Best design of the twentieth century

The story behind the Eames Moulded Plywood Chairs reveals how imagination and serendipity play a major role in design. In the early 1940s, when Charles Eames was working on MGM set designs, he and his wife Ray were experimenting with wood-moulding techniques that would have a profound effect on the world of design. Their discoveries led to a commission from the US Navy to develop plywood splints, stretchers and glider shells, moulded under heat and pressure, that were used successfully in World War II.

Close view of the upper half of an Eames Molded Plywood Chair with red upholstery.

How far could wood be pushed?

When the war was over, Charles and Ray applied the technology they had created to make affordable, high-quality chairs that could be mass-produced using dimensionally shaped surfaces instead of cushioned upholstery. When they found that plywood did not withstand the stresses that occurred where the chair seat and back met, they abandoned their original single-shell idea in favour of a chair that had separate-moulded plywood panels for the back and seat.

Samples of molded plywood.
Design sketches of the Eames Molded Plywood Chair.

Sculpted to the human body

The process eliminated the extraneous wood from the junction of the seat and back, which reduced the weight and visual profile of the chair and established a basis for modern furniture design. Sculpting a seat and back to fit the contours of the human body, they designed a truly comfortable chair that’s suitable for business and home environments.

“Recognising the need is the primary condition for design.”

More about Charles and Ray Eames

Product Designers Ray and Charles Eames

Awards

  • "Design of the Century" by Time magazine for Eames moulded plywood chair.

    2001
    "Design of the Century" by <i>Time</i> magazine for Eames moulded plywood chair.