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Charles Eames

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Charles Eames

Charles and Ray Eames
American National Exhibition in Moscow
Nationality American
Awards AIA Twenty-five Year Award, 1977
Royal Gold Medal, 1979
"The Most Influential Designer of the 20th Century" IDSA 1985
Practice The Eames Office
Buildings Eames House
Projects Eames Lounge Chair Wood (LCW)
Eames lounge chair and ottoman
'Powers of Ten'

Charles Ormond Eames, Jr (1907–1978) and Bernice Alexandra "Ray" (née Kaiser) Eames (1912–1988) /ˈmz/ were American designers who worked in and made major contributions to modern architecture and furniture. They also worked in the fields of industrial and graphic design, fine art and film.

Charles Eames

Charles Eames, Jr (June 17, 1907 – August 21, 1978) was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Charles was the nephew of St. Louis architect William S. Eames. By the age of 14, while attending Yeatman high school,[1] Charles worked at the Laclede Steel Company as a part-time laborer, where he learned about engineering, drawing, and architecture (and also first entertained the idea of one day becoming an architect).

Charles briefly studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis on an architecture scholarship. After two years of study, he left the university. Many sources claim that he was dismissed for his advocacy of Frank Lloyd Wright and his interest in modern architects. The university reportedly dropped him because of his "too modern" views.[2] Other sources, less frequently cited, note that while a student, Charles Eames also was employed as an architect at the firm of Trueblood and Graf.[3] The demands on his time from this employment and from his classes led to sleep-deprivation and diminished performance at the university.

While at Washington University, he met his first wife, Catherine Woermann, whom he married in 1929. A year later, they had a daughter, Lucia Jenkins.

In 1930, Charles began his own architectural practice in St. Louis with partner Charles Gray. They were later joined by a third partner, Walter Pauley.

Charles Eames was greatly influenced by the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen (whose son Eero, also an architect, would become a partner and friend). At the elder Saarinen's invitation, Charles moved in 1938 with his wife Catherine and daughter Lucia to Michigan, to further study architecture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he would become a teacher and head of the industrial design department. In order to apply for the Architecture and Urban Planning Program, Eames defined an area of focus—the St. Louis waterfront. Together with Eero Saarinen he designed prize-winning furniture for New York's Museum of Modern Art "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" competition.[4] Their work displayed the new technique of wood moulding (originally developed by Alvar Aalto), that Eames would further develop in many moulded plywood products, including chairs and other furniture, splints and stretchers for the U.S. Navy during World War II.[5]

In 1941, Charles and Catherine divorced, and he married his Cranbrook colleague Ray Kaiser, who was born in Sacramento, California. He then moved with her to Los Angeles, California, where they would work and live until their deaths. In the late 1940s, as part of the Arts & Architecture magazine's "Case Study" program, Charles and Ray designed and built the groundbreaking Eames House, Case Study House #8, as their home. Located upon a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and hand-constructed within a matter of days entirely of pre-fabricated steel parts intended for industrial construction, it remains a milestone of modern architecture.

Charles Eames died of a heart attack on August 21, 1978 while on a consulting trip in his native Saint Louis, and was buried in the Calvary Cemetery there. He now has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[6]

Ray Eames

Ray-Bernice Alexandra Kaiser Eames (December 15, 1912 – August 21, 1988) was an American artist, designer, and filmmaker who, together with her husband Charles, is responsible for many classic, iconic designs of the 20th century. She was born in Sacramento, California to Alexander and Edna Burr Kaiser, and had a brother named Maurice. After having lived in a number of cities during her youth, in 1933 she graduated from Bennett Women's College in Millbrook, New York, and moved to New York City, where she studied abstract expressionist painting with Hans Hofmann. She was a founder of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936 and displayed paintings in their first show a year later at Riverside Museum in Manhattan. One of her paintings is in the permanent collection of The Whitney Museum of American Art.

In September 1940, she began studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She met Charles Eames while preparing drawings and models for the Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition and they were married the following year.[7] Settling in Los Angeles, California, Charles and Ray Eames would lead an outstanding career in design and architecture.

In 1943, 1944, and 1947, Ray Eames designed several covers for the landmark magazine, Arts & Architecture.

In the late 1940s, Ray Eames created several textile designs, two of which, "Crosspatch" and "Sea Things", were produced by Schiffer Prints, a company that also produced textiles by Salvador Dalí and Frank Lloyd Wright. Original examples of Ray Eames textiles can be found in many art museum collections. The Ray Eames textiles have been re-issued by Maharam as part of their Textiles of the Twentieth Century collection.

Ray Eames died in Los Angeles in 1988, ten years to the day after Charles. They are buried next to each other in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.


In the 1950s, the Eameses continued their work in architecture and modern furniture design. As with their earlier molded plywood work, the Eameses pioneered technologies, such as the fiberglass and plastic resin chairs and the wire mesh chairs designed for Herman Miller. From the beginning, the Eames furniture has usually been listed as by Charles Eames. In the 1948 and 1952 Herman Miller bound catalogs, only Charles' name is listed, but it has become clear that Ray was deeply involved and was an equal partner with her husband in many projects. The Eames fabrics[8] were mostly designed by Ray, as were the Time-Life Stools. In 1979, the Royal Institute of British Architects awarded Charles and Ray with the Royal Gold Medal. At the time of Charles' death they were working on what became their last production, the Eames Sofa, which went into production in 1984.

