April 21, 2016
As any smartphone user could attest, the things we own sometimes end up owning us. Equally, the things we create can end up owning us. The most famous item designed by Charles Eames is a moulded plywood, leather upholstered lounge chair and matching ottoman that are timelessly iconic, have spawned thousands of rip-off versions, invariably feature in any anthology of classic Twentieth Century design and are now part of a permanent exhibit at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Yet Eames himself never intended it to go into production in the first place and didn’t even view it as his best product. In an interview in Time magazine he reveals that it was originally designed as a gift for a friend. ‘I made it as a present for Billy Wilder,’ he said. ‘Billy had made a picture in East Germany and found a Marcel Breuer chair and brought it back to me and this was a return present.’
Eames himself evidently tired of his association with the chair in spite of the fame and riches it brought him. The article itself notes: ‘Wherever in the world Eames goes, for whatever enterprise he and Ray are engaged on, people mention the chair. A slightly weary look comes into his eyes as this celebrated ghost of the past intrudes into his current enthusiasm.’
You can see why he may have had mixed feelings about being so closely associated with the chair if it came to overshadow his other work, or at least distract attention from other projects in a career that spanned five decades and embraced a wide range of disciplines and art forms.
Note: Although the chair is made by Herman Miller in North America, it is available in Europe through Vitra.