Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg.
Earlier this week, we kicked off our new Flower Glossary, a weekly series that showcases specific flowers and all of the essential facts about them. Today, we are launching another series, much in the same “baseball card” vein: Design Icon. Many times a week, we find ourselves receiving comments and e-mails from readers asking us to identify such-and-such a product, and very often, the product in question is none other than an Eames Armchair. Or a Saarinen Tulip Table. Or an Alvar Aalto vase. Although these classic objects are as ubiquitous as they are beautiful, it is often difficult to ascribe a title or a maker to them. You might, for example, call a George Nelson design “that clock with all the balls on it.” (Don’t worry—I am absolutely guilty of this, too.)
To celebrate some of history’s most iconic and enduring design objects (and to give you the tools to identify them), we have decided to begin this series. Each week, you will be treated to a lovely illustrated image of an iconic design (courtesy of the talented Libby VanderPloeg) and all of its essential “tombstone” information, from its official name to facts about its materials and construction. So, without further ado, here is the first installment of our Design Icons series—a true classic that never gets old: Charles and Ray Eames’ Molded Plastic Armchair. —Max
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Design: Eames Molded Plastic Armchair
Designers: Charles Eames (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1988)
Manufacturer: Herman Miller
Materials & Construction: Originally produced using molded fiber glass. You can usually identify this material from its textured, crosshatch-like appearance. In 1989, in response to Ray Eames’ insistence that the non-recyclable fiberglass was detrimental to the environment, Herman Miller began producing the chairs in recyclable polypropylene. In 2013, however, it was announced that Herman Miller would again be producing the iconic chairs in fiberglass, albeit a more sustainable version that was less hazardous to the environment.
The chairs are available in both armchair and dining chair versions. They are able to be paired with numerous interchangeable bases, among which include wooden dowels (depicted above), metal “H” bases, metal “Eiffel Tower” bases, and a stackable version.
Fun Fact: Although today, the designs of Charles and Ray Eames have achieved “legend” status and are oftentimes sold at luxury prices, many of their works (the molded plastic armchair included) were originally developed as low-cost, mass-production solutions. In fact, the Eames’ molded plastic chairs, constructed from easily manufactured and reproduced materials, were originally conceived as an entry for MoMA’s 1947 International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design.
Purchase: Design Within Reach, $419