A-Z of Design: E is for Eames

 



Of course it is. Eames has become a byword for Mid-century design with ‘Eames style’ used to describe anything vaguely retro. But what does it actually mean? Let’s take a closer look…

Charles and Ray Eames were the American couple and creative partnership behind the name. Charles Ormond Eames Jr (1907–1978) studied architecture for two years, after which he was kicked out, reportedly because, being a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, his views were considered “too modern”.

Bernice Alexandra "Ray" (nee Kaiser) Eames (1912–1988) was an artist, designer and filmmaker. She lived in many cities while growing up, and then studied abstract expressionist painting in New York. She founded the American Abstract Artists group in 1936. Within a year of meeting, the two were married.



Their motto: “Create the best for the most for the least” summarised their ambition to create high-quality furniture that everybody could afford, and they were pioneers of modernism and mass production.

In 1943 they created their first mass-produced product, a moulded plywood leg splint based on a plaster mould of Charles’ own leg for wounded soldiers in the war. An order for 5,000 from the US Navy enabled them to set up their Santa Monica studio.

They then went on to create some of the 20th-Century’s most iconic designs – without which even now, an interior design shoot just doesn't seem complete.



The RAR Rocker or the DSW chair is perhaps the most famous, with the Lounge Chair coming a close third. And who could forget the Hang It All coat (and anything else you want to hang on it) rack?



Items they owned or made for personal use have since been put into production, creating new icons, such as the blackbird and the elephant seat. But they didn’t limit their creativity to furniture design – they also made films, curated exhibitions and designed toys.

In fact in 1982 when Ray was asked: “How did it feel to give up painting?” she replied, “I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette.” They worked from 9am until 10pm and even employed a cook so they wouldn’t have to leave the studio to eat, but to quote the recently released film about their lives, Eames: The Artist and The Painter: “Life was fun was work was fun was life.”



They worked together until Charles died. Ray finished their projects but didn’t seek new ones, choosing instead to spread the word about their approach to design. She died ten years after her husband - to the day. Their work lives on and has been a major influence in design.

[Images courtesy of Conran]

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Katie Treggiden, Guest Editor

View all posts by Katie Treggiden, Guest Editor