The Secret of the Eames Segmented Base Posted August 16, 2016 by Daniel Ostroff
Charles and Ray Eames introduced the Segmented Base Table design in 1964.
Like many of the Eames chair designs, the Eames segmented base is a systems approach to design. There are two functional aspects to this system: The bases can be configured in a variety of different ways, and a number of different tops can be fitted onto the the bases.
Eames Segmented Base Tables are made by Herman Miller and Vitra with round, square, or elliptical (“super ellipse”) tops in a wide range of sizes. Standard tables can seat four, ten or 18 people. There is no limit to the size of an Eames Segmented Base Table, and they can made to suit every need. Given the versatility of the Eames segmented base, it’s all the more remarkable how few component parts are needed.
The horizontal elements of the base are solid cast aluminum with hollow steel spreaders held in place by cast aluminum connectors. The height is provided by rolled steel tubes, which connect into cast aluminum four-blade “spiders” that support the tabletops.
Each part offers a straightforward and direct solution to the problem of table support. The secret to the table’s versatility is a uniquely fabricated single connecting element that takes the place of glue and solder. This stamped steel part is visible in the picture below on the right.
This unique Eames Office “connector” is an example of what Charles and Ray Eames had in mind when they wrote, “The connections, the connections, the connections; it will in the end be these details that provide service to the customers and give the product its life.” But the Eameses’ process involved more than quality alone; they wanted to deliver that quality for the lowest possible price.
In an interview with Ralph Caplan, Ray talked about an insight that she and Charles had when designing first the Eames House in Pacific Palisades, and then the Herman Miller Showroom in West Hollywood. They were looking for ways to keep costs contained, and they learned that one of the biggest expenses involved in putting a steel structure together is the number of connections between steel elements. To mitigate this in the Eames House and Herman Miller Showroom, they increased the size of the steel trusses, and this reduced the number of connections they had to make.
The Eames Segmented Base Table is similarly economic in construction, in that all elements of the base are held together by one connector. No other connecting material is needed, so there are no additional costs for time or labor. The money saved by this one device is passed along to the consumer in the form of lower prices. The table system is yet another manifestation of the Eames principle to provide “the best to the most for the least amount of money.”
The Eames connecting device facilitates the arrangement of the segmented bases for shorter, more narrow tabletops like the two-toned example illustrated above; rectangular, for longer and wider table tops; or square, for large round tops.
The base for this design usually employs a three part connector, but a four-part connector is used for single pedestal bases and bases with square configurations. Both unique versions are made to Eames Office specifications for the Eames segmented base system.
Images: Table photographs by Grant Taylor, gifted to the Eames Office by J.F Chen. Connector photographs courtesy of Graham Mancha.