Category Archives: Chairs 101

An Eames Elephant for Hudson

Purdy Matter on one of the original 1945 plywood Eames Elephant

I’ve been in love with designs from Charles & Ray Eames since I learned about them in design school and to celebrate my graduation my husband gave me my first piece of their iconic furniture, the LCW.  Since design school, each time I get a chance to “need” a new piece of furniture I always pick out mid-century modern classics.   My history of furniture teacher said that furniture is the best investment you can make, so that could be my excuse or it’s just that I have an obsession with that era and with chairs in particular.  As Hudson’s second birthday was approaching on February 4th we were at a loss about what to get him. We felt that we over did it at Christmas and he didn’t need nor did we have any room in the toy box for more toys…..but I always have room for a new piece of furniture :)  So we decided that it was now or never, he was the perfect age to play with an Eames Elephant and if we didn’t get it now then it would not really be a toy for him later.  I just adore this little elephant and just as the rest of my mid-century lovelies Im really into learning about the history of its design.  Unfortunately doing just web research I can’t find much info on the origin of the 1945 design.  I had hoped to find a drawing or a picture of the Eameses with one of the original two prototypes.  Im sure that in a real book somewhere is all the info I want so ill be on the look out for that, until then I have a bit of history to share and I also have found some great new pictures of how people are having fun with the reproductions of this precious pachyderm.

The only known original Eames Elephant is safe in the hands of the Eames family

The plywood elephant was among a menagerie of plywood animals that the Eames designed around 1945, the same time they were designing and experimenting with splints and chairs.  But none of the creatures – elephant, frog, seal, bear and horse – ever moved beyond the concept stage.  Their fabrication was too challenging to be mass-produced with compound curves and tight angles. Two elephant prototypes were made and displayed at the Museum of Modern Art from 1945-46 and the only surviving elephant is safe in the hands of the Eames family.  To celebrate the 100th birthday of Charles Eames in 2007, Vitra decided to master the art of producing the plywood elephant and released limited edition plywood elephants, 1000 each in natural and red stained maple.

source – kandpreadme.blogspot.com

Hive modern still has a limited edition plywood elephant for sale see it HERE!

source – moderity.se

The response was overwhelmingly received and all 2000 copies sold out immediately at $1900 each!   Since the cost and limited production made for an instant collectors item, Vitra decided to develop a second series of elephants made from plastic in 2009.  A nod to the fact that the Eameses were the first to use plastic in furniture in the 1950’s and also making this new series affordable to buy for the intended user – a child!  Current pricing of the elephant is $290 and comes in red, ice-gray, white, lime and pink.  You can find them stocked and ready to ship online in stores like DWR, Hive Modern, All Modern, Modern Seed and Design Public.

Vitra Eames Elephants

This brochure for the new elephants is FANTASTIC, besides being made by a graphic design student, it has the flat pattern of the two components for constructing mini paper elephants.  So its marketed for kids but I’m thinking of all the other things I could make like….a fondant cake topper, swoon!

see the brochure HERE

If  you are a furniture lover or design professional without a child, don’t let that deter you from adding this beautiful sculptural piece to your home, it looks like a “stool” to the adult crowd or consider the Vitra miniature in either Red or Natural plywood for $185 as a book shelf decoration.

Vitra miniture

With the release of the 2007 Limited Edition elephant, Eames Demetrios, the grandson of Charles Eames and director of Eames Office and Chairman of the Eames Foundation, produced a film ” A Gathering of Elephants” to stir excitement for these beloved creations:

Hudson loves to trumpet along with the elephants and move to the african drum beat, its a great little film!

Then, just this january a second elephant film was released, “Elephant Safaris – in to the Wilds

Im excited to share that this film was brought to my attention by a tweet from Eames Demetrios himself!

Its only been a few years since the release of the new elephant and I’ve searched around to see how its being used and displayed.

Check out this playroom at the new London Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse!!

At the Vitra Design Muesum (what are Bleu and Pinky doing there?  wink wink)

I found several Flickr pictures that show this outdoor “elephant pin” from the Basel Vitra Design Museum.  They must be rearranged daily, each picture had them doing different things.   It makes the little guys seem to really have a playful personality seeing them “running around” this pin.

Singapore: Saturday In Design via How We Create

In Hong Kong, an auction of artistic re-designs of the elephants for  the ‘Ambassadors of Design’ via Alive Not Dead

And of course my own contribution to the bank of elephant images

Hudson and the Eameses

Nose to Nose with his pet elephant

This little elephant is so much fun to photograph, I can’t wait until a warm spring day when we can take him outside and take more pictures!  Hudson already loves playing with him, since the back is sloped he likes to run his cars off of it like a slide and once I caught him trying to climb through its backside, that would have been a good picture!

