Some of the most inventive chairs of the twentieth century were designed by Charles and Ray Eames, who pioneered contemporary chair design in the 1940s and 1950s. Wood, fiberglass, plastic, and metal mesh were used to make their seats. Although Eames chairs have been widely replicated, collectors prize originals since they are regarded design and technological triumphs.
At Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, Charles Eames met Ray Kaiser in 1940, where he also met architect and Eames associate Eero Saarinen and furniture designer Harry Bertoia. A year later, the pair married and relocated to Los Angeles to continue working in the molded plywood industry. The couple had worked out how to make compound curves out of molded plywood by 1945. One of their earliest items was a birch child's chair and stool made by Evans Products' Molded Plywood Division, with a production run of only 5,000 pieces.
Before the Eameses began a long collaboration with the Herman Miller Furniture Company, which produced and distributed a number of chairs for them, including the DCM (Dining Chair Metal), in which two pieces of plywood are secured to a solid-rod chromed frame with rubber shock mounts, Evans also produced about 1,000 LCW chairs (which stands for Lounge Chair Wood). Herman Miller was selling 2,000 of these chairs each month in 1951. (examples with wooden legs were less popular, making them more collectible today).
Then came molded fiberglass chairs in a range of vivid colors, with or without arms and a rocking base. Serious Eames collectors hunt for chairs with a "Miller-Zenith" label on the undersides from the 1950s until 1953. The ones with wooden bases (DAW, PAW) are rarer and consequently more valuable than those with metal legs (DAR, LAX, LAR, RAR). Around the same time, the couple designed chairs out of durable wire mesh, with designer Alexander Girard's covers available in leather, vinyl, and cloth.
These were the chairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames for the general public. The Lounge Chair and Ottoman, with its molded rosewood plywood frame and luxurious leather upholstery, were available to well-heeled customers in 1956. The chair is still available in cherry and walnut from Herman Miller today.
The couple introduced the Aluminum Group chair line in 1958, which includes a desk chair and a lounge chair, with the latter's armless models being the most sought-after today. For the new Time-Life Building in New York, Eames designed several chairs and a trio of stools in 1960. The first was an Executive Desk Chair, and the second was an Intermediate Desk Chair, which was a smaller version of the Executive Desk Chair that did not sell as well, making it the more valuable of the two now.
While their roots began elsewhere, today these iconic chairs have somewhat ironically become synonymous with the palm trees and mid century style that L.A. has become known for, and are a time-tested status symbol that even we admit we cant help but love.