In 1948, Charles and Ray Eames participated in the 'International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design', organized by the New York Museum of Modern Art, entering a chair with a seat shell molded to fit the contours of the human body along with a concept for a variety of bases. Their design won second prize. However, the metal seat shell proved too complex and expensive to achieve successful mass production.

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The couple's search for alternative materials eventually led them to glass-fiber reinforced polyester resin, which until then had been primarily restricted to military applications such as aircraft radomes and cockpit covers.  moldability, rigidity and suitability for industrial manufacturing methods. With this material, which was previously unknown in the furniture industry, they successfully developed the molded 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. Fiberglass offered the added advantage of pleasant tactile qualities and a perfectly molded form for optimal comfort.

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In 1950, Herman Miller presented the first mass-produced Eames armchairs with fiberglass shells. Vitra began manufacturing the Fiberglass Chairs in 1957 for markets in Europe and the Middle East. The chairs became an industry standard as the preferred choice of architects for the interior furnishings of large-scale projects. This success story lasted into the 1970s, when less expensive plastic shells based on new technologies entered the market and crowded the Fiberglass Chair out of the contract sector. The new materials also had ecological advantages, and Vitra decided to discontinue production of the Fiberglass Chairs in the 1990s.

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The  chair in the photograph below is an example of the first iteration of Eames Office designed upholstery for the fiberglass chairs. The entire one piece pad is made of the same material, the seat, the back, and the edges. To secure these side shell chair upholstery pads, a tension wire was affixed on the underside. During this period, the shells of the upholstered fiberglass chairs were painted, dark, as in this example, or light.

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Charles Eames famously said, “The role of the designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.” Today, Vitra manufactures the Fiberglass Side Chairs by Charles and Ray Eames in six of the original colors. The versions with a polypropylene shell – the Eames Plastic Chairs– also remain available.

Courtesy of Vitra.com 

All photographs copyright of Eamesoffice.com