Eames Elephant in Ice Gray

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Eames LCW

 
 The first Chair 101 class is starting, quiet please everyone.   Now pay attention because there will be a pop quiz at the end of the series!
 

LCW in Ash

LCW in Palisander

 
 
Today we will be learning about the LCW – Low Chair Wood by Charles and Ray Eames.  In my opinion this is the most iconic chair and a great place to start this series.  Besides it being  first in my personal collection, its my favorite and there are rules to even sit in it at my house: no eating, drinking or writing (seriously, its my baby)!   The LCW chair works just about anywhere—from homes and offices to schools and public areas.  It continues to be an icon of Modern Design and is valued for its comfort as well as a status symbol. The Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair (1946) has been referred to as the “most famous chair of the century” and was hailed “Design of the Century” in 1999 by Time Magazine.
 
 

Ray and Charles Eames

 
 
During the postwar Good Design movement husband and wife team, often just refered to as The Eames, sought to create inexpensive, comfortable, and modern furniture that could be mass-produced and  consistently used plywood in their work.  They have been a huge name in the design world since then, 70+ years later.  Many of my future lessons will feature Eames designed chairs.  The LCW was not a one hit wonder for them but it was the chair that started them all.

Eames Plywood Leg Splint

 
In 1937, Charles had become head of the department of experimental design at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan and worked with friend and architect Eero Saarinen (you’ll hear more about him in future lessons!)  investigating plastics and furniture. The original concept for the molded plywood chairs was conceived in 1940 when Charles and Eero entered a line of furniture into an “Organic Furniture Competition” held by the Museum of Modern Art.  They won the competition but production of the initially designed chairs was canceled due to America entering WWII.   Charles continued on with plywood experiments and was awarded a contact with the US Air Force for Plywood molded leg splints.  It was this same technology that he used to create the LCW in 1946.  The chairs were manufactured by the Evans Products Company (Eames’ wartime employer) company in California and distrubuted by the Herman Miller Furniture Company in Michigan (another BIG name in the the mid centure furniture movement)  In 1949 Herman Miller took over production completely and is still the only licenced manufacture of the chair in the US.  Vitra (remember them for later) presently manufactures for Europe.
 

Production line in California

  

Furniture Brochure

Sales Catalog

 

Vintage Ad for LCW

 
 
 
The LCW is composed of  plywood made by molding thin sheets of lightweight maple vaneers into gently curved shapes, giving the material a soft and inviting appearance.  Its uninterupted smooth form is contributed to the rubber shocks that are glued, not screwed into the backrest and seat.  These shock mounts give flexibility to the chair, making it more responsive to the human body.  This made the LCW one of the first chair to have a responsive backrest.  The molded plywood family has many other chairs and tables that are also still sought after today.  The chair has a sister LCM – Low Chair Metal, with metal legs and cousins DCM and DCW, “D” standing for Dining.  The dining chair has a narrower seat, longer legs and doesnt slope back as much as the LCW.  Have you ever sat in a LCW?  It is amazing that a chair without any padding or upholstery can be that darn comfortable.  The seat is higher at the knees and reminds me of sitting in an Adirondack chair.  There is no lumbar suport but its not needed with the ergonomic placement of the backrest.  Its not a really a lounge chair (just wait they did that too) but its definately a chair that you can sit in for a long time. 
 
So what makes bent ply or molded plywood a good material choice? The cross grain lamination technique create sheets of wood that are extradordinarily strong and can perform in ways that natural solid woods cannot. In the forward of Bent Plywood  by Dung Ngo & Eric Pfeiffer, (a book I gave my husband that actually has a plywood cover) Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach, speaks of plywood furniture (and an Eames leg splint and LCW is pictured), “The very heart of modernism is embodied by the processes that evolved from this combination of human art and industrial woodforming technology, and we have made it the heart of our business”.
 

Starbucks art

BR ad September 2006 in Dwell mag

 

Martha Stewart Living featuring LCW

Being an icon nearly since its introduction you can only imagine how many are around.  Chances are that you have run across this little chair a few times and didn’t even know it.  A few years ago it was on wall murals and art work of every Starbucks.  It is constantly used by stylists in magazine articles and in store displays.  The LCM is in all fitting rooms in the Gaps in Manhattan and I often see it in window displays at Banana Republic (sorry Old Navy its out of your price range)  In doing my research I remembered this BR ad that I had from a Dwell magazine in 2006, it’s so important they made the model get out of her seat for the picture, ha!   

