Above: The modular Eames Storgae Unit – or ESU – designed by Charles and Ray Eames and first manufactured by Herman Miller in 1950.
A design mandate of Charles and Ray Eames was that their products be affordable to almost everyone. While there were exceptions – like the rather luxurious 760 Lounge (the Eames Lounge) – most of their products were designed to be mass-produced, cheap and cheerful. This frugality can also be seen in the construction of their home in the Pacific Palisades, California (Case Study House #8) in which many of the materials used in the construction were standard, off-the-shelf products with little of it custom made.
No Eames design better reflects this sense of economy than the Eames Storage Units – or ESU. Made from low cost materials like masonite and laminated birch, and utilizing construction techniques that shunned ‘proper’ joinery in favor of perforated angle iron (steel in fact) the ESU’s were modular storage and shelving systems that were functional, sturdy, and cheap to make. Introduced by Herman Miller in 1950 the ESU’s versatility in both commercial and residential applications made it an immediate success for Herman Miller and is still in production today.
However, and this is the part that I feel would not have pleased the Eames, they are not exactly affordable. Vintage, original examples can sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction and even new ones made by Herman Miller (and Vitra overseas) are not exactly easy on the wallet. At any rate, the ESU’s are wonderful example of utilitarian design. They do pop up sometimes (often quite cheap) at the fleas and thrifts so keep an eye out!
Classic ESU systems designed by Charles and Ray Eames. Click in image for full view4347 false true true false true true false auto false ease-in-out 300 auto false 0 true true
Current ESU product line produced by Herman Miller and Vitra. Click on Image for full view4348 false true true false true true false auto false ease-in-out 300 auto false 0 true true
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