Why did Charles and Ray Eames design a “bikini pad” for their wire chair? Posted April 25, 2016 by Daniel Ostroff

The concept of “Getting the best to the most for the least amount of money” is fundamental to many Eames designs.

Eames Wire Chairs Upholstered_Grant Taylor photographer_JF Chen collection_EO copyright_WebVintage images by Grant Taylor and gifted to the Eames Office by J.F. Chen

The Eames Upholstered Wire Chair is one example of this. When introduced in 1952, it came with two options: a single upholstered pad, or a two piece pad that many people call the “bikini” pad. The Eameses were not thinking about bathing suits when they offered the second option, nor were they trying to offer an alternative stylistic choice. They were being true to their objective of offering ultimate value while also offering ultimate service and performance.

Ray Eames said that the two-piece pad resulted from a process in which they removed everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary for comfort. They reduced the upholstery to its essentials, leaving padding only in the places where a sitter’s back and bottom touches the chair. The two-piece pad required less material and less time to make, which allowed them to sell it for less than a fully upholstered DKR. And that was the point.

Eames Wire Chairs Upholstered_Back View_JF Chen Collection_Grant Taylor photograph_EO Copyright_WebVintage images by Grant Taylor and gifted to the Eames Office by J.F. Chen

A review of the 1952 Herman Miller Illustrated Price List reveals that the DKR-1, an “Upholstered Wire Chair—dining or desk height with single upholstered pad,” cost $31.65 in fabric. The DKR-2, the same chair but with a two-piece upholstered pad, was $24.75 in fabric. The DKR-2 served as a lower-cost option for people who didn’t want to pay for full upholstery.

One way to tell that the images above are early examples is that the backing for both upholstered pads is made of hemp or jute. In 1957, Charles and Ray specified an improvement; they wanted the same premium material used for both the face and the backing of the pads. The Eames Wire Chair has been manufactured that way ever since. See below in these image details of a current-day Eames DKR-2 by Vitra.

Eames Wire Chaire_Detail front and back_Vitra_Web