Eames Archives: The LCW – A New Furniture Design Posted May 9, 2021 by Kelsey Rose Williams
Eames Archives: An Image as an Idea is a blog series written with the intention of sharing rarely-viewed images from the Eames Office archive and narratives attached to them.
Time Magazine branded the Eames LCW “The Chair of the Century,” and this year marks the 75th anniversary of the chair’s existence. Despite seeming superbly contemporary, one may not realize that today’s highly-coveted LCW has close ties with the end of WWII and that its legacy flourished from an early partnership with Herman Miller. Let’s explore the early moments of the LCW’s history, beginning in the winter of 1945 and the spring of 1946.
As Americans sensed the closure of war, labor and materials began to divert from wartime efforts to commercial and residential environments. Plywood was a material with tremendous manufacturing potential, and it was also a material Charles and Ray had recent experience with. The Plyformed Wood Company, which quickly became the Molded Plywood Division of Evans Products Company, was spearheaded by Charles and Ray in Venice, California. During war, it fabricated plywood aircraft parts and 150,000 molded plywood splints to aid wounded soldiers. Concurrently, the Eameses were molding and developing furniture systems with this material. The LCW, or Lounge Chair Wood, was born from this series of experiments. The Molded Plywood Division produced a small batch of LCWs in the fall of 1945, while solutions for distribution and mass-production were looming.
In December 1945, the LCW and a few other Eames designs were displayed at a press preview at the Barclay Hotel in New York City. The hope was to introduce the Eames name and the Evans Products Company to the furniture market. George Nelson, the budding Director of Design for the Herman Miller Furniture Company, discovered Charles and Ray’s furniture at this Barclay Hotel showcase. Two months later, another preview occurred at the Architectural League, also in New York City.
After experiencing the Barclay Hotel display, Eliot Noyes, the Director of Industrial Design at the Museum of Modern Art, asked Charles to exhibit these unusual furniture designs to consumers for the first time. In March of 1946, MoMA held a two-week exhibition titled “New Furniture Designed by Charles Eames.” Included in this exhibition was a three-dimensional assemblage of photographs and molded plywood parts, and a large spinning drum to showcase the design’s lasting durability. The exhibition’s press release neatly outlined the Eameses’ objective while creating the LCW: “The main points were to make reasonably priced, strong, light chairs which followed the natural contours of comfortable postures, and yet would flex with the sitter’s movements. The furniture…achieves these ends, and has found solutions for the many technical difficulties involved, thanks to the resourcefulness of long production experiments.” In these previews, the Eameses presented a new visual language for home furnishings and simultaneously promised resilience and economic value in their designs.
Eliot Noyes and George Nelson championed the Eameses’ designs after the showcases, continuing a lifelong friendship and business partnership with Charles and Ray. In the same regard, the public has also fostered a lifelong relationship with the LCW. Seventy-five years later, the chair is still scattered throughout the globe—in homes and offices—and continues to be manufactured by our historic partners, Herman Miller and Vitra.
Read the introduction to the Eames Archives: An Image as an Idea series here, and stay tuned for monthly installments.