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A Seat at the Helm: The Unlikely Naval Origins of the Original Eames Chairs

When it comes to mid-century design, few objects are as celebrated or as imitated as the chairs of Charles and Ray Eames. The husband and wife design team did more than simply create exemplars of furniture for that period; they essentially redefined what furniture could be, by harnessing the values of the post-war zeitgeist. By embracing rather than eschewing large-scale production, they proved that good design and industrialization were not mutually exclusive, but could actually co-exist in a functional and aesthetic relationship that bordered on the symbiotic—precisely what a modernized America was looking for at that time.

This epiphany, however, regarding the potential of 20th century design had its origins in a rather unlikely place—not in a sunlit L.A. design studio, but in a U.S. naval base in San Diego. In 1942, at the beginning of the Second World War specifically, as that was when the American military commissioned the designers to develop leg splints for the war effort. As it turned out, the existing metal splints the Navy used were too heavy, awkward, and expensive to manufacture. Fresh access to military technology and resources allowed the couple to perfect their techniques for molding plywood into functional, lightweight, and ergonomic shapes. What began with a simple splint would evolve into military commissions that included everything from stretchers to pilot seats. During the war, their breakthroughs in molded plywood saved lives. After, they allowed the Eames to totally reimagine what a chair could be, and apply those same techniques to single-body, molded furniture—an innovation that would come to define American design for the remainder of the century.

To learn more about the contributions of Charles and Ray Eames to the war effort, click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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