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When a friend can’t find suitable chairs.

Eames Aluminium Group
The story of a Vitra original

In 1954, the American industrialist J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia commissioned the architect Eero Saarinen to build a private residence for their family. The designer and interior architect Alexander Girard was responsible for outfitting the rooms of the home, right down to every detail of the furnishings. While visiting his friend Charles Eames in 1957, shortly before construction of the Miller House was completed, Girard complained that there were no suitable high-quality outdoor furnishings on the market that could be used for the terraces around the modernist structure.

In response to Girard’s problem, Charles and his wife Ray Eames teamed up with US furniture manufacturer Herman Miller to develop a range of chairs that would meet these requirements. As Charles remarked later on: ‘You start on a close human scale. Here is a friend who has done something. He needs something for it, and you become involved. As we were trying to analyze the reasons why there was nothing available on the market to suit him, we were of course starting to write a program for designing the object to fill this void. That’s how it started.’

This point of departure for the development of the Eames Aluminium Group is an essential aspect of its design: since the chairs were intended for both indoor and outdoor use, the Eames searched for suitable materials. This led them to aluminium, which is not only water-resistant but also lightweight and capable of being cast into free-form sculptural shapes. Exploiting these advantages, they came up with an ingenious structural idea: a textile membrane stretched tautly between two elegantly curved aluminium side members to form a sling-style seat.

For a short time, the chairs were marketed as the Leisure Group or Indoor-Outdoor Group. The design was enthusiastically received by both critics and the public, leading to an entire range of models comprising the Eames Aluminium Group: the Aluminium Chairs EA 101, 103 and 104 are especially suited as dining chairs, while the models EA 105, 107 and 108 are most commonly used in conference settings. The Aluminium Chairs EA 115, 116 and EA 124, 125 form two groups of lounge chairs, and the versions EA 117, 118 and 119 are the task chairs in this product family.

Vitra introduced the chairs on the European market in 1959, shortly after the US launch by Herman Miller – the producer and distributor of the Aluminium Chairs in all other global markets – and one year after the first chairs were delivered to the Miller family for use in their new home.

Today Vitra uses virtually the same manufacturing and assembly process that was originally developed by the Eames Office to produce these chairs – with the exception of a few improvements adapting it to today’s technical specifications. On average it takes six highly trained and experienced Vitra employees a total of 40 minutes to assemble an Eames Aluminium Chair. Visitors to the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, near Basel, can personally observe the final steps of the assembly process during production tours organised by the Vitra Design Museum.

Charles Eames once said: ‘I think of our work as essentially that of tradesmen – the tools we use are often connected with the arts but we use them to solve problems which are assigned or we discern.’ Vitra is committed to upholding this approach and regards the Eames Aluminium Chairs not just as a classic design, but as an entire design concept for industrial manufacturing with elements of hand craftsmanship. Only in this way can the quality be achieved that allows Vitra to offer a 30-year guarantee on all of the chair models in the Aluminium Group.

‘I think of our work as essentially that of tradesmen‘
Charles Eames

Today the legendary Miller House belongs to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and is accessible to the public. Along with a few other private homes, it is a seminal example of American Mid-Century Modernism.

Publication Date: 22.06.2017
Images: © Eames Office, LLC

Vitra originals and their stories in the Vitra Magazine
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