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In its many different shapes and forms, a chair is an object specifically made for seating a person.

Side Chair (model DCW)

Charles Eames, Ray Eames
(American, 1907–1978), (American, 1912–1988)

1946. Molded and bent birch plywood and rubber shockmounts, 29 1/2 x 19 x 21 1/2" (74.9 x 48.3 x 54.6 cm)

The DCW Chair was one of the first in a series of plywood chairs designed by husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames. They worked collaboratively in the design of chairs, tables, and other pieces of furniture that combined mass production with style, functionality, and comfort. The Eameses experimented with emerging technology, incorporating processes such as steam-bending plywood into their designs.

Strong, light, durable, and organic in appearance, plywood has allowed 20th-century designers flexibility in shaping modern forms. “Plywood,” explained Popular Science magazine in 1948, “is a layercake of lumber and glue.” It is created when three or more thin layers of wood, called veneers, are assembled with their grains perpendicular to each other and then are bound together with glue, under pressure and usually with heat. Unlike natural wood, the resulting material does not shrink, swell, or split when exposed to moisture. The Eameses first experimented with plywood in 1940, but their early designs did not allow for complex curves that could be comfortable without upholstery. They spent the next five years experimenting until they found a way to both bend and mold plywood, creating compound curves that were optimal for the human body.

A material made of thin layers of wood that have been heated, glued, and pressed together by a machine.

The production of large amounts of standardized products through the use of machine-assembly production methods and equipment.

Ancient Origins
The origins of plywood extend back to ancient Egypt and China. Earliest examples include dove-tail joints found in mummies’ tombs.

Ply in the Sky!
Plywood is less expensive than solid wood and so light that it has been used to build airplane parts.

War Time Design
In 1942 the United States Navy commissioned the Eameses to develop a molded plywood leg splint for injured soldiers. Throughout the remainder of the war the Eameses continued to design for the military, focusing on plywood aircraft parts.


AUDIO: MoMA Brown Bag Lunch Lecture: The Magic of Plywood

AUDIO: Curator Barry Bergdoll on the Eames’ Case Study House No. 8

Questions & Activities

  1. What Inspires Design?

    Charles and Ray Eames’ interests and curiosities went far beyond their Southern California design office. They traveled the world documenting people, places, and things, amassing more than 800,000 photographs. Inspired by the beauty of everyday objects, they photographed diverse subjects from details of furniture shapes to butterflies and natural forms.

    Share a collection of your own. Explore some of these images in the Eames archive. Use them as an inspiration for your own collection of beauty in the everyday. Take pictures of beautiful everyday objects and upload them to Flickr with the tag “MoMA Everyday Beauty.”

  2. The Guest/Host Relationship

    In his book An Eames Primer, Eames Demetrios, grandson of Charles Eames, identifies a core component of the Eames design process as what Charles Eames called the “guest/host relationship: “Charles felt that that this was one of the most basic, even primal, human relationships. He also believed that this relationship was important in design. He often suggested that a major question about the modern city is, if we are all guests ‘then who are the hosts?’ ”

    Consider what you think the Eames meant by “the guest/host relationship”? How does your understanding of this idea relate to everyday life in the place where you live? Who/what are the guests? Who/what are the hosts? How can designers influence this relationship?

    Write a 1- to 2-page essay in response.