Charles and Ray Eames
Charles Ormond Eames, Jr.
Born 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri
Studied Architecture and Industrial Design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan
Bernice Alexandra “Ray” Kaiser Eames
Born 1912 in Sacramento, California
Studied Art at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Charles Eames dropped out of his architectural degree after just two years at the Washington University in his hometown of St. Louis. A maverick at heart, he once described how classical architectural training “forces upon the young designer a system of sterile formula”.
The decision to leave St. Louis proved fortuitous as it ultimately led to him meeting his future partner and wife, Bernice Alexandra Kaiser, at the Art Academy in Cranbrook. Nicknamed “Ray-Ray”, she had incredible artistic talent and was enrolled in various courses to expand upon her previous education in abstract painting in New York.
Charles left both his first wife and his position as head of the industrial design department in Cranbrook to move to California with Ray, then his fiancé.
They married in 1941 after a brief courtship. Their honeymoon was the road trip in which the pair relocated permanently from the midwest to Los Angeles, California.
They opened their famous design firm in 1943, the first step in establishing themselves as two of the most influential designers of the 20th Century.
Their mission statement was bold and simple: “We want to make the best for the most for the least”. The furniture they created was stylish, fit for purpose and would become the house style of America’s new moneyed middle class. “Recognizing the need,” Charles Eames said, “is the primary condition for design”.
For forty years the Eameses experimented with their creations, implementing flexibility into their compact storage units and innovative, collapsible sofas for the home. They designed seating for stadiums, airports and schools.
The conceptual backbone of their work, in all its forms, was the search for seat and back forms that comfortably support the human shape. An ethos of functionalism informed their furniture designs. “What works is better than what looks good,” Ray said. “The looks good can change, but what works, works”.
The close relationship between Charles and Ray Eames was evident in the work that they produced – Charles introduced modernist design to middle America, but it was Ray who softened its hard edges and gave it mass appeal.
The “Mad Men” era that they worked within meant that Ray was frequently forgotten or dismissed as little more than an assistant to her husband. The fact that Charles was inducted in the ADC Hall of Fame in 1984 and Ray was only inducted in 2008 is a case in point. However, there was never any doubt in Charles’ mind about equality in their relationship. He once described Ray’s integral role by saying, “Anything I can do, Ray can do better”.
Ray brought a sense of fun to the designs and had a real feel for colour – many believe that without her playful input, Charles’ creations would have seemed too austere. The two designers are almost always discussed as a couple and every project produced by their studio was in fact a team effort.
The Eameses lived life beautifully. Not just through their furniture and design, but also through their philosophy on life. They were curious about the world around them and their work was a journey of discovery. Design was their way of sharing their discoveries with the world and they carried out their life’s work with elegance, wit, and wonder.
The Eameses are most famous for their iconic chairs, which transformed modern furniture design. However, this was merely one facet of their work – they were also graphic and textile designers, architects and filmmakers. Their partnership could have been renowned in any one of these genres as they spread their talents far and wide to create art that continues to inspire to this day.
Charles died in 1978. He was 71.
After his sudden death, their office was closed as Ray dedicated all of her time to organizing and archiving their lifetime body of work in addition to collaborating on numerous books about their design studio.
Ray passed away at the age of 75 on the same day as Charles exactly ten years later in 1988.
The iconic nature of their work was affirmed in 1985 when the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) named Charles and Ray Eames “The Most Influential Designers of the 20th Century”.
- 1941-1945- Chair Shell Experiments
- 1943- Moulded-plywood furniture
- 1945- Adjustable Jig chair
- 1945- Moulded Plywood Elephant
- 1946- Lounge chair Wood/Metal
- 1946- “Donstrosity” prototype lounge
- 1948- La Chaise chair
- 1948- Experimental “Minimum Chair”
- 1948- Prototype Stamped Metal Chairs
- 1948-1950- Moulded Plastic & Fiberglass
- Armchair Shell various bases
- 1951- Wire Mesh Side Chair
- 1953- Hang-It-All
- 1956- Eames Lounge & Ottoman
- 1958- Aluminium chair
- 1968- Eames Chaise
- 1931- Sweetzer House
- 1934- St. Mary’s Church, Helena, Arkansas
- 1936-1938- Meyer House, Huntleigh, Missouri
- 1936- Dinsmoor House, 1936
- 1944- City Hall, 1944 (unbuilt, for Architectural Forum magazine competition)
- 1945- Bridge House, 1945 (Charles and Eero Sarrinen, unbuilt)
- 1947- Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Competition, 1947
- 1949- Eames House, Case Study House 8, Pacific Palisades, California
- 1950- Entenza House, Case Study House 9, Pacific Palisades, California
- 1950- Billy Wilder House, Beverly Hills, California
- 1950- Herman Miller Showroom, Los Angeles, California
- 1951- Kwikset House
- 1954- Max and Esther De Pree House, Zeeland, Michigan
- 1957- Griffith Park Railroad, Los Angeles, California
- 1959- Revell Toy House (unbuilt)
- 1961- The Time-Life Building Lobby
- 1967- National Fisheries Center and Aquarium, Washington D.C. (unbuilt)