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A mysterious love story between Holywood and a piece of furniture.
I started noticing the seating line while watching films after reading up on Eames’s history and accomplishments. And the more I payed attention to what people used under their bottoms the more it became clear that different bottoms in different films or television shows were being rested on variations of the same chair. So I started investigating more.
An early design with a 4-star base, powder coated structure and arm-rests. Note that the chair is lacking rollers and height adjustment, featuring a fixed backrest, all later adjusted to fit an office environment.
In 1958 Charles and Ray Eames were tasked with designing outdoors seating for a new home. They developed Aluminum Group, a set of comfortable human holders featuring a slim aluminum structure and honest use of materials. They innovated by using a stretched panel of fabric or leather between two aluminum ribs, a major departure from the solid shell chair model. Using the tension of a stretched material to hold the weight of a person is a work of genius because it reminds of the way you feel as you relax in a swinging hammock.
With their own contributions to film I was interested to notice the influence their creations have in today’s television, motion picture and advertising, perhaps a partial mirror of their influence in real life. Look closely enough, and you will discover the set-designer’s love for the Aluminum Group, in all forms it exists today. From stretched mesh executive chairs to soft pad versions, sporting different textures and colors and small shape variations, but retaining those details and lines that make the Aluminum Group a distinct piece of sitting kit. Starting with the round fixtures at the sides of the upper backrest, following the shape of the spreader between the aluminum ribs, going down to the shape and texture of the armrests, support shape of the seating ensemble, right down to the star shaped aluminum base.
This distinctiveness made it easy for me to spot it in 26 films and TV shows that feature it, with some more in advertising and entertainment. While documenting these my wife became a bit irritated as I paused the show and took the time to make the screenshots (“oh, the chair again”), but I remember we both had a blast when we caught the chair being thrown through a shop window in Resident Evil: Retribution. They could have picked any chair, but no. It had to be that chair.
For a fair bit of time I payed attention to seating arrangements and my antennae would light up anytime a scene with chairs would come up, and sure enough, on many occasions the now familiar piece of furniture was featured.
Aluminum group on film sets:
Flight – 2012 [Paramount Pictures]
Resident Evil: Retribution – 2012 [Constantin Film International, Davis Films/Impact Pictures]
Atlas Shrugged 2 – 2012 [Atlas 2 Productions, Cinema Vehicle Services]
Draft Day – 2014 [Summit Entertainment]
Jobs – 2013 [Open Road Films]
Paranoia – 2013 [Reliance Entertainment]
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – 2011 [UK Film Council, BBC Films, CBS Films]
Side Effects – 2013 [Endgame Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment, Di Bonaventura Pictures]
Broken City – 2013 [Emmett/Furla Films, Inferno International, Regency Enterprises]
TV productions also make use of various forms of the chair:
The Big Bang Theory – 2007 – ; Season 7, Ep. 08 [Chuck Lorre Productions, Warner Bros. Television]
Lie to Me – 2009 – 2011; Season 1, Ep. 01 [Imagine Television, Samuel Baum Productions, MiddKid Productions, 20th Century Fox Television ]
Magic City – 2012 -; Season 1, Ep. 01 [Media Talent Group]
Sons of Anarchy – 2008 – ; Season 6, Ep. 03 [Sutter Ink, Linson Entertainment]
Major Crimes – 2012 – ; Season 2, Ep. 10 [Warner Bros. Television]
Enlightened – 2011 – ; Season 1, Ep. 01 [Rip Chord Productions]
Covert Affairs – 2010 – ; Season 1, Ep. 01 [Corman & Ord, Dutch Oven]
Dark Blue – 2009 – 2010 ; Season 1, Ep. 10 [ TNT Originals, Turner Network Television, Warner Horison Television]
House of Lies – 2012 – ; Season 1, Ep. 01; [Cinema Vehicle Services, Crescendo Productions, Matthew Carnahan Circus Products, Refugee Productions, Showtime Networks, Totally Commercial Films ]
House M.D. – 2004 – 2012; Season 6, Ep. 09 [ Heel & Toe Films, Shore Z Productions Bad Hat Harry Productions, Moratim Produktions]
Sanctuary – 2008 – ; Season 4, Ep. 13 [Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund, Sanctuary 1 Productions, Stage 3 Media ]
Scandal – 2012 – ; Season 1, Ep. 02 [ ShondaLand, ABC Studios]
Suits – 2011 – ; Season 1, Ep. 11 [Dutch Oven]
The Killing – 2011 – ; Season 1, Ep. 10 [KMF Films, Fuse Entertainment, Fox Television Studios, Killing Production]
The Mentalist – 2008 – ; Season 5, Ep. 20 [Primrose Hills Production]
Intelligence – 2014 – ; Season 1, Ep. 01 [ABC Studios]
Almost Human – 2013 – ; Season 1, Ep. 08 [Frequency Films, Bad Robot, Warner Bros. Television]
Samsung galaxy Superbowl 2013 ad
Samsung Note 2013 ad
Apple iPad Air 2013 ad
The Daily Show guest chair: 5 feb 2013
It seems the Aluminum Group is to set design as the Trajan typeface is to film poster design.
Every item used on a film set has to be used with permission by the rights owner, to avoid the risk of legal action. So I can imagine this choice may not only be based on aesthetic qualities, but more on the fact that the design can easily be traced to the source and it’s right of use legally acquired by production crews.
Or, maybe using this chair is the default answer to a production brief saying something along the lines “a spacious office space featuring large glass walls and cleanly designed modern office furniture”.
I can understand why people love the work of the Eames pair. Even more so regarding chairs and everything they’ve done regarding seating. The Aluminum Group is awesome: a supple yet strong, comfortable yet cleanly drawn piece of design history. What’s inspiring for me in all this is that 56 years later this chair looks as contemporary now as it did back in 1958. And with a little luck we’ll be watching films featuring Aluminum Group 50 years from now.