Charles (1907–1978) and Ray Eames (1912–1988)

American designers and married couple, Charles Ormond Eames and Bernice Alexandra “Ray” Kaiser Eames, made significant historical contributions to the development of modern architecture and furniture. “Design is an expression of the purpose” said Charles Eames.

Charles and Ray Eames.
Charles and Ray Eames

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Designer lives

Charles Eames was born in 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri, where he attended school and developed an interest in engineering and architecture. He attended Washington University on scholarship for two years and then, and began to work in an architectural office. In 1936, he accepted the position of fellow at the Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills (Michigan), where he met Ray Kaiser, the designer who’d became his wife and business partner for life. She was born in Sacramento, California, in 1912; at the age of 17, Ray moved to New York, where she studied painting at the Art Students League and then, she enrolled at the Cranbrook Academy. Charles and Ray married in 1941 and moved to California where they continued their furniture design work with molding plywood.

Charles & Ray Eames. The Power of Design.
Charles & Ray Eames. The Power of Design

Image source:  by HeinzDS

During the war they were commissioned by the Navy to produce molded plywood splints, stretchers and experimental glider shells. In 1946, Evans Products began producing the Eameses’ molded plywood furniture and three years later, they designed and built their own home in California and it is considered one of the most important post-war residences built anywhere in the world. “Details are not details” said Charles, “They create the product“. Among the many prizes and awards obtained by Charles and Ray Eames, among others: the Organic Furniture Competition; the Emmy Award (Graphics) and the Kaufmann International Design Award. He was a resolver of problems that encouraged experimentation among his staff. Charles once said that his dream was “to see people working on useless projects, because it is from these that new ideas sprout“.

Working for two

Charles and Ray preparing to leave Los Angeles with films for the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow.
Charles and Ray preparing to leave Los Angeles with films for the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow

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One of the most famous work created by Charles & Ray Eames is undoubtedly the “Lounge Chair and Ottoman”: designed in 1956, when Charles proposed to make an updated version of the old English club chair. Their aim was to create comfortable and well made lounge seating with the highest quality materials by using production techniques that combine technology and hand-craftsmanship. This armchair is lighter, more elegant and more modern than the previous club chairs; the lounge chair has 6-inch thick urethane foam cushions and rich and supple leather, which is a combination of luxury and modernism, setting an enduring standard for comfort and elegance. In addition, every piece of this lounge chair and ottoman is hand assembled with a built-in swivel mechanism. This work of architecture is so important and successful that it is part of the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Another masterpiece designed by Charles and Ray Eames is the DSW (Dowel-Leg Side) Eames Chair. The chair combines the elegance of design and Scandinavian charm, thus offering an extremely “chic” result as well as an excellent trend for the home furniture. The quality materials and the sophisticated finish guarantee a comfortable seat. Charles and Ray Eames believed that “design was a method of action” and continually updated their work as new materials became available. Their molded plastic chairs were originally designed in metal and entered as a prototype in the 1950 MoMA international competition for low-cost furniture design. They then changed the fiberglass material in 1950, and today the chairs are made of recyclable polypropylene. Charles was dissatisfied with the fiberglass, and it was only after his death that the matte finish he desired was achieved, thanks to the progress of the materials. “The chair that Charles and Ray were planning“, explains the nephew Eames Demetrios, “is the chair that is made tomorrow.” The deep pocket of the seat and the edge of the waterfall seat help you stay comfortable by reducing the pressure on the back of the thighs.

Eames stacking chair for children, on display at the Oakland Museum of California, 2018.
Eames stacking chair for children, on display at the Oakland Museum of California, 2018

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Charles & Ray Eames’ Style

Eames plastic chairs
Eames plastic chair

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Plastic Chair 1950 by Charles and Ray Eames.
Charles and Ray Eames – Plastic Chair 1950

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I think the hardest thing is not to lose sight of the overall picture to be able to analyze your work with a critical look.

Ray once said. The union of Charles and Ray was the perfect meeting of two creative minds, the marriage of their ideas that led to artistic innovation and the powerful influence of design. Their work has been infused with elements of their personalities and design beliefs, and simple details unite seamlessly. Both of them had a great sense of adventure and their curiosity, combined with a strong enthusiasm, allowed him to create many successful creations. The “Eames look” can be described as modern, playful and functional, beautifully simple and elegant.

The role of the designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host, all of whose energy goes into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests.

Charles Eames

 Their words are like a meditation on the many facets of art and design.

Eames House entry
Eames House entry

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