This chair, first manufactured by Henry Miller Inc., was designed by Charles and Bernice Alexandra “Ray” Eames. The Eameses were a husband and wife team who collaborated on design, architecture, and film projects from the 1940s through the 1970s. Their work is best known for its simplicity, functionality, formal elegance, and use of modern materials.
This chair was manufactured from plywood using a process first developed by Charles to make leg braces for injured soldiers in World War II. Many of the manufacturing processes and designs first developed by the Eameses continue to be used today.
LCW stands for “Low Chair Wood,” which reflects both the look of the chair and qualities of its design. Most of the Eameses’ furniture designs were named using this acronym system. For example, he called a metal dining chair “DCM” for “Dining Chair Metal” and a dining chair made of wood was called “DCW,” standing for “Dining Chair Wood.”
Charles (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1988)
Charles (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1988)
Charles and Bernice Alexandra “Ray” Eames (nee Kaiser) pioneered the use of modern materials and technology in furniture and architecture. Charles Eames was born in St. Louis, Missouri. As a student at George Washington University, he studied architecture and later worked as a draughtsman. Ray Kaiser, born in Sacramento, California, studied painting. She was a founding member of the group, American Abstract Artists. The two met while Charles was completing a fellowship at Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where Ray was studying art. They married in 1941 and shared a creative collaboration that lasted the rest of their lives.
Throughout their collaborative partnership, the two sought to create new designs that were multifunctional, ergonomic, and beautiful. After developing the Kazam! Machine for molding plywood in 1941, Charles Eames received a government contract to manufacture airplane parts and leg splints for servicemen injured in World War II. When the war was over, Charles and Ray Eames used the techniques to build plywood furniture which could comfortably accommodate the human body. Many of their designs are still in production today. Charles Eames once said of his plywood work, “The idea was to do a piece of furniture that would be simple and yet comfortable. It would be a chair on which mass production would not have anything but a positive influence; it would have in its appearance the essence of the method that produced it. It would have an inherent rightness about it, and it would be produced by people working in a dignified way. That sounds a little pompous, but at the time it was a perfectly legitimate thing to strive for.”
The Eameses later created furniture from a number of other modern materials like molded plastic, foam, artificial leather, and molded polyester. In addition to their architecture and furniture, Charles and Ray Eames also made children’s toys, films, and they designed industrial equipment. Charles Eames died in 1978, and Ray Eames died in 1988.
This chair is assembled from pieces of molded plywood. Though plywood has been used for furniture making since the first half of the eighteenth century, it was not until the 1920s that new technologies allowed designers to fully explore the aesthetic and functional capabilities of plywood.
Each piece of this chair was made by laminating thin sheets of wood with glue. The wood grain of each layer ran counter to the layer above to increase the strength of the chair. Using heat, adhesives, and pressure, the wood pieces were then shaped on metal molds to create smooth, organic forms. This production process was developed by Charles Eames during World War II for leg splints used by the Navy.
The design of LCW Chair was guided by the principles of ergonomics. Ergonomics studies the way humans interact with the man-made instruments and systems surrounding them. Designers use ergonomics by applying scientific theory to industrial design to make furniture and other equipment more efficient, comfortable, and suited for the human body.
In order to achieve this goal, designers use an ergonome, or model of the human figure, to help them apply the right proportions to their designs. An ergonome allows designers to better understand the way people will interact with the objects they encounter.
1. Some shapes and forms are described as “geometric” while others are called “organic.” Which of these terms better describes the forms that make up LCW Chair? Provide reasons for your answer. What other words might you use to describe LCW Chair?
2. Why might art museums display chairs like this? Do you consider this chair a work of art? Why or why not?
3. Consider your favorite piece of furniture. What about its design suits you? What qualities does it share with LCW Chair?
1. The Eameses created many furniture designs throughout their career. Search for “Charles and Ray Eames” in Google Image Search. Create a collage of their furniture creations. What similarities and differences do you notice among their designs?
2. This chair was part of a 1946 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that highlighted new furniture of the time. What else was going on in the world during the 1940s? Consider the decade that this chair was made and create a timeline of five important events or inventions that occur prior to 1946 and five important events or inventions that occur after 1946.
3. Conduct a study of at least five places you sit throughout the course of one week. Create a comparative table that records various aspects and qualities of the chairs or seats that you experience in daily life. Consider the materials used to make the chair or seat, the specific function of each seat, the comfort of each seat (rate this on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being least comfortable and 5 being most comfortable), and the quality of design (on a scale of one to five). You might also make a sketch or take a photograph of each chair or seat to include in the table.
4. An important motto of many modern designers is “form follows function.” What does this motto mean, and how does LCW Chair relate to it? Design your own chair, keeping this motto in mind. When designing your chair, consider factors such as how people sit in various settings (informal vs. formal, etc.), how different postures and body shapes affect sitting, and how the potential settings of your chair should affect its design and decoration.
5. If this chair had a personality, what would it be? What would it say if it could talk? Write a story in which this chair discusses its experiences. Consider having it talk about its owners or the manufacturing process that made it.
6. Consider what qualities of this chair make it unique and innovative. Then, make a newspaper advertisement about LCW Chair. Look at a few newspaper advertisements and think about how they use the small area of a newspaper page to entice their readers.
Albrecht, Donald, ed. The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention. New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the Library of Congress and the Vitra Design Museum, 1997.
The Eames Lounge Chair: An Icon of Modern Design. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Grand Rapids Art Museum; London; New York: In Association with Merrell, 2006.
Fiell, Charlotte and Peter. 1000 Chairs. Koln; New York: Taschen, 1997.
Neuhart, John. Eames Design: The Work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames. New York : H.N. Abrams, 1989.
This entry on the Library of Congress website discusses the life and work of Charles and Ray Eames.
In addition to information about the Eameses, this website discusses their legacy and some of their architecture and design work.
Ray Eames was a founding member of this organization.
The Design Museum of London has a number of resource packets which talk about design.
This resource packet from the Design Museum of London discusses chairs in great depth.
This website gives a biography of Charles and Ray Eames and includes images of their work.