Classic curves: Vitra

A pioneering design that evolved into a furniture icon makes a triumphant return in its original innovative material

Style 17 Jun 2019

Eames Fibreglass Chairs are available in fibreglass once more

Eames Fibreglass Chairs are available in fibreglass once more

A humble chair, created in 1950 by the great designers Charles and Ray Eames, has been recreated and imitated repeatedly down the decades, yet still remains innovative, true and unimprovable. That is, until now. According to design guru Stephen Bayley, none of the Eames’ chair designs has ever been bettered. What’s more, he said, delivering the decisive accolade, ‘until human physiology changes or until new materials are discovered, further experimentation with chair design is unnecessary’.

At the cutting edge of contemporary, modern aesthetic thinking, the Eames’ work made a significant and lasting impact on the worlds of furniture and architectural design through the success of the Eames Office. Their design credo followed a natural, organic form, using industrial materials and took the ergonomic, functional needs of the body as its cues, with straightforward, unadorned furniture that looks as modern today – even with vintage vibes – as it did when designed in the 40s and 50s.

The 2019 Eames Fiberglass Chair

Their design philosophy was focused on designing ‘the best, for the most, for the least’. In the early 1940s, the design duo dedicated themselves to realising the idea of a one-piece seat shell moulded to fit the contours of the body  intended as affordable mass-produced items for homes, offices, auditoriums, cafeterias and more.

Exploring components, the Eameses first developed the three-dimensional moulding of plywood, then experimented with a stamped steel shell. The search for alternative materials led them to glass fibre-reinforced polyester resin, until then primarily used by the military for structures like planes’ radar domes. They realised the material’s qualities of flexibility, rigidity and suitability for industrial manufacturing process, and successfully developed the seat shells for serial production.

At a time when chairs primarily consisted of a seat and backrest, the Fiberglass Chair’s organically shaped, one-piece design was innovative and much admired. The chair’s texture innovation and perfectly moulded shell was comfortable and proved very popular, bringing a new kind of beauty into peoples’ lives. The choice of bases and colours was expanded and, produced by Vitra in Europe and the Middle East since 1957, the chairs were acclaimed as design classics.

The early Eames design came in a range of colours and with the instantly recognisable Eiffel Tower base

Over time, the fibreglass chairs were superseded by technical advancements and cheaper materials, which prompted Vitra to stop production in the early 1990s. A decade later Vitra introduced the chairs in a polypropylene version, the Eames Plastic Chair.

But last year, Vitra began manufacturing the chairs using a new process, reintroducing the Fiberglass Chairs in six of the original colours: elephant hide grey, parchment, sea foam green, raw umber, red orange and navy blue. ‘The fibreglass shell has a lively visual appeal,’ explains Eckart Maise, Vitra’s chief design officer. ‘It owes its charm to an irregular surface, which appears almost like a natural material thanks to its clearly visible fibres.’ Now available alongside the Eames Plastic Chairs, the fibreglass version is available with a simple wooden, four-legged or metal Eiffel-Tower base.

The Eames family and Vitra are working together to preserve the legacy of Charles and Ray Eames, ensuring every Eames product provides its user with the precise design experience originally intended. ‘For me,’ says their grandson, Eames Demetrios, the Fibreglass Chair ‘shows the brilliance of their design process because this is a modern chair made from a modern material and yet the form seems almost inevitable, like it has been with us forever’. The ultimate chair, if you will.

Eames Fiberglass Chair, from £500;