In 1959, Henry Luce, chairman of Time, Inc., invited Charles and Ray to design a lobby for Time’s New York City offices in the newly built Time-Life Building. This led to the first Eames design originally conceived primarily for the contract market, a type of usage that requires even more substance and stability than the kinds of designs Charles and Ray had previously produced. Visitors to company lobbies are notoriously hard on furniture. In addition, another consideration opened Charles and Ray’s minds to a new way of designing seating: the furniture for such a lobby should help represent the seriousness of a high-profile workplace filled with “suits.”
Herman Miller presented the Eames Executive chairs this way in one of their early catalogs: “Executive seating combines a light, precision tooled (it’s actually cast aluminum) structural profile with deep-cushioned comfort, projecting an unmistakable image of quality and prestige.”
Charles and Ray Eames had a delimited view of function. They understood that one of the functions of furniture, particularly these pieces, could be to “project an image of quality and prestige.” When working on this design, Charles called legendary Herman Miller founder D. J. DePree, to seek reassurance that there were “old timers” in the factory of Herman Miller, who knew how to do traditional button tufted furniture, the hallmark of high-quality upholstery. The earliest versions of these chairs were not only button tufted on the top of the seat and the seatbacks, but also on the underside and backside!
Seat cushions are supported by body-contoured plywood for excellent back support and overall chair strength. Upholstery-covered buttons at the top and bottom of each cover give added strength to the cushions while maintaining a soft, luxurious appearance. Bright polished aluminum side members provide sculptured-relieved sections for clean design and maximum strength and rounded surfaces with no sharp edges. The Executive model features height adjustment, tilt/swivel mechanism, and choice of casters or glides; a Lounge model is also height adjustable, with choice of swivel or tilt-swivel, and nylon glides. There are many upholstery options, including natural full-grain leather.
As they always tried to do, Charles and Ray with these chairs considered versatility. They are models that serve as lobby chairs, as conference room chairs, even as an executive desk chair, and, as it turns out, even as gaming chairs. In fact, in 1972, the American chess grandmaster, Bobby Fischer, specifically requested one for his match with Russian opponent Boris Spassky. Fischer explained that it was the only chair in which he could really concentrate. Spassky then made the same demand, prompting the tournament’s sponsors to hurriedly acquire a second Eames Executive Chair for the match.