Charles and Ray Eames are by far America’s most famous industrial designers; the husband and wife duo who introduced modernist design to the mainstream. Best known for their elegant and functional furniture, they also worked across many creative fields, such as architecture, industrial design, photography and film.
The Bauhaus movement had pioneered the true modernist functional approach before the war. Marcel Breuer designed the ‘Wassily chair’ in 1928 that epitomised the ‘new age’ world of sleek, simple, and functional furniture design. However, it was after the war that Charles and Ray Eames began using the tools and techniques of the Bauhaus, and shifting them into the mainstream. Their designs were pleasing and accessible – attractive to young consumers. They softened the hard edged pre-war designs and gave them mass appeal.
The new generation of suburbanites wanted a different kind of décor, and Charles and Ray provided it. Their mission statement was bold and simple: “We want to make the best for the most for the least.” Charles likened a good designer to a good host, anticipating the needs of his guests. The furniture they made was stylish and, above all, fit for purpose.
The couple was well-versed in mass-production pieces, they worked with both plastic and plywood when designing chairs. Both materials are common today, but in the 1950s, the Eameses were some of the first designers to use plywood and plastic in their designs.
The famous ‘Eames chair’ constituted the first major development in chair design since Marcel Breuer. The chair was released in 1956 with the official name Eames Lounge (670) and Ottoman (671) manufactured by Herman Miller. The chair was the first one designed by the Eameses for the high-end market and has become one of the most famous chair designs ever created.
Three pieces of moulded plywood were used to create the chair, with a base, a separate headrest, and a backrest. All three pieces were covered in a rosewood veneer, with later versions using walnut, cherry, and other finishes. Black or brown leather cushions were used to complete the design, and a matching ottoman completed the set.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Eames Chair in 2006, Herman Miller released new models using a sustainable palisander rosewood veneer. The chair is still in production today and remains one of the most influential furniture designs in American history.
In 1949 Charles and Ray designed and built their own home in Pacific Palisades California, as part of the Case Study House Program. Their design and innovative use of materials made the house a destination for architects and designers. Today it is considered one of the most important post-war residences in the world, alongside that of the Irish modernist deisgner Eileen Gray’s E-1027 house built in Cape Moderne France, which is still famously disputed as being partly designed, or ruined, by the late Le Corbusier.
For Charles and Ray, design was a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. “One can describe design as a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose,” said Charles. “The extent to which you have a design style is the extent to which you have not solved the design problem.”
The Eames legacy is an indelible imprint of a beautiful couple, destined to find each in a world of never ending design, and together create a spirit that continues to enhance the lives of everyday people, and the environments they inhabit.
Anna Grassham / Head of Modern Design