued to the wooden backrest, but may tear free for various reasons. A common response to this problem was to drill directly through the backrest and insert fasteners between the backrest and the lumbar support. This greatly devalues the chair, since it changes the original aesthetic of smooth, uninterrupted wooden forms.
Even though the plywood chair was a compromise of the Eames' vision to create a single shell chair it constituted a successful design. In tandem with the LCW the Eames created a family of plywood chairs, tables, and folding screens. The all-plywood Dining Chair Wood (DCW) was constructed in the same manner as the LCW, but with a narrower seat, and longer legs to bring the seat up to dining height. The Lounge Chair Metal (LCM) and Dining Chair Metal (DCM) were constructed of the same plywood seats and backrests as the LCW & DCW set on a welded metal frame. The success of 'The Plywood Group' caught the attention of George Nelson, design director of Herman Miller. Nelson convinced D.J.DePree, the owner of Herman Miller, to hire the Eames Office as designers and bring on production of the Eames plywood furniture.
Coming out of an age where furniture was heavy and complex; made from multiple materials and then covered in upholstery, the Eames design was a striking new way of looking at furniture and furniture design. The chair was produced from 1946 until 1947 by Evans Molded Plywood of Venice Beach, California for the Herman Miller furniture company in Zeeland, Michigan. In 1947 Herman Miller moved the production of the chairs to Michigan and has continued producing them until the present day (a brief period existed when the chairs were out of production). In Europe, Vitra became the producers of Eames furniture. Herman Miller and Vitra are the only two companies producing chairs licensed by the Eames estate as represented by the Eames Office.
Variants and collectibility
The chair continues to be an icon of modern design. It is retailed around the world and prices for new units continue to rise. In its 1999 millennium edition, Time Magazine hailed the LCW as the greatest design of the 20th century. It is valued for its comfort as well as a status symbol. Original production models are highly valued by collectors. Herman Miller has offered the LCW in a variety of wood veneers and upholsteries over the molded maple inner plies. The dates below refer to Herman Miller/North American production. No information on Vitra/European production was available.
|Finish type||Year(s) produced|
|Rosewood (dalbergia nigra)||1946-48, 1961–66|
|Rosewood (santos palisander)||2007–present|
|Cowhide||2009–2010 Limited Edition|
|Lacquered Red||1994–2008, 2009–2011|
|Lacquered Black||1994–2008, 2009–present|
|Aniline Dyed Yellow||1946-48, 2009-May 2010|
|Aniline Dyed Red||1946-58, 2009–present|
|Aniline Dyed Black||1946-66, 2009–2012|
|Aniline Dyed Orange, Blue, Green, White||2009-May 2010|
|Walnut||1946-58, 1962–66, 1994–present|
|Calico Ash||1946-1958, 1994–2012|
|White Ash (chemically treated)||2011–Present|
The value of chairs to collectors depends on many variables. Generally speaking chairs that are in true original condition, with intact labels, are valued the highest, especially those from the earliest production by Evans Co. Modifications to the backrest, refinishes, damages to the veneer, and excessive wear can reduce value.
- Eidelberg, Hine, Kirkham, Hanks, Peatross,Eames Lounge Chair, An Icon of Modern Design;2006
- Leslie Pinia, Classic Herman Miller; 1998