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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Charles and Ray Eames

After high school, Charles Eames (1907-1978) won an architecture scholarship to Washington University in St Louis where he met a fellow student, Catherine Woermann, whom he married in 1929. Her father paid for them to honeymoon in Europe, where they saw the work of Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius.
Back in St Louis, Charles opened an architectural office which went out of business during the Depression. He set up another practice in 1935 and was asked to design a house for  friends of Catherine. He sought the advice of the architect Eliel Saarinen who offered him a fellowship to study architecture and design at Cranbrook Academy. There, Charles deepened his friendship with Eliel and his son Eero, with whom he won the 1940 Museum of Modern Art Organic Furniture Competition. He also found new collaborators there--notably Harry Bertoia and, later, Ray Kaiser.
Bernice Alexandra Kaiser (1912-1988), nicknamed Ray, enrolled at Cranbrook in 1940, where she met Charles Eames.  Four months after meeting him, she left Cranbrook.  He filed for divorce, and he and Ray married in 1941.
At home in Los Angeles, Charles found work at MGM, and Ray created covers for California Art & Architecture magazine. At night, they conducted plywood experiments in their spare bedroom. In 1942 they started a collaborative effort with Harry Bertoia and Gregory Ain, producing sculpture, chairs, screens, tables and even toys. George Nelson, head of design at Herman Miller, convinced others at the company to put some of these pieces into production. All Eames plywood designs combined an elegant organic aesthetic with a love of materials and technical ingenuity.
These qualities were also apparent in the showroom they designed for Herman Miller in 1949 and the Case Study Houses, a low cost housing project sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine, which included the Eames House, a steel structure with sliding walls and windows. Designed for inexpensive, speedy construction, it took five men 16 hours to raise the steel shell and one man three days to build the roof deck. The house and its contents epitomized Charles and Ray's approach to design and their "good life" concept of celebrating the beauty of everyday objects.
After plywood, the Eames Office focused on equally zealous experiments with other materials by creating furniture in fiberglass, plastic, aluminum and, for the 1956 Lounge Chair, leather and a very opulent plywood.
Their collaboration with Herman Miller continued and extended to Vitra, its European partner. The Eames  Office also began a long-lasting relationship with IBM for which they made films and designed exhibitions. Throughout the 1950s, their furniture was exhibited in the Good Design shows with which MoMA sought to raise the public's awareness of design.

Charles died August 21, 1978. Ray then worked hard to complete any unfinished projects but, having done so, did not seek new ones. She devoted the rest of her life to communicating their ideas through talks and writing. Ray Eames died on August 21, 1988, ten years to the day after Charles.


My favorite photo of Ray and Charles Eames

Molded plywood lounge chair, 1950s

Sofa, 1950s

Surfboard coffee tables, 1950s

Time Life chair, 1950s

Rosewood lounge, 1956

Fiberglass shell armchair, 1957

Aluminum Group side chair, 1958

Eames house

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