Launched in 1950 by Charles & Ray Eames, the Fiberglass Chairs introduced a new furniture typology: the multifunctional chair whose shell can be combined with a variety of bases to serve different purposes. The material of the shell’s fibreglass owes its charm to an irregular surface, which appears almost like a natural material thanks to its clearly visible fibres.
Until then fibreglass was unknown in the furniture industry, having been primarily restricted to military applications such as aircraft radomes and cockpit covers. The Eameses recognised and fully exploited the advantages of the material: mouldability, rigidity and suitability for industrial manufacturing methods. They successfully developed the moulded seat shells for mass production: the Fiberglass Chair was born. Its organically shaped, one-piece shell proved to be a much-admired innovation at a time when chairs typically consisted of a seat and backrest. Fibreglass offered the added advantage of pleasant tactile qualities and a perfectly moulded form for optimal comfort.
A Black with Feeling
For Charles and Ray Eames, black was not just black but a colour with many dimensions. The couple mainly used a limited scale of subtle and neutral colours for their furniture designs, but each palette was thoroughly researched and carefully selected.
While working on the Eames Fiberglass Chairs in the early 1950s, Charles and Ray Eames designed a range of nuanced shades for the chairs. No colours for fibreglass had existed before Charles and Ray Eames designed their plastic chairs.
The first fibreglass colours developed by the Eameses were Greige, a portmanteau which hinted at a beige-grey, Elephant Hide Grey, a warm black-grey, and Parchment, which was notoriously translucent. Shortly afterward, still in the early production phase, Sea Foam Green was added, along with a bright Lemon Yellow and a fresh Red Orange. Later these were followed by an array of other colours.
One hue that apparently caused the most frustration and was the most difficult to achieve was a warm blackish grey – after several attempts Charles Eames expressed: ‘What I really want is a black with feeling’. These efforts ultimately resulted in the colour the Eameses called Elephant Hide Grey.
Vitra manufactures the Fiberglass Side Chairs by Charles and Ray Eames in six of the original colours. The fibreglass shells have a lively visual appeal that is much-prized today. Fibreglass owes its charm to an irregular surface, which appears almost like a natural material thanks to its clearly visible fibres. The version with a polypropylene shell – the Eames Plastic Chairs– also remain available. Together the two chair groups form an extensive family, enabling countless variations of the classic Eames design, with a suitable version for almost every taste and purpose