The designer Charles Eames and his second wife Ray are synonymous with the rise of corporate and industrial America and the global expansion of its culture.
Their works are very diversified and included furniture, toys, buildings, films, exhibitions and books. Their aim was to improve society functionally, culturally and intellectually.
Charles’ interest in mechanics and the functioning of things merged with Ray’s artistic side when they met in the 30s at the Cranbrook Academy for Arts in New York. The academy’s visionary concept of modern design as a promoter for social change would shape their work throughout their careers.
The Eamses settled in Los Angeles. It proved to be an ideal playground to experiment with design in a society that was suddenly confronted with unprecedented functional demands during the war. The aircraft industry was a boost for the entire region. Subsequently their work with and for the government and aviation industry allowed them access to advanced materials and technologies and not the least, funding.
Material studies that led to their innovative line of molded plywood furniture originate back to these collaborations during which they were commissioned a project to develop a splint for the armed forces in action.
Postwar, as America changed from an industrial economy to a postindustrial society of information and knowledge so did the Eamses’ focus shift. They became facilitators of all new and scientific for government and companies like General Motors, IBM, Boeing and Polaroid and cultural representatives for the New Deal.
The Eamses too believed that what would benefit corporates would benefit the people.
The film The Powers of Ten is an outstanding example for their work in this regard, exploring the relative size of things with innovative visual tools.
Bill Lacy, a friend and colleague said, “There is no Eames style, only a legacy of problems beautifully and intelligently solved”.
They worked on projects they believed in with clients who shared their objectives. Charles wanted “to bring the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least” and had faith in corporate America to achieve this goal.
Their own house served as a model to solve the postwar veterans need for affordable housing.
Their furniture, mass-produced chairs, tables, sofas and storage units were intended as beautiful yet inexpensive furnishings for an increasingly egalitarian society. And they succeeded on every level.
Charles and Ray Eames identified a demand for affordable, multi functional and high-quality furniture.
Their concepts of interior design proposed progressive new ways of living and working and yet retained a certain playfulness, making it appealing and approachable to many.
In 1940 Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, his friend and partner, won the competition Organic Design in Home Furnishings by the Museum of Modern Art. The collection included versions of their famous softly moulded veneer chairs and modular units that formed benches, cabinets, desks and tables.
The ESU (Eames Storage Unit) debuted a little later in Detroit.
The great commercial success of Charles Eames design furniture is to some extent a result of their collaboration with Hermann Miller Furniture, a company that shared their social outlook and involved the Eamses in their marketing plan.
The core of their work for Hermann Miller were four groups of chairs, each a solution to functional and technical challenges.
The moulded plywood chairs, fiberglass reinforced plastic chairs as well as the bent and welded wire-mesh chairs were all designed to have a single, body fitting shell that was comfortable without costly upholstery and to be unproblematic in shipping as they were stackable. Each of the three groups tackles these challenges in a different way. The forth group, out of cast aluminum served as all-purpose, all-weather seating suitable for outdoors.
Other designs grew out of these concepts such as a molded plywood or wire mesh tables.
The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman were Charles Eames first design for a high-end market and are part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.
Each of Charles and Ray Eames designs invites the owners to engage with it and mix and match for their own individual needs.