At the time many of these original chairs were being made, Charles Eames had to repeatedly interject that they were designed in equal partnership with his wife, Ray, as hard as that was to fathom in the 1940s and '50s. Decades later, the couple's work is found in homes and offices the world over and held in great esteem in terms of modernist vision.
Learn more about the history, identification, and value of a number of different Eames chair styles, which were manufactured by Herman Miller originally and later by Vitra for distribution in Europe and the Middle East.
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Fiberglass Side Chairs and Armchairs
Don't be surprised, now that the style has your attention if you start seeing these everywhere. The version shown here is the DSR, which stands for Dining Side Rod (the term rod referencing the metal used to construct the base), and the style is possibly even more popular today than it was decades ago. In fact, the base of this chair with its eye-catching chrome lends to its nickname: the Eiffel chair.
The Eames Fiberglass Side Chair was introduced in 1951, a year after the Eames Fiberglass Arm Chair. "It was actually more challenging to design than the Armchair because, without arms, the edges where the back met the seat tended to crack," according to the Eames Office website. By 1966, Herman Miller reported that two million of these chairs had been sold.
There were actually many Eames chair variations using the molded fiberglass "shell," and they are often referenced as Shell Chairs both with and without arms. Some have bases made of wood, and there is even a rocking version of the armchair. Others had rolling bases for office use. Not all had such complicated base construction, however. Many of the side chairs were made with four simple legs so they could easily be stacked.
The original colors were Elephant Hide Grey, Parchment, and Greige (a combination of grey and beige). They introduced Orange Red, Sea Foam Green, and Lemon Yellow incrementally along with a number of other colors chosen by Eames to complement homes and offices of the day. They are still in production in a variety of colorways that appeal to contemporary consumers and current fans of Mid-Century Modern design. Some newer versions have been made in plastic to reduce the cost in comparison to manufacturing with fiberglass.
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Eames Molded Plywood Lounge and Dining Chairs
This chair was declared the Best Design of the 20th Century by Time magazine. While you may not agree with that assessment, it's hard not to acknowledge the modernist cool of this chair conceived in 1946.
The design, referenced as DCW for the dining version and LCW for the lounge version, was introduced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where it was displayed in a tumbling machine to exhibit its durability. The first examples were made by Evans Products Company. Many of these chairs still have the Evans decal attached to the underside and they are the most desirable, and expensive from a collecting standpoint.
In 1948, the DCW was made in collaboration with Herman Miller. Many of these chairs are marked with a sticker on the bottom. They may also have a stencil denoting the date, and the type of wood used to manufacture the chair (such as Calico Ash). Many different colors and woods have been used to create this design since then.
Believe it or not, these seats made of molded wood sold for $32.50 when they were new. When valuing Eames furniture today, they can easily sell for $2,000 to $3,000 or more when in excellent, original condition. If you like the style and don't mind if your LCW is brand new, with either a wood base or metal base, you can buy one directly from Herman Miller for less than a third of the vintage price.
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Eames Lounge Chair and Ottomon
This classic Eames design was introduced in 1956 and has been made continuously by Herman Miller since then. According to Eames Office, "The Eameses wanted their Lounge Chair and Ottoman to have the 'warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.' Often referred to as a twentieth-century interpretation of the nineteenth-century English club chair, this seating instantly became a symbol of comfort—and comfort was one of Charles and Ray’s key objectives for this product."
One of the aspects making it so comfortable is the way the seat is permanently tilted to take the weight off the lower spine. The first chair and ottoman were crafted of molded plywood bases and finished in black leather with button tufting. The original versions made by Herman Miller in the mid-1950s touted "soft, wrinkly leather and plush down feathers" akin to more traditional upholstered chair styles.
Herman Miller now offers the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman in a variety of leather colors with coordinating woods. Vitra, a Swiss maker of modern-style furniture, has produced this design (along with others), for distribution in Europe and the Middle East. These are not copies or reproductions since Vitra was authorized to produce the furniture using the original Eames specifications.
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Eames Aluminum Group Chairs
The Aluminum Group features a number of different chair styles. From side chairs to management chairs, these work well for both their stylish form and office efficiency whether used at a clerk's desk, in a boardroom setting, or an executive's suite.
The first models were available in leather and upholstered versions with high and low backs, depending on the intended use. As the name denotes, the frames of these chairs are made of aluminum cast in one piece. Leather dominates current production by Herman Miller and Vitra, although an outdoor version is available with durable all-weather woven fabric.
This grouping came about, interestingly enough, when fellow modernist designer Eero Saarinen asked the Eames' to produce a special project line for his and Alexander Girard’s Irwin Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, according to Eames Office. That line was intended to be for outdoor use but morphed into this complete line of office chairs that is still as popular today as they were when they were introduced in 1958.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Eames Executive/Lobby Chair
When first introduced in 1960, these were known as “Time Life Lobby Chairs.” The first setting where they were used was in the Time Life Building's lobby since they were commissioned by Time, Inc. founder Henry Luce. They were designed to replicate the comfort of the Eames Lounge Chair in a style that would work in a lobby or conference room setting.
Another claim to fame for this chair came more than a decade later. Bobby Fischer insisted on sitting in one for his world chess championship match in 1972. His opponent, Boris Spasky, requested the same treatment and officials scrambled to get another Eames Lobby Chair brought over for the meet.
The current authorized production of this design is called the Eames Executive Chair by Herman Miller, and the Eames Lobby Chair by Vitra.