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Herman Miller brings back the Eames chair

By: Rhoda Miel

June 11, 2013

The original molded fiberglass chairs introduced by Herman Miller Inc. in 1950 became an icon both for the office furniture maker and designers Charles and Ray Eames.

The Zeeland, Mich.-based company stopped making the chairs in the 1989, though, due to concerns by Herman Miller about the material's environmental impact.

Now the company is bringing back the fiberglass Eames chair, using a new production process that Herman Miller says is friendlier to the environment. It also is launching a "take back" program to recycle the chairs at the end of their life.

The chairs will go on sale later this summer.

The Eames Molded Plastic Arm Chair and Side Chair were the first mass-produced plastic chairs when they debuted. Throughout its production life, the design was offered in a variety of colors, height options, base variations and also with upholstery.

The end came when the company decided it the original fiberglass production was "detrimental to the environment, both in manufacturing … and at the end of a chair's useful service," the company said in a June 10 news release.

In 2009, it began offering a similar version based on the original shape, but using a reinforced polypropylene.

Herman Miller says newer, more sustainable fiberglass options make it possible to resume production of the chair in fiberglass. It did not release any details, but said the new process will use a dry binding method for its fiberglass reinforcement along with a dry polyester, which eliminates the need for adhesives and thermal oxidizers. The company is also using what it terms a "monomer-free resin" in production.

The new "take back" program will create a nationwide network of companies that will recycle the new fiberglass chairs in the U.S., while Herman Miller also is trying to develop additional recycling networks in other regions.

Herman Miller is also tweaking another of its office chairs, though one nowhere near as well known as the Eames. The Mirra was first introduced in 2003, developed by the company and design group Studio 7.5 of Berlin.

The chair uses PP in a hybrid structure, encapsulating a mesh membrane seat. In re-thinking the design 10 years into the product's life, the designers and manufacturers were able to redesign the frame so it no longer needs a foam pad at the front of it, Herman Miller noted in a June 10 press release about the Mirra.

The "Butterfly Back" shell also more responsive to users' movements and has improved breathability to improve comfort.