Posted on December 9, 2008 - by

Charles & Ray Eames


Charles and Ray Eames

Charles Eames
(1907-1978)
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Ray Eames
(1912 – 1988)
Birthplace: Sacramento, California, USA

Probably the most notable couple in the history of the field of Industrial Design

In 1928 Charles Eames graduated in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis, and in 1930 he set up office with Charles M. Gray. During the 1930s he designed several houses around St. Louis and two churches in Arkansas. In 1934 he went to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he met friend and colleague Eero Saarinen.

Eames and Saarinen entered the New York Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition in 1940, where they took first prize with their pioneering moulded plywood chairs. Their sculptured designs heralded a new production method of moulding a plywood shell in three dimensions. Eames also earned himself a position as Head of Industrial Design at Cranbrook in the same year.

Ray Kaiser studied painting at the Hans Hoffman School in New York before continuing to develop her art, working under Hans Hofmann throughout 1937. During this period she played an integral part in setting up the American Abstract Artists group who campaigned for greater publicity for avant-garde art. The group gave her a foundation from which she launched her first exhibition at the Riverside Museum in New York. From there she moved on to the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1940.

Cranbrook brought Charles and Ray together and within a year they were married, forming a pairing that would grow to become highly influential in the development of 20th century American design. In the early 1940s the husband and wife team were also working with moulded plywood; in addition to Charles’ work with Saarinen. They created leg splints and moving aeroplane parts that were so interesting in form they were almost abstract art in themselves. These techniques were then applied to furniture designs – their approach to producing chairs was to begin with the seat as a shell, moulded to closely fit the human body, doing away with the need for upholstery. In 1946 they exhibited their range of furniture at the New York Museum of Modern Art, which brought the attention of The Herman Miller Company in Zeeland, Michigan. Subsequently the business began producing the couple’s designs, bringing them their first commercial success and founded a working relationship that would continue for years to come.

Charles and Ray entered the New York Museum of Modern Art’s Low-Cost Furniture Competition in 1948, with a series of chairs made from reinforced moulded fibreglass shells that could be attached to a variety of different bases. The ‘Eames Storage Unit’ came in 1949, which was a system of modular shelving with sliding doors made from fibreglass, with dimpled wood front panels that would become their signature style. They also produced wire mesh chairs on wire rod bases that are now design classics; the Wire Chair. Their leather lounge chair and ottoman came in 1956, becoming one of their most expensive luxury pieces. There are many photographs of the interior of the Eames house from this period, in which the lounge chair features prominently. Charles Eames said his goal for the chair was the “warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” Every one is a special refuge from the strains of modern living. Both their home and office were uniquely fertile environments that spawned many of the iconic American designs of the 20th century. Their ‘Aluminum Group’ of furniture, which was designed to be used either indoor or outside, came at the end of the 1950’s, as did the ‘Tandem Shell Seating’ and ‘Tandem Sling Seating’ which was conceived for airport lounges. The couple began branching out during this period, with toys, smaller objects and even film becoming the subjects of their exhibitions. In the 1960s they went corporate, exhibiting for IBM, Westinghouse and Polaroid.

The Pratt Institute, New York, awarded Charles Eames an honorary doctoral degree in 1964. Moving from strength to strength, the Eames Office then designed the IBM Pavilion for the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York, which was followed in1969 by an invitation to feature in the “Qu’est-ce que le design?’ at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. In 1978 Charles Eames died in his hometown of St. Louis; Ray died in 1988.

The influence of Charles and Ray was integral in the launch of the furniture manufacturer, Vitra. Today Vitra is the sole producer of authorised original Eames furniture in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. So in our region, if it isn’t made by Vitra it’s a copy. Herman Miller holds the license for production of Eames designs in USA.

The Eames design ethos was a modernist one. They shared a belief with many modernists that social change would occur more naturally and unhindered in an environment made up of homes that were well designed but affordable and practical, essentially establishing a new identity for American interiors. Summed up by Ray as, “what works is better than what looks good, the ‘looks good’ can change, but what works, works.”


Find Me The Original Eames Aluminium Group Video

Find Me The Original Plastic Range Video

Find Me The Original Eames Lounge Chair Video

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