How far could wood
Recognizing the Need
It All Started with These Chairs
The long and fruitful collaboration between Herman Miller and Charles and Ray Eames began in 1946 with these chairs. The molded plywood chairs were the couple's first attempt at creating a chair that didn't need upholstery to be comfortable and that could be mass produced easily. The result was their iconic chair, now offered with an option for an upholstered seat and back to suit individual tastes and comfort levels.
How Far Could Wood Be Pushed?
Not long after Charles and Ray were married, in 1941, they began experimenting with just how far wood as a material could be pushed. Playing around with a variety of wood-molding techniques, they made a number of discoveries that led to a commission from the U.S. Navy to develop plywood splints, stretchers, and glider shells used in World War II.
Charles said that recognizing the need is the primary condition for design. With the war over and the post-war boom beginning, Charles and Ray recognized a need for furniture that was of high quality and affordable, and that could be used in a variety of ways in the rapidly changing average American home. And it occurred to them that the technology they had created for the Navy—molding wood using heat and pressure—could be adapted for furniture.
Recognizing the need is the primary
condition for design.
- Charles Eames
The introduction of the molded plywood chairs, with their lightweight, compound curves, and streamlined visual profile changed furniture design and manufacturing forever. Sculpting a seat and back that fit the contours of the human body, while using relatively inexpensive materials and mass production, the Eames team created a truly comfortable, not to mention revolutionary, chair that's as fresh in today's homes as when the soldiers came marching home from World War II.
Plywood Furniture? Really?
The American home changed dramatically after the war. The GI Bill allowed returning service members to get college degrees and better jobs, and most of those soldiers wanted a home of their own and a family. Among the many results of this movement were the baby boom and the extensive building of suburban homes, which needed to be furnished.
Plywood was not a popular furniture material at the time—it was a building material. But Charles and Ray liked it because they believed it could be mass-produced using dimensionally shaped surfaces. They and their team experimented with plywood molding for years before perfecting the final process.