Eames Aluminum Group chairs at The Sea Ranch – a home designed by Obie Bowman. Via The Mid-Century Modernist.
The EAG series was designed in 1958. Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard were designing the Columbus, Indiana, home of J. Irwin Miller, founder of Cummins Engines. They wanted an outdoor chair and asked Charles and Ray Eames to develop one. The Eameses constructed their chairs with cast aluminum and a seat frame meant to support a stretched synthetic mesh. The seat-back suspension was a major technical achievement and it represented a departure from the concept of the chair as a solid shell. The original mesh was short lived and in 1969 the Eames added plush, individually upholstered cushions. Then in 2001 a new mesh was added to the repertoire that was similar to the fabric used on Aeron chairs.
During a recent visit to the factory in Michigan where the chairs are produced I learned that they are one of the most copied products on the furniture market. So what do you look for when you want to buy an original? According to Gregg VanderKooi, the Classics product manager, there are three tell-tale signs.
1. FORM “There’s really two levels of knock-off Eames Aluminum Group chairs, those that attempt to be a literal reproduction and those that are a low-cost inspiration. The low-cost versions are easiest to determine, the form is usually noticeably off, the arms are typically only partially formed – meaning they aren’t a continuous ‘D’ shape, and the pneumatic area looks very clunky.”
2. SIGNATURE “The easiest way to determine an authentic EAG is to flip it over and see if it’s marked as Herman Miller on the underside. Ever since 2007 (the 50th anniversary of the EAG), this is even easier since I added a sewn-in tag to the underside that carries the HMI logo, Eames signature, and Eames Office logo. Prior to this, we either branded it through the use of a ‘Herman Miller’ sticker, or on older chairs, the Herman Miller name was formed directly into one of the aluminum parts of the base. This is probably the only sure way to determine if it’s authentic (but like many other things, knock-off producers will eventually copy this too).
3. FINISH “Herman Miller only polishes the aluminum frame, we don’t use chrome. I don’t recall ever seeing a knock-off use any other finishing process other than chrome (polishing to our level of quality adds too much labor cost to the product, chroming covers up many of the defects of the aluminum parts, allowing knock-offs to use sub-standard parts). Again though, we unfortunately can’t say that all chromed chairs are knock-offs because Vitra -who is authorized – offers their chairs either chromed or polished. They’ve said that 80% of theirs go out chromed too. ”