The Complete Dwell Guide to Eames Shellspotting

By Kelsey Keith / Published by Dwell
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Yeah, yeah: We know. Dwell homeowners love an Eames shell chair, and our readers love to point out just how much. Still: It's an enduring modern classic for a reason. See how it works in every interior, and glean some historical facts along the way.

Charles and Ray Eames introduced their revolutionary design in 1948 with UCLA as part of MoMA's international competition for low-cost furniture design. Two years later, in 1950, Herman Miller began the first batch of production for the Molded Plastic Chair, in three zinc-plated or black steel bases: the rocker, the cat's cradle, and the cross-rod X base. 

The Eames shell chair mixes with EamesPKW-2 chairs, also by Herman Miller, along with Stokke's Tripp Trapp chair in this midcentury Portland home owned by a vintage furniture collector.

The Eames shell chair mixes with EamesPKW-2 chairs, also by Herman Miller, along with Stokke's Tripp Trapp chair in this midcentury Portland home owned by a vintage furniture collector.

Due to growing environmental concerns over the use of fiberglass, the Michigan-based company ceased production of the chairs in 1989. In the June 2008 Letters to the Editors section, the Eameses' nephew Eames Demetrios explained the ensuing decision to start manufacturing the iconic shell chair in recyclable polypropylene: "By the end of her life, Ray Eames was convinced of the environmental damage caused by fiberglass in landfills. It was this factor that lead us (and Herman Miller and Vitra, who make our authentic Eames chairs) to stop using fiberglass and use the recyclable plastic we use today."

In the open living and dining room of a hillside family home in Japan, Eames shell chairs surround a custom walnut table by Kagura.

In the open living and dining room of a hillside family home in Japan, Eames shell chairs surround a custom walnut table by Kagura.

As of 2013, Herman Miller, which holds the original molds used to fabricate the Eames shell chair, introduced its new eco-friendlier fiberglass substitute: "Through the development of a more sustainable fiberglass material chemistry, and with a new manufacturing process first developed in the automotive industry to eliminate volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) in production, Herman Miller is able to once again offer a design icon in the lightly textured surface of fiberglass, while honoring its commitment to environmental sustainability."

In a renovated Tribeca loft, Eames shell chairs surround a Saarinen Tulip table from Knoll. When architect Matthew Miller of New York firm StudioLAB gutted the space, some of the original details—like the windows—remain.

In a renovated Tribeca loft, Eames shell chairs surround a Saarinen Tulip table from Knoll. When architect Matthew Miller of New York firm StudioLAB gutted the space, some of the original details—like the windows—remain.

Now, the modern icon lives on in a way that its environmentally-minded designer wouldn't hate. (The price tag? We couldn't call it "low cost," though certainly not as costly as other now-collectible midcentury antiques.)

In Matt Jacobsen's Southern California ode to minimal living, the home office is decked out with an original Eames shell chair manufactured in Gardena, California, before production moved to Michigan.

In Matt Jacobsen's Southern California ode to minimal living, the home office is decked out with an original Eames shell chair manufactured in Gardena, California, before production moved to Michigan.

For more on the design history of the Eames Molded Plastic Chair for Herman Miller, delve into Dwell's feature on the real cost of knock-offs, and watch a behind-the-scenes video on how to make a shell chair.

A cherry-red Eames rocker is one of the nice touches in this Sicilian home. And it's just these splashes of color that give the place so much of its charm.

A cherry-red Eames rocker is one of the nice touches in this Sicilian home. And it's just these splashes of color that give the place so much of its charm.

The dining room adjacent to this clever Ikea kitchen hack includes some not so bargain-bin pieces, including Eames shell chairs from Herman Miller and a vintage Italian bar cart.

The dining room adjacent to this clever Ikea kitchen hack includes some not so bargain-bin pieces, including Eames shell chairs from Herman Miller and a vintage Italian bar cart.

The fourth-floor kitchen of this family home in Tel Aviv features Heracleum II pendants by Bertjan Pot for Moooi that hang over both the kitchen island and the dining table. Eames shell chairs surround the table.

The fourth-floor kitchen of this family home in Tel Aviv features Heracleum II pendants by Bertjan Pot for Moooi that hang over both the kitchen island and the dining table. Eames shell chairs surround the table.

An earthy Mexico abode gets a dose of midcentury industrial design with two red Eames shell chairs.

An earthy Mexico abode gets a dose of midcentury industrial design with two red Eames shell chairs.

A swing made by architect Christopher Campbell flies high in his Maine retreat alongside modern classics like a Saarinen Tulip table and Eames shell chairs that pop against the wood paneling.

A swing made by architect Christopher Campbell flies high in his Maine retreat alongside modern classics like a Saarinen Tulip table and Eames shell chairs that pop against the wood paneling.

Kelsey Keith

@kelseykeith

Kelsey Keith has written about design, art, and architecture for a variety of print and online publications.

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