Who belongs on the "A List" of modernist designers and what makes an "A List" designer? I ask this question after a somewhat ridiculous social media confrontation about Milo Baughman, a fine modern American furniture designer in his own right. The not-to-be-named instigator insisted that Milo Baughman was simply the greatest modern designer of all-time and couldn't have possibly designed for middling but respectable furniture companies, like Lane Company. I shared my first-hand knowledge of Baughman's relationship with Lane and suggested that he was a "B-list" designer, which set off a heated debate.
Later, I asked my good friend, a well-regarded furniture designer, who he thought qualified as an "A-list" modern designer. We both agreed that Baughman, while a skillful designer, didn't qualify. We agreed Charles Eames, Hans Wegner, and Mies Van der Rohe, among others, were top tier. However, as we continued the fun exercise quite a few names stimulated healthy debate.
Then, we began to formulate criteria. It wouldn't be enough to simply design good furniture. Instead, did the individual develop truly iconic designs that would still be relevant in 100 years? Were they merely a "one hit wonder?" What kind of impact did they have on the furniture manufacturing process? Were they multifaceted in their talents or purely furniture specialists or craftsmen?
So, now I'll ask you the question. Who makes your mid century modern designer "A-list" and why? We invite you to contribute to our new interactive blog to share your thoughts on who truly qualifies as "A-list."
I'll go first. I present to you Charles Eames and his design partner and wife, Ray Eames. I can think of no fewer than 20 iconic designs without even opening a catalog or googling the names. The Eames 670/671. The Eames shell chairs. The Eames compact sofa. I could go on and on. Not only did they design and develop these pieces, they created a revolutionary manufacturing process through their relationship with Herman Miller that changed how the industry looked at things. And, perhaps most importantly, they didn't design any ugly crap to tarnish their catalog or legacy.
Now it's your turn...
Looking at the Eames Aluminum Group by Herman Miller through a 2016 prism does the design a disservice. Go back more than 50 years ago to set the stage for the icon of design. Eisenhower was president, Elvis was not yet the King, and the Beatles did not exist. NASA is formed and launches the Explorer I satellite. The design by the Eames appeared to be right off the screen of a science fiction film. How could someone in 1958 create such a design at least 20 years ahead of it's time? And how could that design illicit the same excitement today as it did over 50 years ago?
The Aluminum Group designed by Charles and Ray Eames and Manufactured by Herman Miller is groundbreaking. The husband and wife design team met at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in the 1930s where Charles was the head of the design department. They married in 1941 and their design collaborations would revolutionize furniture design in a profound way.
Conceived in 1958 by the Eames, "The Aluminum Group" was commissioned by renowned architect and designer Eero Saarinen for a collaborative project, The Irwin Miller House in Columbus, Indiana. The "Leisure Group" or "Indoor-Outdoor Group" as the Eames called it when designing the collection, was intended as outdoor seating. The thin aluminum construction and seating surface, suspended by mesh stretched over the frame was more than revolutionary. Never before had a similar system been developed and the Aluminum Group represented a large departure from the concept of the chair as a solid shell.
The renamed "Aluminum Group" marked the Eames first use of aluminum in the structural composition of their designs. Over the years, bases and seating services have been changed and refreshed. This excellent example from the 1970s features heat sealed Koroseal upholstery that is frequently confused for leather. Cloth, mesh, leather and other synthetic materials have all graced the Aluminum Group. This lounge chair with rare ottoman features the polished 5 legged base. Later, Herman Miller began to offer powder coated bases and added more options like reclining and swivel bases. Later, the Aluminum Group was offered by Herman Miller's Vitra line of furniture as well. The very early examples of Aluminum Group pieces should have a thin 4 legged base.
The Aluminum Group has become a legend of modern design and the Executive Chair has a home in many high powered board rooms today. An identical Aluminum Group lounge chair and ottoman is currently on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vintage examples in good condition are rare, but are available for sale. This chair is a timeless example of modern elegance, design and manufacturing excellence.