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ESU 400 Storage Unit

This is a storage unit. It was designed by Ray Kaiser Eames and Charles Eames and manufactured by Herman Miller Furniture Company. It is dated 1950–52 and we acquired it in 2013. Its medium is moulded birch plywood, lacquered masonite and wood, zinc-plated steel, perforated aluminum. It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.

The Eames Storage Unit (ESU) is a system of lightweight, modular storage cabinets and desks constructed of lacquered Masonite panels, laminated birch plywood sliding doors and drawers, perforated aluminum panels, and zinc-plated steel supports. The ESU was part of an effort on the part of Charles and Ray Eames to create economical, inexpensive household furniture using industrial production materials and techniques. In designing this system, the Eameses took their cue from the type of metal shelving found in warehouses and factories. The ESU was composed of standardized, mass-produced, knock-down, interchangeable parts: shelves, drawers, panels, doors, and metal framework and struts. The parts were not only durable but could also be employed to decorative effect through the use of colored panels and textured surfaces, such as “dimpled” plywood doors and perforated metal screens. The variety of available colors and surfaces allowed consumers to customize their units for home and office. The storage units came in various sizes that could also be stacked for use as room dividers.
The concept and forms of the ESU relate to both the Eameses’ own “case study” home, which was built with modular, off-the-shelf industrial elements, and the Eameses’ earlier wooden Case Goods furniture (ca. 1945). The ESU, first produced in 1950, made no attempt to hide the standardized industrial look of its components. The units were available in single and double widths—in the 100 (one unit high), 200 (two units high) and 400 (four units high)—as well as in smaller cabinets and desks. These pieces are an exercise in formal geometric design and exemplify the simplicity and integrity of material characteristic of the Eameses’ work.
The model proposed for acquisition, with its angled steel legs, is a example from the first series of units. This type of leg was later replaced with a sturdier but slightly inset leg that included triangular supports, beginning around 1952. Production of the ESU ceased in 1955. The shades of taupe, gray, beige, and ivory used in this example reflect the palette of natural tones popular in progressive interiors of the early 1950s. Made to mix and match, the resulting ESUs reflected their purchasers’ tastes.
The Eameses, whose seminal work has been the subject of exhibitions at Cooper-Hewitt and other museums, are major 20th-century American designers whose careers the museum would like to represent in depth through a broad range of materials and forms. This would be the first example of the Eameses’ case furniture to enter the collection, and would join a strong and varied range of their seating designs.

This object was donated by General Acquisitions Endowment. It is credited Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund.

  • Poster, A Better Home
  • offset lithograph and screenprint on paper.
  • Museum purchase through gift of Mrs. Edward C. Post and from Friends of....
  • 1995-106-2

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Its dimensions are

Frame H x W x D: 149.2 x 111.1 x 43.2 cm (58 3/4 in. x 43 3/4 in. x 17 in.)

It is signed

Herman Miller label is fixed inside one of the drawers

Cite this object as

ESU 400 Storage Unit; Designed by Charles Eames (American, 1907–1978), Ray Kaiser Eames (American, 1912–1988); Manufactured by Herman Miller Furniture Company (United States); moulded birch plywood, lacquered masonite and wood, zinc-plated steel, perforated aluminum; Frame H x W x D: 149.2 x 111.1 x 43.2 cm (58 3/4 in. x 43 3/4 in. x 17 in.); Museum purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund; 2013-58-1-a/d

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Ellen DeGeneres Selects.

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If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=ESU 400 Storage Unit |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=22 March 2023 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>