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Charles & Ray Eames Aluminum Chairs

Eames chairs for Mad Men and others

That Eames chairs epitomize the era of their creation is evident when watching the hit series Mad Men. Set in the 60’s, the story revolves around the charismatic Don Draper, an advertising executive on Madison Avenue. Many scenes show the corporate hotshots finalizing deals with their aviation and liquor clients sitting on Eames Aluminium or Soft Pad Chairs as silent witnesses. One can easily imagine Charles and Ray entering one of those scenes.
The story following the lead characters career also depicts the changes of the social mood at the time. Economic success draws attention to corporate life style and an increasing number of people are invited to be part of it. Eames designs meet the demand for new solutions and transport their own positive message to society through their egalitarian creative work as well as with their exhibitions and films.

There is no shortage of Eames ‘spottings’, particularly of the aluminum range in modern settings either, proving the timelessness of Eames’ designs. They evoke the atmosphere of their time without the limitations of a trend. Looking at the Aluminum Group of chairs there is no indication that the designs are more than 50 years old and yet they are in production since 1958. They seem like old acquaintances so often do we spot them in commercials, movies and day-to-day life.

The US Vogue shot the Prada resort collection 2012 setting the scene solely with a classic Eames aluminum chair, and the models. What more validation can a design nowadays get than an approving nod from Anne Wintour, editor in chief and known to screen every detail before it goes to print.

The background

Initially the aluminum group of chairs was designed as part of the interior for the Irwin Miller residence in Indiana, a project of Eeero Saarinen with Alexander Girard responsible for the interior design. The Eameses had been asked to create high quality outdoor seating but went beyond the brief and for a one-for-all solution. The chairs should be suitable for outdoors as well as indoor, obviously durable in all weather conditions and through a variation of models adaptable to almost any seating requirement.

The technicalities of the Aluminum chairs

The aluminum chairs stand apart from the other three core groups of Eames chairs. Charles Eames abandoned the idea for a single shell seating that he had pursued with the plywood, fiberglass and wire mesh chairs. Aluminum and other metals, too costly and elusive during the war, were available again and along with technical advancements of the seat-back-suspension this meant new possibilities to create comfortable, lightweight and - as always - adaptable furniture.
Eames and Hermann Miller Inc. worked three years on the development. Instead of the single shell a textile seat is suspended between top, bottom and side frames out of elegantly shaped cast aluminum. At the top and bottom the material is tightly rolled in which prevents the material from sagging and displays the aesthetically accomplished finish.


From outdoors to offices – the leisure group becomes the aluminum group

Ironically the Leisure group, as the aluminum chairs were called during the development phase, initially conceived for the leisurely enjoyment of the home garden made a steep career as office chairs. They prove that Charles & Ray Eames had successfully taken the ever-present demand for multifunctional furniture to a new level without the product looking misplaced in either setting. The original synthetic mesh seat for outdoor use has been discontinued since then; the textile and leather options available nowadays are indicators for the transition from outdoor to office furniture.

The Aluminum chairs are a wonderful example of the way the Eameses liked to view their role as designers. They offered the technical sound quality framework, possible solutions for various needs. How they are used, in which setting they shine is out of the designer’s hand yet part of the creative process that always excited Charles & Ray Eames.

Aluminum Group Offshoots

The success of the Aluminum chairs launched 1958 with Hermann Miller led Charles Eames to other variations of the idea. The designer-manufacturer team recognized the potential of the concept for the institutional and corporate sector and developed it further more specifically adapting the aluminum base and frame for the respective purpose.

Executive seating – The Soft Pad Group

The Soft Pad chairs remain very close to their forerunners and many features. Although they feature the same functionality the chairs emit a distinctively more luxurious flair. The additional padding gives them the sensationally comfortable seating experience of a lounger, only in an upright and – any board of directors can only hope - executively productive position.
Except for the Soft Pad Chaise. It proves that the Soft Pad Range is for executives with fast pacing jobs who can demand something of their surroundings.

The idea for the lounger was motivated by a conversation in 1955 with long-term friend Billy Wilder about his habit of taking short naps during film shootings. It is not the first iconic lounge seating that we owe the input of the director of Some like it Hot. He had described the kind of furniture that would suit him shooting on location and surely the Eameses took him up on the challenge. They delivered years later in 1968.
Wilder was asking for a narrow seating that would be relaxing but not lull him to doze off. After all it was for the work place. He specifically wanted to be able to jump up quickly and get back to work. Thus the lounger has a natural alarm built in.
Due to the striking narrowness one is inclined to fold the arms over the chest but should you fall a sleep your arms would slip of you chest and startle you enough to wake you. The power lounger features a somewhat untypical look for an Eames Design. It is as if Eames has created a Soft Pad variation with the Bauhaus looking over his shoulder.

Sharing the frame and base with their cousins of the aluminum group they are as neat and elegantly unobtrusive. Both are most commonly used in an office setting but adaptable to other interiors as well. The sophisticated padding is like an upgrade to the already very comfortable aluminum chairs. The separated back cushions support the body perfectly and make these chairs a very popular choice for high end workplaces.


The Time-Life Chair

Marketed under the name Eames Executive Chair the chair originates back to a favor Charles Eames owed the chairmen of Time-Life, Henry Luce. Time-Life had opened its expansive image archive to Eames for his contribution to the pavilion for the world exhibition in Moscow in 1959; a great success. In return Luce asked Eames to design a chair for the new executive floors.
The Time-Life chairs are a slightly more liberal interpretation of the aluminum concept. They seem more grounded, solid then their airier relatives.

Institutional Seating – Tandem Sling Seats

A more distant relative of the aluminum group, the Tandem Sling Seating, was introduced at Chicago’s O’Hare and Washington’s Dulles Airport, facilitated by Eero Saarinen, and is a popular and hip choice for public seating till today. They are in production since 1961 and show no signs of fatigue.
Apple chose the Sling Seats as a backdrop for its store in Santa Monica, California. Intel advertised the gaming experience of their laptops on Tandem Sling Seats.

The Aluminum chairs and its variations proved to be extremely versatile companions for a myriad of different uses and settings. From a comfortable living room scenario to a buzzing airport terminal, Eames chairs never seem misplaced.