MoMa exhibit archives

 

Macy seeing "mommy's chair" at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC

It’s on the permenant collection of the MoMA and I don’t doubt in countless other museums (I know it was in the Mint Museum in Charlotte,NC)  My daughter takes great pride when we run across it and always says “Mommy its your chair!”  

Eames Chair coasters from MoMA

Inhabit pillow

There are also many products that pay homage to is famous form. I have the Eames chair coaster from the MoMA store  which feature 4 of their famous chairs, the LCM being one of them. If you see a book or poster graphically featuring famous chairs it is never left out and Inhabit makes awesome pillows featuring mid-century chair silhouettes.

Molded Plywood Order Form

 
According to this order sheet, the original price of the LCW was $20.95!! I did a little searching and the vintage ad pictured above from 1952 the prices went up to $25.  DWR currently sales the LCW in one of its 4 basic colors for $780, in 2008 it was $650 and 2007, $630.  When I bought mine in 2006 it was $600!  Wow that’s a price increase of 30% in just 5 years!  My history of furniture teacher in design school gave us some wise advice:  “Don’t buy fancy cars, invest in furniture”, now I really know what he means! Of course if you really want to have this chair but don’t have the space or quite enough cash for it you can buy it in a scaled down miniature at 4.5 inches tall and $200  from Vitra. But for that price, I think that you might as well save up a little more money for the real thing.
 

My living room

 
 

Hudson enjoys relaxing in the LCW!

Lastly, my beloved little chair may live by a lot of rules in my house but that doesn’t mean its off limits.  I believe that you should teach children to respect furniture no matter its cost or design status.  Hudson has found the LCW to be a perfect chair to lounge in while he’s watching Yo Gabba Gabba!

Thanks for joining me!  Tune in again next week to learn about: the Barcelona chair

 

Thanks to Avital Gertner for contributing her flickr photo of the starbucks art.

Informational links:

http://www.eamesoffice.com/

http://www.hermanmiller.com/

http://www.industrialdesignhistory.com/

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Chairs 101

Entanglement of Chairs by James Nizam

 

 source

I am working on my new design series called Chairs 101.  I am crazy about chairs, my obsession started in design school and was awarded at my graduation when my husband gave me my first designer chair, the Eames LCW.  Since then I have added a few others and will be excited to show off my collection as well as other important chairs during this series!

Why do I love designer chairs?  There are several reasons, one is that out of all the many ways that a person can collect important pieces in design, whether it be a work of art or a whole house, one little chair is by far one of the most affordable and obtainable.   A splurge on a single chair doesn’t require much space or special installation to make a whole room feel styled and complete. 

The other reasons for my love are deeper in design theory thoughts.   The evolution of chair design has always paralleled the development of architectural styles and eras. During the last century chair designs have had a lasting impact on furniture design because of their innovative materials and the advance in construction technologies.  A multitude of chairs have been designed simply because of the fact that there is no idea form for a chair and that there can be many solutions to perform its function.  When I study a chair I see so much: a sculpture, a voice, a time period.  The mood it can create and its purpose in social society are all part of the package, wrapped up on four little legs and using only 2 square feet of floor space!  It’s a compact design that makes a serious impact in the design world.

Modern Chair Eye Exam from Blue Art Studio

 

source

A chair can be a beautiful work of art that is well designed, studied, and written about.  It can become a celebrated icon. Some of the most iconic chairs have emotional persuasion that speak as loudly as well noted architecture and are often designed by architectural masterminds.   I run across designer chairs in department store displays, hotels, restaurants, advertisements and magazine spreads.   When I find one in person I take my picture in it ( I told you I was obsessed)!  There are many products that feature designer chairs like pillows, posters, coasters and miniatures, they are an easy way to bring a piece of a icon into your home or office. I dont collect the miniatures myself, I’d rather save up for the full size chair and I also have no problem obtaining just one of each, who says that you have to have a matching set?

The Bible of Designer Chairs

source

One of my required books in design school was the bible of chairs: 1000 Chairs by Charlotte and Peter Feill.  I will be referring to it myself while writing my posts to get my facts straight.  (Dont worry, Im not going to talk about all 1000!)  I will be writing about not just the history and importance of the chairs but showing you some of the places designer chairs are used and some of the products that celebrate their form.  In my series I intend to share the worlds most influential and celebrated chairs with you.  If you aren’t a design-ish person, you will be surprised at how many chairs you can recognize but have never known the story behind. 

In the tradition of a blog series I will be making these posts on Fridays so check them out as you wind down for the weekend.

Cheers! Nikki

Tune into class next week to learn about: Eames LCW and LCM chair

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Filed under Chairs 101, NBID