As a perk of the job I suppose, I got a rare peak into the making of an icon: the Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair. This product probably needs no introduction, but supporting that magnificent design introduced by Charles and Ray Eames in 1956 is an equally long history of hand-made American craftsmanship by Herman Miller and the team in Zeeland, Michigan.
The most significant and innovative component of the construction is the bent plywood, a process basically invented by Charles and Ray Eames’ themselves. They take 7 sheets of wood veneer, aligned cross-grain to ensure strength at elegant widths, and bond them in a press machine before being bent and cut into the required shapes. Those pieces are then oiled to perfection before assembly and upholstery.
One of the most meticulous and fascinating parts of the assembly process is the grain matching. Patterns on wood can vary, especially with such exotic (and beautiful) species such as palisander. Quality is so important that if a piece cannot be matched (by a real-life human being) to Herman Miller’s standards, it will be discarded (or, recycled of course).
With perfectly paired wood pieces in hand, it’s on to upholstery. The team has some impressive tools to ensure maximum yield from all of their hides. It’s a bit like a game of Tetris to fit each leather panel required for an Eames Lounge Chair, especially since natural materials have so much (natural) variance.
In the end it’s all of this: the history, the humanity, and the innovation that make this hand-crafted design icon more than a “chair”…and myself more than a fan.
Colin Wilkinson was a customer before joining the team at YLiving. A marketer and designer-at-core, Colin is passionate about simplicity, innovation, and quality. In time, Colin hopes to retire to the Napa Valley with his wife to make furniture and rescue dogs.