Charles Eames (1907-78) and Ray Eames (1912-88) embraced the idea that modern design was an agent of change and they believed that design could improve people’s lives. Their broad interests varied from engineering and architecture to modern art culture and design and allowed them to solve challenges with imagination, practicality and beauty.
Eames, Jr was born in St. Louis, Missouri. At 14 years old and while
still attending high school Charles worked at a Steel Company as a
part-time labourer, where he learned about engineering, drawing, and
architecture. Charles briefly studied architecture at Washington
University in St. Louis but after two years of study, he left the
university. He was reportedly dismissed from the university because his
views were "too modern”, although other sources claim that while a
student, Charles Eames also was employed as an architect and the demands
of this employment took their toll on his performance at university.
In 1930, Charles began his own architectural practice in St. Louis.
Charles Eames was greatly influenced by the Finnish architect Eliel
Saarinen (whose son Eero, also an architect, would become a partner and
friend). Charles moved to Michigan in 1938, to further study
architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he would become a
teacher and head of the industrial design department. Together with Eero
Saarinen he designed prize-winning furniture for New York's Museum of
Modern Art "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" competition. Their work
displayed the new technique of wood moulding that Eames would further
develop to create many moulded plywood products.
In the 1940’s, Charles married his second wife Ray Kaiser, a Cranbrook
colleague. Ray-Bernice Alexandra Kaiser Eames was an American artist,
designer, and filmmaker. Ray was born in Sacramento, California. She
graduated from Bennett Women's College in Millbrook, New York in 1933
and went on to study abstract expressionist painting with Hans Hofmann.
Ray was a founder of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936 and
displayed paintings a year later at Riverside Museum in Manhattan. One
of her paintings is in the permanent collection of The Whitney Museum of
American Art. In September 1940, she began studies at the Cranbrook
Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She met Charles Eames
while preparing drawings and models for the Organic Design in Home
Furnishings competition and they were married the following year.
In 1943, 1944, and 1947, Ray Eames designed several covers for the Arts
& Architecture magazine. In the late 1940s, Ray Eames created
several textile designs, two of which were produced by Schiffer Prints, a
company that also produced textiles by Salvador Dalí and Frank Lloyd
Wright. Original examples of Ray Eames textiles can be found in many art
museum collections. The Ray Eames textiles have been re-issued by
Maharam as part of their Textiles of the Twentieth Century collection.
In the 1950s, Charles and Ray Eames continued their work in
architecture and modern furniture design. As with their earlier moulded
plywood work, they pioneered technologies, such as the fiberglass and
plastic resin chairs and the wire mesh chairs designed for Herman
Miller. Eames furniture has usually been listed as by Charles Eames, but
it would seem that Ray was deeply involved and was an equal partner
with her husband in many projects.
office of Charles and Ray Eames functioned for more than four decades
(1943–1988) in Washington Boulevard in Venice, Los Angeles. They Eames
worked with many remarkable industrial partners and designers to create
affordable, quality furniture for a wide variety of needs and locations
throughout the world. They often experimented with new ways to create
furniture, working with new materials and production techniques. The
corner stone of their work was an understanding of human ergonomics -
design around the human form. They were particularly successful in
creating three dimensional shapes using highly flexible materials that
could comfortably adapt to and support the human body.
four original licensee’s for the manufacture of Eames furniture were
Vitra in Switzerland, Hille in the UK, ICF in Italy, and Mobilier
International in France. Herman Miller gave Vitra sole manufacturing
licence for Europe and the Middle East In the 1980’s. Only Vitra still
retains a licence Herman Miller Inc and they still produce these chairs
today for the European and Middle East markets. As time has moved on
patents, design rights and copyright protection have all fallen away,
opening the way for reproductions. The RAR Rocker, Eames Elephant, Kids DSW, DSR chairs and Eames tables available from Great Little Rooms are reporoductions of the original furniture.
and Ray Eames achieved 224 ground-breaking designs for furniture, toys such as the Eames Elephant,
exhibitions, films, graphics, and architecture during their 45 year
collaboration and had an unprecedented effect on 20th century design.
Their focus on elegance and functionality has created designs that have
endured the test of time.
This is an independent overview of the background and history of the iconic Eames designs.