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Eames molded plywood lounge chair for furniture design class

March 13, 2010

     For the next project in my Furniture Design class, Jeff Tobin asked us to research this dandy (which is arguably one of the most recognized pieces of furniture on the planet).  Here’s a brief history on the matter, taken from http://www.hermanmiller.com/Products/Eames-Molded-Plywood-Chairs:

  • Designers Charles and Ray Eames created the chair in 1946.
  • Charles and Ray Eames developed an innovative technique for molding plywood. The process allowed them to bend wood furniture in new directions and give hard materials a soft look.  Molding thin sheets of lightweight veneer into gently curved shapes gave the durable material a soft, inviting appearance.
  • Wood or chrome-plated steel legs.

     History: In the early 1940s, when Charles Eames was working on MGM set designs, he and his wife, Ray, were experimenting with wood- molding techniques.  Their discoveries led to a commission from the US Navy to develop plywood splints, stretchers, and glider shells; molded under heat and pressure, that were used during World War II.    Eames furniture is still in production today.

     When Jeff was describing the innovation of “molded plywood,” I couldn’t help but consider what kind of influence the “bentwood” furniture of a century earlier may have had on the Eames designs.  I found some information on www.thonet.com/history.htm  & www.patricktaylor.com/thonet-bentwood-chair:

  • Prussian-born Michael Thonet experimented with bending steamed wood as early as 1830.
  • His lifelong fascination was what could be done with bent and veneered timber from the local beech forests.  He made the discovery that a solid piece of steamed wood and a metal strap could be bent together in a certain way without cracking the wood, and after being dried out in a jig the wood held its shape; allowing for less pieces and less joints, with screws replacing glued connections.
  • In 1855, the Model No. 14, was created, becoming Thonet’s most famous chair design and eventually becoming one of the most influential designs in the history of furniture.
    • Bentwood could be assembly-line produced (50 million had been sold worldwide by the 1930s).
    • Often referred to as the Bistro Chair (originally, it was widely received as a practical, inexpensive, and refined seating option in cafes throughout Europe -and eventually the States- before becoming a household staple).

Considering the history of these chairs will be an integral part of our next project.  Will one of us create the next “most recognized” chair in history?  One can hope for the best…

– Jules, ID/LA

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