Ray and Charles Eames were a husband and wife team of American designers who directly contributed to modern architecture expressing themselves through furniture, industrial and graphic design as well as producing short films and exhibits.
Ray Eames, born Ray-Bernice Alexandra Kaiser on December 15, 1912 in Sacramento, California attended Bennett Women’s College in Millbrook, New York. She moved to New York City where she studied abstract expressionist painting with Hans Hoffman. One of the paintings she produced while founder of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936 still hangs in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
It was when she began her studies at Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan that she met her future husband and collaborator on Modern architecture and design, Charles Eames. From here they moved to Los Angeles, California and remained during their career.
Charles Eames born June 17, 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri, knew by the time he was fourteen years old that he wanted to be an architect. Fortunate to be the nephew of William S. Eames, a St. Louis architect, Charles worked part-time at the Laclede Steel Company where he learned about drafting, engineering and drawing.
Though he did begin his academic study of architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, he remained for only two years and left. Speculations as to why his early departure include that his views were “too modern” as he particularly liked Frank Lloyd Wright. Others say it was because he was also employed as an architect while in school at the firm of Trueblood and Graf and too tired to be successful in his studies. It was during this time in 1929, that he met his first wife, Catherine Woermann.
In 1930, he opened his own architectural firm with two other partners. Eiel Saarinen, Finnish architect and exerting a great influence on Charles, encouraged him to leave St. Louis to become a teacher and head of the industrial design department at the Cranbook Academy of Art. Eiel Saarinen’s son Eero would become a friend and a partner with Charles designing prize-winning furniture for New York’s Museum of Modern Art “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” competition. This began a technique of wood molding that would be used to produce molded plywood chairs and furniture.
Ray and Charles Eames married in 1941 and began their design career together. In the late 1940’s, they designed and built the Eames House, Case Study house #8, as part of the magazine Arts & Architecture “Case Study” program . Made entirely of pre-fabricated steel parts normally used for industrial use, it was hand constructed in less than a week. Situated on a cliff looking out over the Pacific Ocean, it remains until today a milestone of modern architecture.
It was during this time that they also collaborated on textile designs produced by Schiffer Prints. These can be seen today in many art museum collections. They continued their innovative design work with fiberglass, plastic resin and wire mesh chairs designed for Herman Miller. They also channeled their artistic sensibilities from photography into short films that ranged in subject from documenting their interest in toy collection and cultural pieces from their travels to the well acclaimed “Powers of Ten” that deals with orders of magnitude from the edge of the earth and the universe to the nucleus of a carbon atom.
Charles Eames died on August 21, 1978 with Ray dying exactly ten years to the day after him. Throughout their career they designed and produced the molded-plywood DCW (Dining Chair Wood) and the DCM (Dining Chair Metal with a plywood seat), the Eames Lounge Chair (1856), the Aluminum Group furniture (1958), the Eames Chaise (1958) and the playful Do-Nothing Machine (1957), a solar energy experiment along with a number of toys. The Eames Sofa was the last piece they designed, which went into production in 1984.