Before Herman Miller released the now-iconic Eames Molded Plastic Chair in 1950, Charles and Ray Eames toiled for years to create what was meant to be a thrifty plywood side chair. But sheets of veneer couldn't sustain the signature deep cradle and cracked during manufacturing. Today, using a three-dimensional veneer-molding technology developed by German company Reholz, Herman Miller finally gets its plywood shell chair. The painstaking process slices wood into spaghetti-thin strips, then glues them back together to re-create the wood's grain. The composite's flexibility means it can bend, curve, and mold into shape. "There are plenty of plastic chairs in the world," says Gregg Vander Kooi, Herman Miller's product manager. "But there's much more craft and warmth with a chair made of wood." (Price upon request, hermanmiller.com)
A version of this article appeared in the June 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.