Charles & Ray Eames: The life’s work of designer legends

Charles & Ray Eames: The life’s work of designer legends

Charles & Ray Eames have shaped a lasting epoch and written a chapter in design history with their unique style and timeless design. The innovative and practicable furniture creations of this designer couple continue to work their charm on design lovers to this day. They loved to experiment with their impeccable talent full of universal appeal. In addition to furniture that is currently undergoing a revival in the 21st century, they also made toys, did films and exhibitions along with buildings and even today are regarded as pioneers, who have formed not just a myriad of iconic designs but put forth a philosophy whose playful sobriety went on to become their trademark.


The leitmotif of Charles & Ray Eames

Charles & Ray Eames’s ambition was something that revolutionised the world of design. They committed themselves to produce “the best for as many people as possible at the lowest possible price”. They always tried to highlight the humane facets and shaped an understanding of the selfless role of the designer. This essential aspect that reflected in their designs, made their work popular and respected across all cultures worldwide. As paradoxical as it may seem, their modesty and selfless portrayal ultimately shaped their uniqueness, which is highly appreciated by other designers even today. Charles & Ray Eames’s creative work has always been guided by their deep personal connection, their empathy, and the way that it all seemed most meaningful to them. Understanding things from a distance without losing sight of your own needs to get to the heart of a problem was part of the Eames designing process. The credo that guided them was to develop a product that would bring joy to many customers at the same time “as if it were a custom-made product designed for each of them”.


Eames designer classics: Screens, toys, chairs

In 1939, Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen made the Kleinhans chair for the “Kleinhans Music Hall” in Buffalo. It laid the foundation for the work of the designer duo Eames. From then on, he experimented with moulded plywood to form the seat of a chair in one piece. It was this time when Charles & Ray got to know each other. Then onwards, they joined forces to work out a solution for developing their own ideas into a tool that made plywood and designed an electric machine called “Kazam!”. However, the Second World War interrupted their plans and culminated into a success quite unexpected – in the series production of a wooden leg splint. Charles founded his first own company called Plyformed Wood Company in 1942. About a year later, Charles & Ray set up their own design studio – the Eames Office on 901 Washington Boulevard (Los Angeles) – and focused on the design of furniture. It was during this time that products such as screen and the famous toy elephant were created alongside chairs, which were exhibited at the MoMA a few years later, in 1946. Then began the legendary collaboration with George Nelson, the then design director of the American Herman Milller Company, who together with Eames shaped the history of design in the 20th century that created a lasting impression. Herman Miller is still an authorised manufacturer of the Eames classics.

In 1948, MoMA hosted a design contest in New York, where Charles & Ray participated to present their piece of furniture “La Chaise”. “La Chaise” is a white shell-shaped seat with a rear opening, which stands on a sub-structure of wood and metal. The fire to be able to produce the seat shell from only one piece was fanned one more time. Charles & Ray then experimented with Fibreglass and managed to develop the award-winning design just in time for the exhibition, which was just two years after the planning. “La Chaise” remained a prototype that had only been manufactured by Vitra in polyurethane since 1990 and is sold as a popular collector’s item to this day. Following the success of the sculptural chair, Charles & Ray Eames continued to produce a range of chairs – the “Plastic Chairs” – with various sub-structures that still rank among the most distinctive designer items and is distributed by Vitra even today just like the Eames Plastic Armchair DAR or the Eames Plastic Side Chair DSW.


The Eames House – Case Study No. 8

The story begins with the famous acronym “CSH”, wherein the letters stand for the now legendary programme of the “Case Study Houses”. The initiator at the time was John Etenza, who wanted to sensitise the public to architectural values and announced a daring venture. It implied that eight homes should be designed, but not as luxury villas, but rather as affordable housing. Charles Eames followed the call and developed the first draft together with Eero Saarinen in 1945, which deviated from the subsequent construction and was more integrated in nature than initially planned. The house found its ultimate location destined behind a row of eucalyptus trees and was bought by Charles & Ray Eames in 1949, until the end of their lives.

Today, the home in the Pacific Palisades neighbourhood of Los Angeles houses the Eames Foundation, which governs the legacy of Charles & Ray Eames. The building comprises two separate areas, out of which, the bigger one was intended for residence and the smaller as the working space. The house with a rectangular floor plan is comprised exclusively of prefabricated components and bears the signature of Eames in the chosen colours and textures. It served as a retreat to the otherwise fulfilling professional life of the designer duo and is still considered to be one of the most famous buildings that have become the icon of 20th century architecture.

Charles & Ray Eames*


The author of this richly illustrated volume “Charles & Ray Eames – The life’s work of designer legends” published by Knesebeck Verlag, is the architect and journalist Maryse Quinton, who regularly writes for architecture and interior magazines. The extensive archive material that comes from the Eames Office and the manufacturers Vitra and Herman Miller showcases the exceptionally ingenious creativity of the couple based on recent samples of furniture creations. Enriched by numerous interviews with designers, architects and art historians such as Philippe Starck, Vitra CEO Rolf Fehlbaum or the German architects Nils Holger Moormann and Stefan Diez, the creative heritage of Ray and Charles Eames is taken account of, which influences many creative minds even today.

Happy reading!

Posted on 03.07.2018

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