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Vitra Eames Shell chair

July 29th, 2019

Category: WB Jamieson

Author: Darren Seymour


The history of the Eames shell chair

Designed in 1948 by Charles and Ray Eames and entered into the 'International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design' which was an event organised by the New York MoMA. 

Row of multiple colours of the Eames fibreglass chairThis forward thinking and progressive chair design was designed to mould around the human form and follow the natural contours of the body of the user. The chair was designed to encompass a range of elegant bases which further adds to the chair's character. Originally constructed from metal sheet, the design took second prize, however, the material it was constructed from did not lend itself to a solution that was easy or cheap to successfully mass produce.

Eames shell chair illustration

In the search for an alternative material to construct the chair from, the couple decided on glass-fibre reinforced polyester resin, which until then has been reserved for the likes of military applications such as aircraft components.

The original Eames chairs in the first muted colourways

The ability of this new material to be mould-able, rigid and suitable to be manufactured using industrial methods meant that this glass-fibre material could produce an organic shape in one piece moulded for optimal comfort.

Armrest detail of the Eames shell chair in sea foam green fibreglass.

The design duo then set about designing a range of bases which perfectly complemented the shell form. These included the iconic 'Eiffel tower' base constructed from steel wire rods, and a wooden base option with steel rod reinforcements. It was this combination of different bases and seat shells that was so revolutionary. The number of possibilities was endless. 

Originally, when used as a military application, fibreglass had only existed in a colourless version. For Charles and Ray Eames, colour was incredibly important and they spent a great deal of time in the factory mixing colours in an effort to create a range of colours that they felt best accentuated the organic form of the chair.

The fibreglass mould preparing to form an eames chair

The very first products off of the factory line were produced in greige (grey and beige mix), Parchment and finally Elephant hide which Charles referred to as black with feeling. Later the colours Sea foam green, navy blue, yellow, dark and light ochre, red followed shortly soon after in the early days of production.

By 1950, the fibreglass chairs were launched the first of its kind and now somewhat iconic and widespread in concept as a multi-functional chair in which the shell can be combined with a variety of bases to serve a range of purposes.

The newly formed eames shell being attached to its base

While fibreglass is still available as an option of the Eames shell chairs, innovations in production methods and materials has meant that the chair can now be made from dyed through polypropylene which is durable, lightweight and offers incredibly vibrant colours.

Side view of the organic form of the Eames fibreglass chair

You can see the collection of Eames chairs in our showroom or online here.

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