The Eames story
The couple who shaped the way we live today – we take a look into the remarkable history of Charles and Ray Eames. Designers who crossed artistic genres, their insightful architecture and furniture have left a lasting legacy on the world of design.
Charles and Ray Eames’ are one of the most influential and well-known furniture design duos of all time. Not only were they incredibly insightful designers, but they also evolved into cultural ambassadors, influencing positive change with the US government and established businesses to modernise post-war America.
Charles Eames was born in 1907 in St Louis, Missouri. From a fairly young age, he developed an interest in architecture and engineering and went on to win a 2-year architecture scholarship at Washington University in 1925.
Only 5 years later, he had opened his first architectural office with Charles Gray and later established another firm with Robert Walsh. It was around this time that Charles designed the iconic and contemporary-style Meyer House alongside Eliel Saarinen.
Eliel encouraged Charles to resume his architectural studies, later offering him a fellowship at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1938. Whilst working his way up to becoming head of the design department, he got to know Ray and the pair developed a relationship.
“We don’t do ‘art’ – we solve problems” – Charles Eames
Ray was born 5 years after Charles as Bernice Alexandra ‘Ray’ Kaiser in Sacramento, California. Before enrolling at Cranbrook Academy of Art, she studied painting in under Hans Hofmann in New York until 1939.
Ray was fascinated by the abstract qualities of ordinary objects, which influenced her involvement in the first ever exhibition of the American Abstract Artists group in New York. After her journey through Cranbrook and falling in love with Charles, the couple married in 1941.
“What works good is better than what looks good because what works good lasts” – Ray Eames
Experimenting with moulded plywood
From here on, the real journey began. Being intrigued by the malleable properties of moulded plywood, Charles originally started experimenting with the process with his good friend Eero Saarinen – creating ‘The Organic Chair’ for the “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” held by MOMA in New York in 1940.
Moving to LA with Ray, the couple set up a plywood workshop in their spare room to experiment and refine the process. Interrupted by World War two, however, the duo moved away from furniture to address the urgent need for a new type of leg splint to help the huge number of wounded soldiers. Winning the order for the US Navy with their revolutionary moulded plywood design, Charles and Ray went on to open a design studio on nearby Santa Monica Boulevard in California.
Bringing modernism to the masses
After the war, Charles and Ray began to expand their furniture collection, bringing modernist design to the middle classes in the USA. Designing in the Bauhaus spirit of functionality, the Eames’ created a new style of furniture that looked good and was fit for purpose – giving it a timeless appeal.
In 1945, the iconic Plywood Chair went into production and just 4 years later the couple began construction of the two Case Study Houses which are frequented by visitors from all over the world today. They also designed and produced sculptures, tables, screens and chairs, such as the classic Eames Lounge Chair from 1956.
In an ironic twist, Ray died 10 years to the day that Charles passed away in 1978. Over 40 years on, the Eames’ work still set the benchmark for today’s designers.
Showing that design was about manipulating ideas as well as materials, the Eames’ created designs to solve problems - leaving a legacy of eye-catching works with lasting appeal. From architecture and furniture design to graphics and film-making, Charles and Ray’s talents crossed artistic genres – giving us some of the defining design moments of the 20th century.
Today, Vitra manufactures the Eames’ designs across Europe. You can shop high quality and authentic Eames products from Vitra, such as the legendary Eames Elephant, here at nest.co.uk.
Image credit: Eames Office.
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