From 1941 to 1978, American husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames produced hundreds of designs, from domestic furniture to children’s toys.
Charles opened an architecture office in St Louis in 1930 and later became head of the industrial design department at Cranbrook Academy of Arts in Michigan (Eero Saarinen and Harry Bertoia were fellow alumni).
Ray, by contrast, attended the Hans Hoffman art school in New York and became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group, before attending the Cranbrook Academy in 1940, where she met Charles. They married a year later.
With Eero Saarinen, Charles entered the Museum of Modern Art’s ‘Organic Design in Home Furnishings’ competition in 1940 and won in two categories.
However, World War II prevented their designs from being put into production (though Vitra did finally issue the Organic chair in 2004).
Propelled by the needs of war, the new Eames office won contracts to design and manufacture moulded plywood leg splints, stretchers and aircraft parts for the US military.
The basic technology utilised for these products was later used in the manufacturing of their plywood chairs of 1946. The ’50s and ’60s were prolific, with many of the couple’s designs receiving world recognition, such as the plastic shell group, the 670 lounge chair, and the aluminium group.
They also designed museum exhibitions, created a huge seven-screen slide show for the Moscow World’s Fair in 1959, and made short films, including Powers of Ten (1977), which explores the concept of relative space, from the microscopic to the cosmic. Charles died in 1978, and Ray passed away 10 years later (to the day) in 1988.
LCW (Lounge Chair Wood)
The Eames moulded plywood chairs (left) were derived from Charles’s work for the Museum of Modern Art’s ‘Organic Design in Home Furnishings’ competition in 1940 with Eero Saarinen.
Due to World War II these chairs were prevented from going into production, but the Eameses went on to perfect curves in two directions, which finally resulted in an all-plywood chair being put into production in 1946.
There are two versions of the design – the LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) and DCW (Dining Chair Wood).
The Eameses’ search for perfection in unadorned objects led to lengthy prototyping but ultimately to designs that have an honest, functional aesthetic. While the couple may have been inspired by the Bauhaus greats, it was they who inspired the next generation of European designers.
Best known for
Their numerous iconic designs for manufacturer Herman Miller have enjoyed a high profile in a number of important modern buildings throughout the world. Their most well-known designs in Australia are 1956’s Classic lounge chair and matching ottoman (pictured), as well as their plywood and aluminium furniture groups.
What they’re worth
Eames prototypes and early originals have achieved high prices at auction. In 2000, a rare prototype of the LCW lounge chair with arms fetched US$107,000, while a very early ESU 421-C storage unit was purchased for US$70,700.
More on the Eames’ work and influence: