A Forgotten Eames-Designed Radio Is Finally in Production—After 70 Years!
The original 1946 design was deemed too radical by manufacturers
A sleek radio that Charles and Ray Eames designed in 1946 is in production for the first time, more than 70 years later. Blame the delay on the designers’ modern aesthetic, which manufacturers considered too radical in the mid-1940s. Their hesitation prevented the famed designers’ radio from ever being realized.
The contemporary interpretation comes encased in a sleek walnut plywood shell—a staple of the Eames’s iconic aesthetic, seen most notably in their chairs that came about following World War II, at a time when materials were scarce.
Because of this scarcity, radio companies like Emerson Radio and the Farnsworth Company were in need of a reliable way to make radios out of materials that were lighter and cheaper than plastic. By 1952, the Eameses, who at the time oversaw the Molded Plywood Products division of Evans Wood Products, had produced around 200,000 radios encased in molded plywood.
Yet when the pair pitched their own design for a more fashionable radio, building a prototype and sending photographs to Interiors magazine, the designated manufacturer turned it down. It was certainly very simplistic, with two small knobs and a four-by-four array of speaker holes. Had it been produced today, when minimalism dominates tech design, it might have been lauded for that simplicity. Instead, it fell into obscurity and was only rediscovered in 2016.
Following two years of dedicated study of the original design, Switzerland-based retailer Vitra is finally bringing their design to life. The manufacturer unveiled the radio at Maison & Objet Paris last month. Since this was Vitra’s first foray into the world of electronics, it partnered with British company Revo, which implemented a few 21st-century updates like Bluetooth connectivity and smart-device charging.
The radio will be sold in a limited run at Vitra stores in 2019. A scant 50 are available for purchase at the MoMA Design Store for $999 through the end of 2018.