Photographs courtesy of Rachel Keeley
By Rachel Keeley
Eames chair: a vision for furniture design
My recent quest for a reasonably priced pair of black fibreglass armshells sitting atop cats cradle bases ended at about ‘reasonably priced’ but lead instead to a pair of upholstered black fibreglass armshells sitting atop adjustable cast aluminium bases. The upholstered hopsack on my newly acquired shells is stained, but more importantly brown, and the aluminium bases are a far cry from the ones I had been hankering after. So what’s a girl to do with a couple of office chairs? Turn them into lounge chairs that’s what. Because there, right there in that last sentence, is the genius of Charles Eames and his vision for ‘well-designed’ furniture that was realised back in 1948 at the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Eames chair: a form for a function
The competition saw Eames collect first prize for his submission – an organically-shaped one-piece steel seat – purportedly because of its inventive base system. The shell seat which ultimately went into production – identical in shape and dimension to the original steel prototype – was made of fiberglass with rubber shock mounts glued to the underside which allowed the base to be screwed in and secured.
Eames chair: something for everyone
Here was a chair which allowed its ultimate function to dictate which base it was given: the stacking base could be utilised with a side shell to form auditorium style seating; armshells could be customised to lounge height with the addition of a low rod or X base; a simple H-base or the more elaborate dowel or Eiffel base turned a side shell into a dining chair; shells could become desk chairs which offered multiple options for pivoting, tilting, sliding or gliding; and of course there was the rocking chair configuration. There was something for everyone, from the office worker to the nursing mother.
Eames chair: changes in taste
So changing a couple of office chairs into the lounge chairs I so desperately long for is as easy as sourcing the right bases and loosening a few screws. But what of that stained upholstery? A flick through any interiors magazine will quickly reveal that contemporary aesthetics tend to favour the armshell’s quirky un-upholstered form. But is this at the expense of comfort? There’s no denying the upholstered armshell is far and away more comfortable than its non-upholstered cousin, and if I’m all for lounging then surely comfort is key?
So I should address the staining, give the hopsack a good scrub and get that tweed upholstery looking as good as new. But it would still be brown. And I’m not sure I can live with brown. And that’s OK, I think, because we’re talking about a colour variation that was conceived to ‘seamlessly blend’ into interior spaces that existed over fifty years ago. Tastes change, fashions come and go, and while I like to think trends pass me by, part of me wants to show off the organic curves of my fibreglass shells and do away with the upholstery altogether.
Eames chair: designed for adaptability
Putting my dilemma to one side, the point is that the Eames plastic chair was designed to be adaptable and in turn celebrated for its adaptability. And while the fibreglass shell is a captivatingly beautiful piece, a true modernist classic, it’s also a prime example of mid-century design that, despite its intrinsic beauty might, just might, require adapting to fit in with today’s decorative preferences.
Rachel Keeley is the founder of beautiful interiors blog Haussmith
To read about Rachel’s Ercol Windsor rocking chair, click here
For a Buyer’s Guide to the Eames RAR Rocker, check out these tips from our expert