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Great Design: Eames Molded Plywood Chairs

Charles and Ray Eames officially debuted their all-time classic collection of molded plywood chairs in 1946, through manufacturer Herman Miller in Michigan.

The chairs were not a brand new idea for them: they had been experimenting for years with the revolutionary design material of molded plywood, and had gone through many stages of development. But when the chairs finally did debut, they were stunning, and era-changing. According to Time Magazine, the Eames molded plywood chair was the greatest design of the 20th century. Second place? The locomotive. High praise from high places. Time went on to say the Eames molded plywood chairs were "something elegant, light and comfortable. Much copied but never bettered."

Eames Molded Plywood Chair

The Eames molded plywood chairs were born out of creative fervor, inspiration, and a little luck. Charles and Ray first began experimenting with molded plywood while working for the Hollywood studios, doing set designs and construction. This new material was cheap, lightweight, and easy to bend and mold into whatever you could imagine.

War broke out in 1941, and by 1943 the Eames' material was so ripe with possibility that the United States Navy commissioned their office to develop plywood splints, stretchers, and glider shells, molded under heat and pressure, that were used successfully in World War II. The military contract revealed another advantage of the Eames molded plywood material: it could be mass-produced.

After the war, Charles and Ray Eames knew they had something big on their hands. They went to work developing high quality low manufacturing cost chairs, whose contours and curves would do the work of upholstery and cushions. The Eames molded plywood chairs were born. The only problem was the joint of the chair.

They found that the molded plywood wasn't strong enough to support both the back and the seat while maintaining a sharply curved joint, and so they added aluminum legs and supports structure. In the end, the aluminum supports actually improved the design, as the extraneous wood was cut away (fitting with the Eames molded plywood chair philosophy of simplicity and less-is-more) and the weight and profile of the chair were made cleaner and more elegant. The result took the design world by storm. A new material, a new kind of chair, and two huge new names had been born.

Sculpting a seat and back to fit the contours of the human body, they designed a truly comfortable chair that's suitable for businesses and homes. The Eames molded plywood chair is the gold standard for modern design.

 

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