Herman Miller and Vitra
As far as I know the only two companies that are officially licensed to produce the Eames furniture are Herman Miller for the United States and Vitra for Europe and Middle East. Vitra has produced and marketed the furniture designs of Charles & Ray Eames since 1957. First producing under license, Vitra obtained exclusive rights to all Eames products for Europe and the Middle East in 1984.
Charles and Ray Eames had a wonderful attitude to work. If we check out the Herman Miller's Biography of Charles and Ray we learn:
Charles and Ray achieved their monumental success by approaching each project the same way: Does it interest and intrigue us? Can we make it better? Will we have 'serious fun' doing it?
The Eames lounge chair debuted in 1956 on NBC in the Arlene Francis "Home" show. The original footage still exists and is available at YouTube in two parts. Part 1 and part 2. Charles Eames said he wanted the chair to have the "warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman's mitt." A good way to get some background on the Eames furniture is this interview by Gestalten.tv with Marilyn Neuhart, author of "The Story of Eames Furniture", and her husband John. Both have worked with the Eames Office in various capacities from the 1950s.
Let's look at the production process
I always wondered how the iconic Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman are produced. In the following videos you'll see the meticulous craftsmanship that goes into each piece of furniture. For Herman Miller the chairs are made by supply partner Davidson Plyforms, in a factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I'm not sure where the plywood for Vitra is done but you'll see in the video that they assemble the rest in their Lounge Chair atelier on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany.
Manager discussing assembly
In this video, Mike Kuperus, the Operations Manager, explains the cleverness of it, how all the parts have the same curvature and are formed on the same tool. Lloyd Alter goes on to discuss the use of the rubber shock. He concludes by discussing how many of these chairs are still in circulation.
Charles Eames started working with molded plywood during World War II, when he developed a splint for the Air Force. He used the material in his other furniture as well. Let's look how the plywood is done on the Eames Lounge chair. You can navigate through the images by clicking the on the left or right.
Pressing the Backs - The wood is formed by laying layers of veneer and sheets of glue in a giant press, on top of wood forms, called tools in the molding world.
Pressing the Wood - The press drops down on the pile of veneers;
Pressing the Wood II - Heat is applied for a specific time and then they are removed from the press.
Pressing the Wood III - The curved parts are then put in a giant CNC (computer numerical control) machine, shown in the background in this photo, and cut to the proper shape.
Finishing - The edges are carefully sanded;
Finishing II - Then the wonderfully silky finish is applied. The chair was most beautiful in rosewood, but Herman Miller could not find sustainably harvested wood and discontinued it. However they are now using Santos Palisander from Brazil and Bolivia, which is very close to rosewood and considered to be sustainable.
Cutting leather at Herman Miller
You'll see in the video below that Vitra cuts the leather parts by hand. At Herman Miller they have a computerized leather cutting device that took all of the components needed for the chair and laid them out to minimize waste (there is very little) and then machine cut it.
Assembling hand rest of chair at Herman Miller
In this video you'll see the assembly of the arm rests. It takes a lot of strength to do this at any speed!
The final product ready for packaging. Herman Miller says that it is made with zero carbon footprint, using green energy, sustainably harvested woods, zero process water use, zero VOC emissions, zero hazardous waste emissions, with zero landfill.
How Vitra does it.
In the last video you'll see how Vitra assembles the Eames Lounge Chair in their Lounge Chair atelier on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Vitra also cares about the environment as they proudly claim that they have been dedicated to sustainability for nearly a quarter of a century.
Visit the Lounge Chair Atelier
If you visit the Lounge Chair Atelier you can experience with your own eyes just how much craftsmanship goes into making a Vitra design classic. In the VitraHaus Vitra's customers can select their preferred variant of the Lounge Chair & Ottoman and then follow the construction of their unique version there and then.