Eames Chairs

Written by Sarah Provost
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The husband-and-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames produced some of the most lasting icons of the mid-century, especially their collection of what has come to be known simply as Eames chairs. Their combination of elegant design and "democratic" materials such as plywood, fiberglass and wire brought them spectacular success. Today, copies and knock-offs are everywhere, but real Eames chairs can be identified at a glance.

The Eames began their work with a plywood molding machine they nicknamed Kazam, which was set up in a spare bedroom of their Santa Monica apartment. Kazam heated plywood and glue and formed it against a plaster mold. The first product was not furniture, but a molded cast for a broken leg, made from a plaster casting of Charles's leg. The splint was bought by the army and used extensively during World War II.

Plywood Eames Chairs

After the war, they turned their attentions first to toys and children's furniture. When they designed the prototypical Eames chair, with plywood back and seat and chrome legs, they created an elegantly simple masterpiece that has been copied so widely that it now seems generic. Those stacking auditorium chairs in fiberglass and chrome, the long rows of molded airport chairs, even the student chair with writing surface are all derived from Eames chairs.

The real thing, of course, is now highly collectible, and pieces are on display in museums nationwide. There's a kind of playful innocence about both their lives and their works that retains its charm and, in fact, becomes timeless. A genuine Eames chair is an investment, but one that will reward you day by day.

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