Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Charles And Ray Still Inspire Designs

The answer to the question "what's in a chair" inevitably depends on the chair, especially if it was designed by Charles and Ray Eames. There was always something more about the work they started in the 1940s, which is why some furniture designers still aspire to capture it today.

The design of the DCM 1952 might seem simple at a glance for example, but it perfectly balanced form and function. That was part of the goal. When Charles and Ray Eames first started designing furniture for Herman Miller, the architect, artist, and their team wanted to make high-quality pieces that were affordable for average people.

At the same time, almost every piece they made carried an elegant modern look. For some designers, the look and innovations might have been enough. Not for the Eames team. They wanted it to work. 

"What works is better than what looks good," said Ray Eames. "The looks good can change, but what works, works."

All of the Eames designs incorporated shapes to comfortably support the seat and back of the human body. The chair became so collectible that originals aren't easy to find. The chair above (featured by the Eames Office) appears to have been sold from the collection it once belonged to. 

Fortunately, there are some designers who take the time to revisit the concept. The Eames chair, which is considered to be among the most collectible designs of the 20th century (and this century too), has been partially recreated in all wood.

While some variations certainly apply, some do not. For instance, the DCW chair inspired by Eames is all handmade. And even though it moves away from Eames' desire to retain natural wood, the veneer finishes are still striking in black, red, or one of four wood finishes.

The manufacturer does pay attention to detail. In fact, INFURN specializes in producing furniture that was designed between 1900 and 1986. The ones they painstakingly being back to life have all reached iconic status. They carry several other models, but Eames pieces immediately stood out.

As an alternative, we also found another designer that carries the inspired design. The manufacturer is Kardiel, which sells the product for about $100 less. Kardeil does a fine job because they triple sand the surfaces and then and five additional coats of UV polyurethane for protection. Eames took a different approach, staining the chair with black dye in order to preserve the grain of the original wood, but Kardeil is close.

This deceptively simple looking chair was a breakthrough in that they were among one of the first people to mold wood in such a way it could be easily reproduced. Interestingly enough, some of their techniques were developed out of a need to supply molded wood parts to aid allies in World War II.

The unforgettable talents of Charles and Ray Eames.

My interest in the Eames was recently sparked by a documentary about the husband and wife team who became one of the most important industrial designers in the history of the United States. While their furniture designs are often the first things that come to mind when people hear their names, their team touched more dreams than many people realize.

The film itself does an excellent job capturing the personal story of Eames, including interviews with friends, by piecing together an amazing collection of archival material. Not only does it capture some fascinating times, it also illustrates how the Eames were virtually out of time.

Best of all, the film captures the color of the characters, even when it attempts to discuss some controversies produced by the team. Some felt that the designers who worked for them never received enough credit because everything carried the signature of Charles Eames. Others, however, looked at it all differently. Without the Eames, including some of their innovative ideas, none of it would have existed.

When you begin to appreciate the true scope of their work and the impact it had on expanding American culture worldwide, there is no question how big of a role they played. They understood it better than most people — modern art and design can be the agents of change. So can two visionaries who happen to become a couple.

The DCW Chair Inspired By Eames Sits At 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The DCW Chair comes as close as possible to original design intent, even if it cheats a bit on the materials and finish. Still, this modern design — incredibly considered a classic even if it still looks modern — is one of several revived retro pieces discovered. They still make a statement today.

You can find the DCW Chair inspired by Eames from a collection that features designer furniture for less (about $280). The designers have recast several more inspirations too, including the infamous lounge chair that remains as iconic today as it was then. For $100 more, you can also find a DCM inspired chair as well. 
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