Like form pairs with function, husband and wife designers Ray and Charles Eames were an inspired match. Together, the duo created some of the most iconic designs of the Mid-Century Modern era. Fascinated with how material could be manipulated—mainly plywood— the couple created the aptly-named molded plywood chair. Now produced by Herman Miller, the molded chair was deemed the chair of the 20th Century. And not to over-predict, but we feel like that label might have some post-millennia staying power too…
YOUR ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO VINTAGE EAMES FURNITURE
Dream of Eames? Let us be the first to assure you, it’s a nightly occurrence around here as well! And why shouldn’t it be? When it comes to defining Mid-Century Modern design, a vintage Eames chair will effortlessly suffice. Showcasing body-conscious forms, don’t-mess-with-me durability, and a parade of playful colors to choose from, vintage Eames furniture is the antithesis of lavish design—yet it still feels special, as if it were crafted exclusively for you.
So was the aim of Charles and Ray Eames, the husband and wife team for whom vintage Eames furniture is named. The design duo met in 1940 at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit and married the following year. While Charles Eames excelled at technical design, Ray had a notorious eye for aesthetics. Following their marriage, the couple packed up their design prowess and shipped out west to Los Angeles where they began experimenting with the act of molding plywood. After opening a studio, their work caught the eye of George Nelson, the design director for Herman Miller. Equipped with the mantra “Design is an expression of the purpose,” vintage Eames furniture came into fruition. Learn about our favorite vintage Eames furniture below!
ICONIC EAMES COLLECTIONS
One of earliest Eames designs, the DCM chair offers up the seemingly impossible: a plywood chair with upholstered chair-worthy comfort. After moving to L.A., Ray and Charles Eames began toying with homemade machine they enthusiastically deemed the “Kazam! Machine,” which pressed wood veneer against a heat source to sculpt the wood into toned, look-at-me curves (when in L.A., right?). The DCM chair’s construction relied heavily on this technology to create an expertly contoured seat and backrest. The seat and backrest were in turn held together with a T-shaped metal rod, which attached to the chair’s four, antennae-like legs. While this vintage Eames piece makes an ideal dining or desk chair, its masterful design allows it to succeed as a stand-alone accent chair in a living room as well. If you prefer a more finished look, try a DCW chair, which swaps out the metal legs for sculpted wood ones.
Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman
Among the many endorsements that the Eames lounge chair has received over the years, a 1961 Playboy Magazine stated that the iconic Eames chair “sinks the sitter into voluptuous luxury that few mortals since Nero have known.” Clearly, when Ray and Charles Eames set out to create a leather lounger that made the world a better place, they succeeded—the chair has been graced by everyone from Steve Jobs to Jane Fonda. While most vintage Eames furniture was careful to take cost into consideration, the Eames lounger spared no expense in its quest to curate a truly heavenly sit. Crafted almost entirely by hand, this vintage Eames furniture features foam-stuffed cushions, hand-sewn leather, and a sculpted back that is constructed by seven sheets of glued plywood (originals actually featured exotic Brazilian rosewood). But the true trick of the Eames Lounge Chair? The chair sits at a 15-degree angle, allowing maximum kick-back-and-relax comfort.
A quirky anomaly in the vintage Eames furniture lineup is La Chaise, designed in 1948 for The Museum of Modern Art’s “International Competition for Low Cost Furniture Design.” Ironically, the design proved too costly to be produced during the Eames’ lifetime, but in 1996 it entered production due to consumer demand. Composed of two bonded fiberglass shells, this piece showcases a body-con form that harks back to the molded fiberglass Eames chair, but pairs it with a languid, sculptural shape that the Eames reportedly borrowed from Gaston Lachaise’s Floating Figure sculpture. Indeed, when viewing this piece of vintage Eames furniture, it’s easy to liken its shape to a reclining female nude. It’s a sensual, playful piece, with a circle cut-out in the back that prevents it from feeling too heavy. In a word, it’s a piece meant for display.
Molded Eames Chair
While we’ll admit that it’s tempting to write off this classic piece as ‘nuff said, our all-out dedication to this chair prevents us from summing it up so brazenly. Released in 1950, the molded Eames chair was designed to provide the public with a piece of durable, supremely functional furniture at a value price. When the design debuted at the International Competition for Low Cost Furniture Design, the chair was originally rendered in metal, but the Eames switched to plastic to further lower production costs. Other materials that have made an appearance over the years include fiberglass, upholstery, wood, and wire—and that doesn’t even include base options! When it comes to legs, the molded chair come with the option of metal, dowels, rocking chairs glides, or the spectacular metal “Eiffel” base. In fact, currently, the molded Eames chair has enough finish and base options to allow for 21 different iterations.