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The Eames Era

June 2024
1min read

After World War I, things were supposed to go back to normal, but trying to remember “normal” proved harder than anyone thought. In the aftermath of World War II, Americans didn’t make that mistake. Things then were supposed to be different , and it was basic furniture that spoke of a fresh start to all those millions of Americans who were making their own fresh starts by moving into new homes.

In 1945 Ray Eames (rhymes with dreams ) and her husband, Charles, started introducing chairs that were clean and unencumbered, with a style so modern that it still smacks the eye today. The Eameses’ chairs were also strangely organic, despite being manufactured with high-tech processes and mass production.

Ray was an abstract painter, and Charles had been trained as an architect. After they were married, in 1941, a doctor friend told them about the Navy’s dire need for a new design for a leg splint. They studied the problem and produced an effective—and beautiful- splint, based on knowledge Charles had of a new way to shape lightweight plywood. The Navy ordered thousands, and the Eameses had the chance to perfect their production methods while establishing a design firm, the Eames Office, in Venice, California, which introduced three of the most influential chairs of the twentieth century:

DINING CHAIR: With a gently curving piece of plywood for the seat and another for the backrest, it came with wooden legs (known as DCW) or metal ones (DCM). Introduced 1945 ($100-$200).

FIBERGLASS ARMCHAIR: Also known as a “bucket” or “shell” chair, it was made from a composite of fiberglass and plastic. Introduced 1950 ($50-$2,500).

LOUNGE CHAIR AND OTTOMAN: Rosewood plywood and black leather made for a richer look than most Eames pieces convey. Introduced 1956 ($l,500-$5,000).

The Eames Office accepted commissions from corporations seeking to project an up-to-date image. In 1972 Charles was asked if he had ever been forced to accept compromises during a career spent working with big business. “I have never been forced to accept compromises,” he replied, “but I have willingly accepted constraints.” The response was spare and practical, like the furniture.

—J. M. Fenster

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