Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Brief History of Charles and Ray Eames

I have gone back and forth this morning about what I am going to write about this week, and I was about to throw in the towel, when I noticed an Eames Chair on one of the design websites I had pulled up. Viola! A Blog was born....

Charles and Ray Eames were a married couple and design powerhouse in mid century America. Their influence in the modern design movement is seen and emulated even today. Today, their work makes up 1% of the Library of Congress.

Charles Eames was born in St. Louis. Mo., in 1907, attended Washington University on a scholarship for Architecture. Later dismissed, a professor had gone on record saying “His views were too modern” . Charles had an Architecture practice for a few years, and was not overwhelmingly successful in his early years. He knew Father and son Finnish Architects Eero and Eliel Saarnen (of St. Louis Arch fame). Later, Eero and Charles developed the concept of bending and molding wood for furniture. (Later, the method evolved into plastics) . At Aero’s invitation, Charles moved to Michigan to work at Cranbrook Academy of Art as a teacher. There he met a student, Ray-Bernice Alexandra Kasier, and they married in 1941. She was his second wife.

Ray Eames was a designer and filmmaker, and also had experience studying abstract painting with Hans Hoffman in the 1930’s. Together the couple moved to Los Angeles, where they spent the rest of their lives. There, they constructed the Eames House, where they worked, lived and played. Its intention was a Case Study for ‘Art and Architecture Magazine’. It took years to design, build and complete. It is still owned and maintained by the Eames family, and is an icon to American Architecture.

Eames House: Los Angeles, California

In the decades spanning from the 1940’s – 1970’s , the two together did film studies, architecture, art and most notably, furniture design. Their designs are omniscient today and commonly used.

Charles is usually given credit for much of the designs, but both Charles and Ray were heavily involved in most designs produced. Their designs took years of trial and error and development. Charles was quoted in reference to their design philosophy,

"But you can go beyond that and the guys that have not only means, but a certain amount of knowledge and understanding, go the next step and they eat off of a banana leaf. And I think that in these times when we fall back and regroup, that somehow or other, the banana leaf parable sort of got to get working there, because I'm not prepared to say that the banana leaf that one eats off of is the same as the other eats off of, but it's that process that has happened within the man that changes the banana leaf. And as we attack these problems—and I hope and I expect that the total amount of energy used in this world is going to go from high to medium to a little bit lower—the banana leaf idea might have a great part in it”

I will leave you today with pictures of their work. Much of the office furniture is contracted today through Herman Miller and their fabric designs are contracted through Maharam. Also, many of these designs are availale at (Design Within Reach)

Illustration of Eames: Moulded Palstic Chair

(love this!)

Eames: Sofa Compact

Eames: Hang it All

Eames: Management Chair

Eames: Lounge Chair and Ottoman

Eames: Moulded Pastic Rocking Chair

Eames: Storage Units

Eames: Moulded Plywood Chair

Charles Ray:Eames


  1. i call shenanigans on the 1% of the library of congress bit. source? the library's catalogue is massive and they can't have produced that much.

    is it like "1% of works between 1950 and 1970" or something?

  2. I will get the facts correct with citations. they do have over a million items in one of their collections. I know this doesnt' answer your question, and now that shenanigans have been called, I'll defend my honor!