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The Eames Aluminum Group Chairs: Design Story

Smart Furniture is very proud to offer our customers the Eames Aluminum Group Chairs from the Herman Miller catalogue. We're excited as well; these are some of the most famous and well regarded chairs ever made, and their hip, retro-cool look still works beautifully in modern and classical design schemes. The chairs are modern without being mod and dated, and their timeless grace and elegance is proved by their continued popularity around the world. But, almost as important as the beauty and comfort of the chairs is their historicity. Our partnership with Herman Miller has given us access to dozens of pieces of famous and historical furniture, but none of it has quite the critical reputation and cache that the furniture of Charles and Ray Eames possesses. These aluminum series chairs are no different. To own one of them is to own museum quality furniture, to own a piece of design history, and an authentic Eames Chair. This article is about the story behind the distinctive design of the chairs; a story that became history, and that now has a place in the annals of great design.

Eames Aluminum Group Chairs

The Eames Aluminum Group Chairs, like most of the things Charles and Ray Eames built for Herman Miller, have a fascinating history. They were conceived as something almost totally different than they are today, but they quickly evolved into the icons of modern furniture that they are. They were not only designed for a different use, but they were also designed for a different audience. At first they were meant as a single line for a single home, a favor to a friend; but it quickly became clear that they could be much more than that; that they could very well be the next in the long and unbroken line of Charles and Ray Eames furniture triumphs at Herman Miller.

The materials, which make up such a prominent part of the furniture's name, were different at the beginning. It's a testament to the improvisational skills of Charles and Ray, the vision of Herman Miller, and their lack of ego and stubbornness that allowed these chairs to develop into a legitimate force on the modern furniture scene. There aren't many design stories that start in one place and end with a piece of furniture so different from its original conception, but this is one of them, and one of the most interesting.

Originally the chairs were commissioned for the home of J. Irwin Miller, the founder of Cummins Engines. His house was being jointly designed by Eero Saarinen (a mentor and contemporary for Charles and Ray) and also Alexander Girard, himself a very well respected designer. Charles and Ray were friends of theirs, and while working on the house they challenged them to come up with a great chair, a quality chair, that was to be used outdoors primarily, but could also work indoors on occasion. The Eameses took on the challenge with no reservations, and in no time at all they had come up with a chair that offered solutions to a number of different problems; the indoor-outdoor problem, the comfort problem, and the adjustment problem.

Eames Aluminum Management Chair

It would have as its seat and seat back a mesh fabric that would be able to withstand rain and the elements without having to be taken indoors or taken care of. It would just dry after a rain and maintain its look and structural integrity besides. As far as comfort went, they stretched a continuous piece of the mesh between two long aluminum ribs, and this created a revolutionary comfort pocket. It was like sitting in a well-appointed sling, wrapped in the luxury and style of a classic chair. Because the chairs were so beautiful, it became clear to Herman Miller that the chairs they designed could also be used indoors; they were attractive enough and sized well enough that that would work as well. For the main material, the structural material, they used aluminum, a rare metal to be used in fine furniture at the time.

As far as looks go, or perhaps design principles, the Eames Aluminum Group Chairs were somewhat similar to the earlier molded plywood lounge chair. They didn't have the undulations or the curves on the actual seat, but the aluminum ribs were certainly curvy. They didn't have a seat that was wider than the seat back, but they did have a smaller seat back and a larger seat, inverting the normal process and echoing the look of the LCW. Of course, both were made by the same two designers and shared a certain whimsical, technological, modern sensibility. But there the comparisons have to stop; this was a very different chair than the LCW in a lot of ways, not the least of which was its indoor/outdoor design. The Eames Aluminum Group Chair has earned its place alongside the other Eames creations as an equal, and for good reason.

The first chair they built, for the Cummins home, was mesh and slightly different than the finished product still on sale today. This was the prototype for the chairs we now know as the Eames Aluminum Group Chairs. But it soon became clear, through the sheer technical genius of the original model and the beauty of its lines, that this was a chair with real potential on the American market, and real potential as a high-style indoor only piece of work. Quickly, major changes began to take place, altering the look and feel of the chair, not to mention the category it belonged in (it was moving from all purpose to high industrial art). The true Eames Aluminum Group Chair was born in this process of re-imagining and re-structuring. And that process is the story of the design.

Eames Aluminum Management Chair

Today there are several models of the chair, all of which were born in that period of creativity. They are the lounge chair, the management chair, and the executive chair. All of these different chairs serve the series in different ways, and were designed for different parts of the home. The lounge version is perfect for living rooms and dens, the executive for high-powered offices, and the management for desks and conference rooms. But each one, while different in looks, retains the same technical innovations and materials that make each one a legitimate Eames Aluminum Group Chair.

If there is a definition of a classic chair, the Eames Aluminum Group Chairs fit that definition. They're beautiful. This aesthetic achievement has lasted, and what's more, their attractive substance has not in the least been dated or outstripped in the intervening years between debut and 2010. They're also technically accomplished, a step forward. The creation of that comfort pocket, and the creation of furniture that didn't have to be single exterior shell, was a major innovation in the design world at the time. They're also very retro; while they clearly come from a certain time and place, they also belong very well in this one. They aren't museum pieces except in the literal sense; they belong behind desks and tables and next to couches; they're modern furniture and contemporary furniture. Smart Furniture is very excited to be able to offer our customers these chairs. Get yours today!


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