Getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least': with these words, Charles and Ray Eames described one of their main goals as furniture designers. None of their other designs come as close to achieving this ideal as the Plastic Chairs.
For years, the designer couple explored the fundamental idea of a one-piece seat shell moulded to fit the contours of the human body. After experiments with plywood and sheet aluminium in the 1940s produce unsatisfactory results, their search for alternative materials led them to glass-fibre reinforced polyester resin.
The Eameses recognised and fully exploited the advantages of the material: mouldability, rigidity, pleasant tactile qualities, suitability for industrial manufacturing methods. With this material, which was previously unknown in the furniture industry, they successfully developed the shell designs for serial production. After their debut at the Low-Cost Furniture Design competition organised by the Museum of Modern Art in 1948, the Plastic Armchair (A-shell) and Plastic Side Chair (S-shell) were launched on the market in 1950 as the very first mass-produced plastic chairs in the history of furniture.
The Eames Plastic Chairs also introduced a new furniture typology that has since become widespread: the multifunctional chair whose shell can be joined with a variety of different bases to serve diverse purposes. As early as 1950, Charles and Ray Eames presented a series of bases that enabled various sitting positions. An especially striking model is the so-called Eiffel Tower base – an intricate and graceful design made of steel wire that inimitably combines light, elegant forms with structural strength.
Today Vitra manufactures the comfortable seat shells of the Plastic Side Chairs and Plastic Armchairs in polypropylene, offering a multitude of bases, shell colours and upholstery options. This allows customers to specify countless different combinations and to use the chairs in the widest range of settings – from dining rooms, living rooms and home offices to office workspaces and conference rooms; from restaurants and cafés to break rooms and cafeterias; from waiting areas and auditoriums to terraces and gardens.
In 2016 Vitra has added approximately 20 mm to the height of the Eames Plastic Chairs DSX, DAX, DSR, DAR, DSW and DAW, while also revising the seat geometry. These modifications, which are aesthetically almost imperceptible, increase the comfort of this classic chair design, especially in combination with contemporary tables.
From 1941 to 1943, Charles and Ray Eames designed and developed stretchers and leg splints made of moulded plywood, and in 1946 they exhibited their experimental moulded plywood furniture at the New York Museum of Modern Art. The Herman Miller Company in Zeeland, Michigan, subsequently began to produce the Eameses' furniture designs. Charles and Ray participated in the 1948 'Low-Cost Furniture' competition at MoMA, and they built the Eames House in 1949 as their own private residence. Around 1955 they began to focus more on their extensive work as photographers and filmmakers, and in 1964 Charles received an honorary doctoral degree from the Pratt Institute in New York.
The Eames Office designed the IBM Pavilion for the 1964-65 World's Fair in New York, and the year 1969 offered the opportunity to participate in the exhibition 'Qu'est-ce que le design?' at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. In 1970-71, Charles was appointed as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. MoMA again presented an exhibition of the Eameses' work, entitled 'Furniture by Charles Eames', in 1973. Charles Eames died in St. Louis in 1978; Ray's death followed in 1988.
Charles and Ray Eames have had a profound and lasting influence on Vitra. The company's activity as a furniture manufacturer began in 1957 with the production of their designs. Yet it is not just the products of Charles and Ray Eames that have left their mark on Vitra. Even today, their design philosophy continues to profoundly shape the company's values, orientation and goals.