CHARLES and RAY EAMES were the dream couple of American design and are perhaps its greatest exponents. They were not only successful photographers, film makers and architects but also talented furniture designers.
CHARLES EAMES was born in 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri. After attending Washington University for two years and being thrown out for his advocacy of Frank Lloyd Wright, he began working in an architectural office. In 1930, Charles started his own architectural office. He began extending his design ideas beyond architecture and received a fellowship to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he eventually became head of the design department.
RAY KAISER EAMES was born in Sacramento, California in 1912. She studied painting with Hans Hofmann in New York before moving on to Cranbrook Academy where she met and assisted Charles and Eero Saarinen.
Charles and Ray married in 1941 and moved to California where they continued their furniture design work with molding plywood. Charles’s first moulded plywood chair, designed in collaboration with Eero Saarinenfor the Museum of Modern Art’s ‘Organic Design in Home Furnishings’ competition in 1940, was an instant success. The LCW (Lounge Chair Wood), with its rounded forms, is an example of the shift away from the angular Bauhaus style towards a functionalism that was tempered by more organic elements.
During the war they were commissioned by the Navy to produce molded plywood splints, stretchers and experimental glider shells. In 1946, Evans Products began producing the EAMESes' molded plywood furniture. Their molded plywood chair was called "the chair of the century" by the influential architectural critic Esther McCoy. Soon production was taken over by Herman Miller, Inc ., who continues to produce the furniture in the United States today. Vitra manufactures the furniture in Europe. In 1949, Charles and Ray designed and built their own home in Pacific Palisades, California as part of the Case Study House Program sponsored by Arts and Architecture Magazine. Their design and innovative use of materials made this house a mecca for architects and designers from all over the world. It is considered one of the most important post-war residences built anywhere in the world.
Over a period of forty prolific years they produced shelving systems, stackable chairs, Plastic Chairs folding sofas and multi purpose furniture as well as the iconic Lounge Chair and Ottoman, Aluminium Group Chair collection and Hang It All Coat Rack – all still manufactured as authorized originals under licence byVitra. These are all noteworthy for their versatility and technological finesse.
The couple were to find themselves at the centre of an intellectual circle that was to redefine American design. Indeed, their work was so significant, that the Museum of Modern Art devoted a special exhibition to Charles EAMES in 1946. Ray’s contribution was for a long time ignored, as was her artistic career, which had its roots in the bohemian world of New York’s immigrants.
Charles died in St. Louis in 1978 and Ray survived him until her death in Sacramento, California in 1988.