Image Source: Eames Office
Whether you recognise the name or not, it can almost be guaranteed that you have come across the Eameses’ work at one point or another. They are perhaps most well known for the Eames Chair – a product that was made to ensure good quality designs could be accessible for the masses; ‘the best for the most for the least’ (as the Eameses themselves would say). But the Eames Chair is only a tiny scratch on the surface of a huge body of work; there is much, much more behind the Eames empire.
Image Source: Manface UK
They are often acknowledged as being two of the most influential designers of the 20th century. Designer, though, must be a somewhat loose term to describe careers that moved fluidly between architecture, toymaking, photography, film making, furniture design, and exhibition curation. They created plywood splints for soldiers in World War two, solved design problems for Polaroid, produced IBM’s 1964-5 Pavilion NY World’s Fair, designed chairs for the everyday American, and produced the 13-minute film ‘Glimpses of the USA’ to help ease the pressured relationship between post-war America and the USSR. Even their ‘official’ training doesn’t help to clarify what they truly were, as it is often said that ‘Charles was an architect who never finished architecture school, whilst Ray was a painter who never painted’.
But none of this really matters, and indeed didn’t matter at all to the Eameses. What mattered to them was simply finding beauty in the everyday, to ‘take your pleasure seriously’ and to make life both functional and beautiful.
Image Source: Vogue
They were partners in work as well as in marriage. It seemed that their relationship was inextricably linked with both their work and their personal lives. It was a true example of collaboration and understanding, with some of their co-workers realising that at times they didn’t even require words to communicate with one another. Charles had the ideas, Ray bought them to life, and it is clear that they had the utmost respect for one another’s work. One of Charles’s most well-known quotes is: ‘Anything I can do, Ray can do better’.
Their infamous office at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice, California, was a constant hub of activity and creation. Brimming with young, talented designers who were expected to flick between set-design, furniture creation and exhibition curation at a moment’s notice. It was a place that never looked the same two days running (even the walls were portable!).
It was between 901 and their eventual home in Pacific Palisades, California, (moving in on Christmas Eve 1949) that Charles and Ray lived the majority of their lives. Their home was purpose built by the Eameses themselves and was #8 in the Case Study House Programme in Arts and Architecture magazine. The house was a continuation of all other parts of their lives, interspersed with Hans Hofmann paintings, the innovative use of materials and a subtle integration of the outside world. They often opened their home to guests, with one even commenting that he was ‘f****d off’ to be served a bouquet of flowers for dessert rather than an actual pudding!
Image Source: LA Times
Charles Eames died of a heart attack on 21st August 1978, after which Ray worked on a few unfinished projects. She decided to close the office at 901 and began the lengthy task of administering the Eames legacy. She passed away ten years to the day after Charles’s death.
What a challenge to condense two such interesting and influential lives into so few words, but if you’d like to find out more why not attend the Barbican’s current exhibition The World of Charles and Ray Eames from 21 October 2015 to 14 February 2016. We will definitely be popping down to get our fill of design history and inspiration. See you there!
Image Source: The Redlist
Post by Lucy Victoria Jackson, our wonderful contributing writer. You can read more about her work here.