A Love Affair with a Chair

Image courtesy of Richard Macias.

For much of my life, I have had a love affair with a chair. Yes, with a chair. Most people find that difficult to understand, so I feel that some explanation is needed.

Most of my early life was spent in Michigan. I attended public schools there, and following graduation I entered the University of Michigan with the hope of becoming an architect. During my second year, I looked for part-time work to help with my school costs. I applied for a summer job at a small design firm in Grosse Pointe and was hired to do drafting work. The principals of the firm had some connection to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, about an hour north of our office. I was not familiar with the school’s significance at the time, so it didn’t mean much to me when I began doing detail work on a house by a Cranbrook alum. As a part-time employee, I worked in the background and was awed as the design developed. The house was for the J. Irwin Miller family in Columbus, Indiana, and the architect was Eero Saarinen. Others played a role in the creation of this residence too—names that became more familiar to me as I continued my studies in Ann Arbor. But the names that stood out were Charles and Ray Eames. The Eamses became involved in the project through the connection with their friend Eero Saarinen.

The design included a patio adjacent to the house and integral with its modular layout. Charles and Ray became involved when they were commissioned to design a chair specifically for that patio. For this space, a chair was “born.” It later became known as one of the Eames Aluminum Group chairs. When I looked at the design of the prototype lounge, I thought it was the most beautiful chair I had ever seen. It was love at first sight for a one-off item. It would later become available through the Herman Miller Furniture Company in Zeeland, Michigan, but I did not know that at the time, so the thought of possessing a chair like that seemed a remote desire.

As I continued my studies, the fascination I had with the chair led me to learn more about the work of Charles and Ray Eames. I became familiar with their design philosophy, and that launched a greater interest in mid-century furniture design. While I was a student, I took the plunge and bought an Eames chair for my modest student apartment. It was an LCM (Lounge Chair Metal) in oak plywood. While it helped ease my desire, I still longed for the opportunity to someday sit in my own Eames Aluminum Group Lounge Chair.

Still living in Michigan, I discovered that Herman Miller occasionally had a warehouse sale of seconds or discontinued items. That appealed to my frugal nature since I was not sure I could yet afford to buy my coveted chair. Like a magnet, Zeeland drew me to the warehouse where I hoped to find the object of my affections. By then the Aluminum Group chair was in production in a variety of configurations. I still longed to possess the version I first “met” in 1958, but I was unsuccessful in finding one there.

I realized at that point that I was hooked. Charles and Ray’s chairs became objects of my quest. I’d look at ads, attend auctions, and go to yard sales. One day, a mutual friend introduced me to a sales rep from an office furniture company. He had a lounge version of the Eames Aluminum Group chair at home for his personal use and told me that he was willing to part with it. It was an early-production in black Naugahyde with a matching ottoman and adjustable base: The chair of my dreams. Without hesitation, I bought it and still have it to this day.

It was my second Eames chair, and it encouraged the start of my mid-century modern chair collection. Over the years, I acquired more designs by Charles and Ray, including a 670 Lounge and 671 Ottoman, which were given to me in pieces. I have been restoring the Lounge Chair and Ottoman, refinishing the Rosewood, and bringing it back to its 1960 condition. I still search for Eames chairs in any condition with a goal of restoring them. I have them located throughout my home as reminders of my earliest chair-passion and how the work of Charles and Ray Eames swayed my later years.

I don’t believe in coincidences; things happen for a reason. My chair experiences have proven that. When I met my wife, I was amazed to find that she owned two Eames LCMs in a walnut finish. This year, we will celebrate thirty-six years of wedded bliss.

Today, I use my interest and my accumulated knowledge of the work of Charles and Ray Eames to teach a class on the History of Modern Architecture. I instruct the eight-week course in the spring and fall as part of an on-going lecture series at our local art museum in Chico, California. The Eames story plays a prominent role in our discussion of design philosophy and the significance of the mid-century modern movement. During my Eames lecture, I share with my students my love story—how a chair made a significant impact on me and how it influenced my life.

Richard Macias
Lecturer, Museum of Northern California Art
Former instructor of architectural history, CSU Chico

Read more Eames stories or submit one of your own by writing to [email protected].