The details are not the details . . . Posted September 8, 2014 by Daniel Ostroff
“The details are not the details; they make the product,” wrote Charles and Ray Eames for the film script, ECS, about one of their new furniture systems.
That’s a good way to begin this meditation on what was important to Charles and Ray Eames. The couple could be counted upon to do whatever they said they would do. They paid attention to the details. The Eameses demonstrated how much they cared about their customers by considering the details that would be most important to them: How long a product would last, and how much it would cost.
When they introduced their Eames Upholstered Wire Chair in 1951-52, the earliest versions had very simple feet, as seen in the image below.
These feet were done in a simple and straightforward manner. The main steel wire of the leg was bent at the bottom, and then a bolt was put through it, to which a glide was secured. Charles and Ray designed the feet so that they wouldn’t be too expensive for the manufacturer to make, therefore allowing the manufacturer to charge less for the end-product.
It was a good idea in the model; however, after a few months, the Eameses (who paid a great deal of attention to feedback) realized that, in practice, it would not give the best service and performance to their customers. This kind of foot tended to break off.
Charles and Ray strove to work at the intersection of the best possible product at the best possible price, so they redesigned the chair, developing an improved, albeit slightly more expensive, foot. It required a bit of extra effort, but it worked much better. The steel wire was finished with a ball shape, and to this ball, a glide could be fitted. It resulted in the foot/glide (1953), seen in the image below.
For a couple of years, this foot/glide was standard on any Herman Miller Eames Upholstered Wire Chair with this base. It was the best available glide at that time.
Charles and Ray wanted their customers to get products that would last for years and years, and the search for the best details didn’t stop with that first improvement. This was especially true when it became clear that, after several years of use, some of these metal and rubber feet developed cracks.
By 1957, the Eames Office had come up with an even better glide, seen in the next image. This one is made of solid white nylon, and for the next few years, it served as the standard glide provided to all customers by Herman Miller and the Eames Office.
The chair went out of production for a short time, but when Herman Miller brought it back, the company continued making it with the nylon glide. Then, keeping in mind the latest developments in design and interiors, Herman Miller worked with the Eames Office to offer a black nylon glide. When you buy new Eames chairs today (made authentically by Herman Miller or Vitra), they come with this same kind of nylon glide—the very one that Charles and Ray designed in 1957.
The story of how this chair developed highlights its history, but it does more than that. It reveals Charles and Ray’s constant dedication to their customers. Authentic Eames designs have always been about service and performance. That dedication was characteristic of the days when Charles and Ray made all of the decisions, and it is a tradition that the present Eames Office carries out today.
When a discovery is made that will result in a better product, we honor Charles and Ray’s design philosophies by continuing to offer you the best product possible.
Above is a picture of one of the Eames Upholstered Wire Chairs from 1951.
Collectors like to find the earliest examples for reasons of historic interest, but often times, those are not the best products in terms of service and performance.