Developments in the design of domestic objects like the chair came to a standstill during World War II and in the period of material shortages immediately afterwards. Ingenious designers and manufacturers then harnessed the wartime advances in materials and production processes by the defence industry for consumer products. At the forefront of innovation were the US designers Charles and Ray Eames and their collaborators on the West Coast, helped by empathetic manufacturers such as Knoll and Hermann Miller.
Navy Chair, 1944
Production: Emeco, US.
One of the best-selling chairs in North America, the Navy Chair was designed in 1944 specifically for use at sea by the US Navy by the Electric Machine and Equipment Company – known as Emeco – and the Alcoa aluminium group. Emeco’s founder, Wilson ‘Bud’ Dinges, was a master tool and die maker and a skilled engineer. He worked closely with Alcoa’s scientists and naval engineers to develop and test the Navy Chair. Having completed the design in 1944, Emeco put it into production at its manufacturing plant in Hanover, Pensylvania where the Navy Chair is still made today. Each chair is constructed by a small number of skilled craftsmen, each of whom is entrusted with a designated task.
LCW (Lounge Chair Wood), 1945
Moulded and bent birch-faced plywood, rubber.
Production: Herman Miller, US.
No sooner had the newly married Charles and Ray Eames (1907-1978 and 1912-1988) arrived in Los Angeles in 1941 than they began experimenting with plywood in their apartment using wood and glue which Charles smuggled out of the MGM production lot where he designed sets for films like Mrs Miniver. In 1945 they produced the DCW (Dining Chair Wood).and LCW (Lounge Chair Wood). Robust and comfortable, these chairs were designed for the expanding population of young families after World War II who needed light, compact, yet inexpensive furniture. The Eames made the DSW and LCW more comfortable to sit on for long periods by added a slight spring to the legs.
LAR, DAR and RAR ‘mix and match’ chairs, 1948
Fibreglass, steel, rubber
Production: Herman Miller, US
Charles and Ray Eames (1907-1978 and 1912-1988) designed furniture to adapt to the owners’ changing needs. A practical way of achieving this was to create a series of components – such as the seats, legs and bases of chairs – for easy assembly and disassembly. Typical were the moulded fibreglass seats and metal rod bases of interchangeable chairs such as the DAR (Dining Armchair Rod) and LAR (Lounge Armchair Rod), developed for the 1948 Low Cost Furniture Design Competition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Chrysler, the car maker, developed welded shock mounts to attach the fibreglass and, later, wire mesh seats to different bases, including Eiffel Tower-shaped legs and rockers for the RAR chairs given to Herman Miller employees when they had children. When the Eames went to the beach, they often sat on the sand in the fibreglass ‘bucket’ seats.
La Chaise, 1948
Fibreglass, wood, steel
At a time when the US government was keen to encourage US manufacturers to develop new types of furniture and household products for the expanding post-war population, the Museum of Modern Art in New York staged an International Competition for Low-Cost Design. Charles and Ray Eames (1907-1978 and 1912-1989) sent several submissions included the imposingly sculptural La Chaise fibreglass chaise longue. Their idea was to develop a portable, easy to clean seat on which one person could lie or several people could sit. Too complex to manufacture at the time, it was finally put into production by Vitra, the Swiss office furniture manufacturer, in 1990. La Chaise became a symbol of the mid-1990s revival of interest in mid-20th century modernism when the fashion designer, Tom Ford, featured his own chair in a 1995 advertising campaign for Gucci.
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