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A Black with Feeling

A Vitra Anecdote

For Charles and Ray Eames, black was not just black but a colour with many dimensions. The couple mainly used a limited scale of subtle and neutral colours for their furniture designs, but each palette was thoroughly researched and carefully selected.

While working on the Eames Fiberglass Chairs in the early 1950s, Charles and Ray Eames designed a range of nuanced shades for the chairs. No colours for fibreglass had existed before Charles and Ray Eames designed their plastic chairs.

The first fibreglass colours developed by the Eameses were Greige, a portmanteau which hinted at a beige-grey, Elephant Hide Grey, a warm black-grey, and Parchment, which was notoriously translucent. Shortly afterward, still in the early production phase, Sea Foam Green was added, along with a bright Lemon Yellow and a fresh Red Orange. Later these were followed by an array of other colours.

© Eames Office, LLC
© Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Thomas Dix

Charles and Ray would spend endless hours in the factory, tweaking the dyes and making slight alterations to the specifications of each colour option, often creating several different shell samples in just one day to find the perfect shade. As fibreglass was a new material in the furniture industry, the colour options developed in the beginning were those that would most seamlessly blend with the largest number of interiors.

One hue that apparently caused the most frustration and was the most difficult to achieve was a warm blackish grey – after several attempts Charles Eames expressed: ‘What I really want is a black with feeling’. These efforts ultimately resulted in the colour the Eameses called Elephant Hide Grey.


Publication date: 3.1.19
Author: Stine Liv Buur
Images: © Eames Office, LLC; Marc Eggimann; © Vitra Design Museum, Thomas Dix; Cornel Windlin