Original design, reengineered for outdoor living

In 1953, the industrialist J. Irwin Miller and his wife, Xenia, commissioned a remarkable modernist triumvirate to create a home for the couple in Columbus, Indiana: Eero Saarinen designed the building, Alexander Girard masterminded the interiors, and Dan Kiley handled the landscape architecture. Noting a dearth of viable outdoor furnishings, Girard turned to his friends Charles and Ray Eames. Within a year, the Aluminum Group Chairs were in production at Herman Miller.

Always looking to new industries and materials that could be suitably translated to the design of furniture, the Eameses turned to a material that was becoming ubiquitous in postwar America: aluminum.

The major challenge aluminum posed was one of form. “When you’ve committed yourself to casting, you’ve committed yourself to a plastic material and the kind of freedom that can really give you the willies,” Charles Eames told Interiors magazine in 1958. “At that moment you find yourself face to face with sculpture, and it can scare the pants off you.”

Three-quarter rear view of an Eames Aluminum Group outdoor lounge chair in a black weave fabric.
Rear view of an Eames Aluminum Group outdoor chair in a black weave fabric, showing the aluminum frame structure.

The Eameses arrived at a design calling for a fabric seat slung between two aluminum Ls, themselves held in tension by two cross-braces (referred to as “antlers” by the designers). In the chair’s earliest incarnation, a polyester saran covering (developed with Girard’s textiles division at Herman Miller) was employed so that the chair could be used outdoors. The plastic fabric was tripled in the high tension areas to prevent sagging and rolled neatly at the termination points of the chair. Despite the designers’ best efforts, the new material did not properly weather the elements or stand up to heavy use, and the Aluminum Group soon moved indoors and evolved to include a diverse range of variations.

Today the chairs and ottoman have been reengineered for outdoor use with durable materials and finish options. A new fabric, Outdoor Weave, synthesizes the look and feel of the original saran by building on the yarn and weaving technology pioneered with the Aeron chair’s Pellicle suspension material. Unlike many outdoor fabrics, Outdoor Weave contains no PVC and will hold its shape and color over time. A choice of outdoor powder-coat frame colors, and a return to a 4-star base, complete the update.

An Eames Aluminum Group outdoor lounge chair and ottoman in a black weave fabric.

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

More about Charles and Ray Eames

Product Designers Ray and Charles Eames


  • Herman Miller wins a Best of NeoCon Innovation Award for its re-engineering of the Eames Aluminum Group chairs.

    Herman Miller wins a Best of NeoCon Innovation Award for its re-engineering of the Eames Aluminum Group chairs.