“Making designs better” Posted February 27, 2015 by Daniel Ostroff
In an interview in a 1960 issue of Home Furnishings Daily, Charles Eames explained that the Office was focused on “making designs better—more useful, more comfortable, and more lasting.”
This practice is exemplified by how Charles and Ray Eames approached not only their designs, but also by the ongoing improvements to products already in production, such as the Eames Fiberglass Chair.
The Eames Fiberglass Chair was first introduced in 1950. Zenith Plastics was the original maker of the shell part of those chairs. By 1958, the Eames Office and Herman Miller were working with three different suppliers of fiberglass shells as part of the Eameses’ ongoing commitment to “making designs better.” You can read the entire Home Furnishings Daily interview, “Making Designs Better,” in An Eames Anthology: Articles, Film Scripts, Interviews, Letters, Notes and Speeches by Charles and Ray Eames (Yale University Press).
Quality control was at the forefront of Charles and Ray’s practice. Very early on it was apparent that there was a high reject rate with Zenith shells, and for the ones that did meet the rigorous Eames and Herman Miller quality standards, there were issues of performance. The Zenith shells had too many exposed fibers after very little use. In addition, the Zenith chairs were not colorfast. The red ones in particular faded so much that collectors now refer to their color as “coral.”
At 901 Washington Boulevard, Charles and Ray kept on hand numerous production examples of every part of their designs for study and for testing. They were well aware of the quality issues at Zenith, because the Zenith plant was right next-door in Gardena, California. They engaged directly with the next two suppliers—the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company in Cincinnati, and the General American Transportation Corporation (GATC) in Chicago. They sent highly trained Eames Office staff members to work directly with the part suppliers. In 1956, they dispatched one of their most experienced, Don Albinson, to work with GATC.
Keen-eyed collectors wonder about the double triangle logo embossed on some Eames shells. Triangles are the logo for the Plastics Division of the General American Transportation Corporation, one of the first three makers of Eames shells.
Today, the Eames Office continues to carry out Charles and Ray’s dedication to quality, with an ongoing commitment to bringing consumers the best for the most for the least amount of money. When the Eames rocking chair came back into production in 2006, it was the subject of an Elle Decor magazine story called The Ten Most Riveting Rockers. It is the most reasonably priced rocker on that list.
In the picture gallery below, you can see more images of various GATC models that Charles and Ray kept on hand for color and quality approval checks, including a shell of a very unusual blue color. There is also a GATC advertisement from the Library of Congress’s vast archive of papers from the work of Charles and Ray Eames.