Eames Fiberglass Colors Posted May 23, 2016 by Daniel Ostroff
Charles and Ray initially offered the Eames Fiberglass Chair in just three colors. Learn how they chose them and why they didn’t expand the selection until the design grew in popularity.
When incorporating color into their fiberglass chair designs, Charles and Ray went beyond the consideration of tone and hue. They specifically chose to use integral colors—colors that completely permeate the material. As distinguished from applied color, integral color is longer lasting, and doesn’t chip or flake. In a 1954 letter to British engineer Frank Newby, Charles explained that “The finish can be seen as an integral part of the chair and is not later applied, but rather forced around the glass fibers as molded.”
The first colors offered for the fiberglass chair included Elephant Hide Grey, Parchment, and Greige. This last color was one that the design duo introduced to the vocabulary; early brochures clarified the definition of the new word with the parenthetical “Grey-Beige.”
Charles and Ray initially selected relatively neutral colors so that they would fit in with the greatest number of environments. The Eameses were attentive to the needs of their customers, and that included consideration of the end cost for the consumer. To keep prices reasonable, the designers were sensitive to the exigencies of production. It can be very expensive for a manufacturer to offer a product in many colors, so they took a gradual approach, eventually adding Red, Sea Foam Green, and Lemon Yellow to the line.
Sales for the Eames Fiberglass Chair increased each year, and by 1966, Herman Miller reported that over 2,000,000 had been sold. At that time, consumers had a choice of eleven standard shell colors. The company offered an additional 16 colors for contract customers—those who ordered 200 or more of the same chair.
The scan below shows a fiberglass sample page from a 1966 Herman Miller catalog. Fiberglass tiles in the available colors were adhered directly to the paper.
Today, Herman Miller continues to manufacture the Eames Fiberglass Chair in integral colors, carefully selected to coordinate with the greatest number of homes and offices. The Eames Office works closely with Herman Miller and draws upon over 40 years of Charles and Ray’s colors to create the current selection.