The Eames Rope Edge Chairs Posted January 12, 2015 by Daniel Ostroff

Some Eames collectors focus on finding good examples of early Eames shell chairs, specifically, the armchairs with rope embedded in the edges.

The underside of an Eames "rope edge" rocking chair

This image shows the underside of an Eames “rope edge” rocking chair.

The earliest Eames fiberglass armchairs had “rope edges,” so when collectors purchase an example of one, they feel they are getting something special and rare. Where they make a mistake is when they conclude that the intention of the designers is best represented by these early examples.

In fact, that is not the case. It is on record that Charles and Ray wanted to produce a product with a consistent and uniform finish. For the sake of the consumer, they’d hoped that a molded arm shell would result in a lower cost and better-performing product.

They also cared about the user interface long before the term was made fashionable by people like Steve Jobs. One aspect of the “user interface” for the chair is the edges. With a molded fiberglass armchair, they could use a minimum amount of material, and in fact, a rather thin shell. However, they did not want the shell to be so thin as to have a sharp edge. They wanted radius edges (a “rounding” of exterior edges), which are comfortable in the hand.

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Irv Green and Sol Fingerhut, the technical and sales executives at Zenith Plastics, had never made a consumer product before meeting Charles and Ray Eames. They were new to the idea of user-friendly products. The only previous product they had made out of fiberglass was radar housing for airplanes. No one cared about its color, so they used uncolored fiberglass. In addition, no hands touched the fiberglass once installed, so they didn’t concern themselves with radius edges.

To give Eames shell chairs the radius edge that Charles and Ray designed, they inserted a rope along the shell’s edge on the first production examples. The ropes were round and molded in place on the edge, providing for a comfortable handgrip.

Charles wasn’t happy with the rope edges, probably because they were an added expense as well as a point of structural weakness. He and Ray pushed for a mold that incorporated radius edges, and this was a real breakthrough. If it is your idea to collect chairs that reflect the ultimate intention of the designer, those are the chairs on which to focus.

You will appreciate this breakthrough with the new Eames Fiberglass Chairs made by Herman Miller. They are beautiful, useful, long-lasting, and you can wrap your hands around the edge very comfortably. And, since they don’t have to add a rope for the sake of that edge, the cost is very reasonable.