Experimenting with the possibilities of molded plywood during World War II allowed influential design couple Charles and Ray Eames to perfect a cheaper alternative to metal leg splints. The lightweight design proved to be a life-saving innovation for wounded soldiers. At the end of the war, the Eamses redirected their improved understanding of molded plywood to a more youthful purpose. Reviving their shared minimalist aesthetic alongside their newfound wartime sensibilities, Charles and Ray designed a series of stools, tables and chairs for children. The durable, yet elegant Child’s Chair remains a prominent part of the original suite.
Designed in 1944, the Child’s chair is molded from a single piece of plywood and dyed with bright primary colors. Due to its inviting simplicity, the iconic red hue of this example came to signal playfulness in other modern designs for children, such as Kristian Vedel’s striking Child’s chairs.
Each aspect of the Eamses’ chair is designed for the playroom. It is purposefully light with a whimsical, heart-shaped hole for little hands to grasp as they move it across the room with ease. The decorative but useful handle originated with the Child’s chair, but translated into a more adult, rectangular shape in some of their later chair designs.
The chair is also vivid and stackable, much like a building block. Perhaps this is because building blocks are among the most intuitive of all children’s toys. The unassuming playthings are made for stacking, but they’ve outlasted years of fad toys because they seamlessly adapt to all sorts of imaginative purposes. In pairing minimalism with unbridled creativity, Charles and Ray Eames’ Child’s chair isn’t so different. While the couple’s later work shed the bright colors of the Child’s chair, its simple, sculptural qualities are present in their full-size furniture designs.
The child’s chair is now on view in the Cooper Hewitt exhibition Making Design.
Chelsea Butkowski studies art history and communication at SUNY Geneseo. She worked as a Peter Krueger intern in the Cooper Hewitt’s Product Design and Decorative Arts Department in summer 2014.