Charles Eames – American Furniture Designer

Posted on 2nd September 2011 in American Designers

La Chaise by Charles and Ray EamesA profile of Charles Eames could not be complete without including the importance of his collaboration with his wife, Ray. Both were American designers who made enormous contributions to modern architecture and furniture. Research into various books about Eames as well as photographs of furniture development makes evident that her involvement was crucial, demanding that she be considered an equal partner. Fabrics by Eames were Ray’s designs, including the Time Life Stools.
Born in 1907, the nephew of architect William S. Eames, Charles knew by age 14 that architecture would be his career. As a part-time laborer at the Laclede Steel Company, and a high school student, he was exposed to engineering, drawing and architecture – all of which became life-long passions. Later on in college, sources indicate that his devotion to Frank Lloyd Wright and modern architecture resulted in his dismissal. That he was also employed as an architect while attending classes, seems the more likely reason for the expulsion, in that sleep deprivation led to poor performance in his studies.
Influenced by the architect Eliel Saarinen, Charles moved to Michigan in 1938 to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. He would later teach there and head the industrial design department. With Saarinen’s son, Eero, their furniture designs for the New York Museum of Modern Art “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” won the competition. The furniture exhibited the new technique of wood molding, which Eames throughout his career, would develop in a variety of molded products: in addition to chairs and other furniture, splints and stretchers for the U.S. Navy during World War II.
“Take your pleasures seriously”, (Charles Eames). He and his second wife, Ray, moved to Los Angeles in 1941. The pivotal Eames House, also known as Case Study #8 – became their home. The duo designed it as part of the Arts & Architecture Magazine’s “Case Study” program. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the house was set upon a cliff and constructed by hand in several days entirely of pre-fab steel parts for industrial construction. The house continues to be considered today a beacon of the unlimited commercial and residential possibilities presented by modern architecture.
Ray-Bernice Kaiser Eames was born in 1912 and was an artist, designer and filmmaker. She studied abstract painting with Hans Hoffman and in 1936 became founder of the American Abstract Artists. She met Charles during her studies at the Cranbrook.
During the 1950s Charles and Ray furthered Charles’ work in molded plywood, resulting in innovative technologies such as the fiberglass, plastic resin chairs and the wire mesh chairs they designed for Herman Miller. Charles’ interest in photography began their foray into the production of short films, which were chronicles of their ideas, experiments and education.
For more than 40 years (1943-1988) their office included the talents at various times of designers a few among them, Richard Foy and Henry Beer, Harry Bertoia, Gregory Ain and Deborah Sussman. During this time span, ground-breaking designs which originated there were molded-plywood DCW (Dining Chair Wood) and DCM (Dining Chair Metal with plywood seat) (1945), the Aluminum Group (1958) as well as the Eames Chaise in 1968 – which was designed for the film director Billy Wilder, a friend of Charles’. In addition, an early experiment into solar energy and a variety of toys were developed in the co-op.
Eames died in 1978, Ray died 10 years later.

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