Charles Eames' Forward-Looking Furniture
Magazine of Art, May 1946



(left) "Lounge chairs, occasional tables, storage cabinets, and dining furniture can be grouped as needed." Living room group includes shock-mounted walnut easy chair, coffee table, unit cases with molded wood sliding doors and drawers, and unit benches

Charles Eames' new furniture continues the long, fruitful experiments of modern chair designers who have tried to exploit the elastic qualities of various structural materials for the sake of comfort, convenience, and a new interpretation of beauty. Under the terms of a competition for Organic Design conducted by the Museum of Modern Art in 1941, prize designs for chairs and case pieces, executed by Eames in collaboration with Eero Saarinen, were manufactured and marketed. This production was interrupted by the war, but during the stoppage, Eames continued to experiment along the lines of furniture with a fuller devleopment of controlled "give" in all dimensions of space. Using the devices of mass production, he worked intensively to turn out items previously made by more or less mechanized adaptions of cabinet work. Eames' development of an economical method for three-dimensional molding of plywood in mass production was utilized in the making of leg-splints and airplane parts for the Navy. This led to a connection with the Evans Products Co. of Detroit, which formed a Molded Plywood Division under Eames. As a result of the experimentation by this group, the potentialities of the original organic furniture became technical realities.


(right) Living room group showing "unusually diversified forms. This great range of outlines, surfaces and colors...leaves everyone free to combine the pieces in an entirely personal manner."

Eames' main objects were to create reasonably priced, strong, light chairs, which followed the natural body contours of comfortable positions, and yet flexed with the sitter's movements. His method of working by proceeding from an analysis of functions is one which produces forms prodigally. He makes no attempt to fit processes and materials to a preconceived shape; as a result, he is able to produce numerous types of chair frames and a variety of back and seat shapes, utilizing many woods and other surfaces, colored and plain. His cabinets, like his chairs, display and inventive use of the processes which create units of elegant aspect that may be combined harmoniously to suit individual taste.


(left) Metal side-chair showing the method of shock-mounting wooden shells to base

Of the numerous innovations in Eames' furniture, the most important is the "shock-mounting," previously employed for industrial purposes. Through the adaptation of this technique, seats and backs are joined to chair frames by runner mounts which absorbs shocks and distribute stresses. This provides great strength, resilience, and flexibility, permitting the chair to yield to changes of seating position.

Another significant Eames' innovation is "the chair with the scrambled legs" or the "tilt back chair." This chair has been designed to "safeguard that deep masculine urge to balance precariously on the two rear legs of a chair." The Eames' chair shows an adjustment of the four legs so that a leg extends to the rear and front, while only three legs touch the ground at any one time, thus making it impossible to tip the chair over.


(right) Tilt-back chair and coffee table

The cabinets, unit cases with drawers molded in one piece, rest on a succession of low benches. The detachable legs of the benches are joined similarly to those of his dining tables, and their metal fittings are one of Eames' structural features--the usual wobble of detachable and folding legs being eliminated.

(left) Walnut table with detachable legs, shock-mounted chair with molded wood seat, back, and frame

Eames' pieces will be available for purchase at modest prices, later in the year, at most leading department stores throughout the country. For public consumption, a modification of the asceticism of his chairs is possible through the use of snapstrips of fabric or other coverings which may be bonded, by a special electronic process, to the seats or backs of the chairs. To some, of course, even with these concessions to a more elaborate taste, the pieces will still have the rather stark quality or porch furniture; but perhaps this is more a reflection upon our own antiquated attitudes towards interiors, than upon Eames' progressive principles.

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