Charles and Ray channeled Charles' interest in photography into the production of short films. From their first film, the unfinished Traveling Boy (1950), to Powers of Ten (re-released in 1977), their cinematic work was an outlet for ideas, a vehicle for experimentation and education. The couple often produced short films in order to document their interests, such as collecting toys and cultural artifacts on their travels. The films also record the process of hanging their exhibits or producing classic furniture designs. Some of their other films cover more intellectual topics. For example, one film covers the purposely mundane topic of filming soap suds moving over the pavement of a parking lot. Powers of Ten (narrated by physicist Philip Morrison), gives a dramatic demonstration of orders of magnitude by visually zooming away from the earth to the edge of the universe, and then microscopically zooming into the nucleus of a carbon atom.

The Eameses also conceived and designed a number of exhibitions. The first of these, Mathematica: A World of Numbers... and Beyond (1961), was sponsored by IBM, and is the only one of their exhibitions still extant.[9] The Mathematica exhibition is still considered a model for science popularization exhibitions. It was followed by A Computer Perspective: Background to the Computer Age (1971) and The World of Franklin and Jefferson (1975–1977), among others.

The office of Charles and Ray Eames, functioned for more than four decades (1943–1988) in the former Bay Cities Garage[10] at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice, Los Angeles, California. Through the years, its staff included many notable designers: Henry Beer and Richard Foy, now co-chairmen of CommArts, Inc.; Don Albinson; Deborah Sussman; Harry Bertoia; and Gregory Ain, who was Chief Engineer for the Eameses during World War II.[11] Eames products were also manufactured on Washington Boulevard until the 1950s.[10] Among the many important designs originating there are the molded-plywood DCW (Dining Chair Wood) and DCM (Dining Chair Metal with a plywood seat) (1945), Eames Lounge Chair (1956), the Aluminum Group furniture (1958) and the Eames Chaise (1968), designed for Charles's friend, film director Billy Wilder, the playful Do-Nothing Machine (1957), an early solar energy experiment, and a number of toys.


In 1970–71, Charles Eames gave the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University. At the lectures, the Eames viewpoint and philosophy are related through Charles' own telling of what he called the banana leaf parable, a banana leaf being the most basic dish off which to eat in southern India. He related the progression of design and its process where the banana leaf is transformed into something fantastically ornate. He explains the next step and ties it to the design process by finishing the parable with:

But you can go beyond that and the guys that have not only means, but a certain amount of knowledge and understanding, go the next step and they eat off of a banana leaf. And I think that in these times when we fall back and regroup, that somehow or other, the banana leaf parable sort of got to get working there, because I'm not prepared to say that the banana leaf that one eats off of is the same as the other eats off of, but it's that process that has happened within the man that changes the banana leaf. And as we attack these problems—and I hope and I expect that the total amount of energy used in this world is going to go from high to medium to a little bit lower—the banana leaf idea might have a great part in it.



  • Sweetzer House (between 1930–33)
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch model home (193?)
  • St. Mary's Church (Helena, Arkansas) (1934)
  • St. Mary's Church (Paragould, Arkansas) (1935)
  • Dinsmoor House (1936)
  • Dean House (193?)
  • Meyer House (1938)
  • Bridge house (Eames-Saarinen) (1945)
  • Entenza House (1949)
  • Eames House (1949)
  • Max De Pree House (1954)

Selected films

  • Traveling Boy (1950)
  • Blacktop: A Story of the Washing of a School Play Yard (1952)
  • Parade Parade Or Here They Are Coming Down Our Street (1952)
  • A Communications Primer (1953)
  • House: After Five Years of Living (1955)
  • Day of the Dead (1957)
  • Toccata for Toy Trains (1957)
  • Kaleidoscope Jazz Chair (1960)
  • IBM Mathematics Peep Show (1961), short documentary based on Mathematica: A World of Numbers... and Beyond exhibit by Eames
  • Powers of Ten (1968, rereleased in 1977)
  • Image of the City (1969)
  • Banana Leaf (1972)
  • Fiberglass Chairs
  • SX-70, promotional announcement/documentary of the Polaroid Corporation SX-70 instant camera
  • Eames Lounge Chair

Furniture designs

  • Kleinhans Music Hall Chair (1939–40) Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Eliel Saarinen
  • Conversation Armchair (1940) Charles Eames & Eero Saarinen
  • Side Chair (1940) Charles Eames & Eero Saarinen
  • Molded Plywood Pilot's Seat (1943) Charles & Ray Eames and staff.
  • Prototype Plywood and Metal Chairs (various models) (1943-1946) Charles & Ray Eames and staff
  • Molded Plywood Elephant (1945) Charles & Ray Eames and staff.
  • Lounge Chair Wood or LCW (1945-1946) Charles & Ray Eames and staff.
  • Lounge Chair Metal or LCM (1945-1946) Charles & Ray Eames and staff.
  • Dining Chair Wood or DCW (1945-1946) Charles & Ray Eames and staff.
  • Dining Chair Metal or DCM (1945-1946) Charles & Ray Eames and staff.
  • Molded Plywood Folding Screen (1945-1946) Charles & Ray Eames and staff.
  • Molded Plywood Coffee Table wood or metal legs (1945-1946) Charles & Ray Eames and staff.
  • "Donstrosity" prototype lounge (1946) Charles & Ray Eames and staff.
  • Prototype Plywood Lounge with metal base (1946) Charles & Ray Eames and staff.
  • Prototype Stamped Metal Chairs (1948) Charles & Ray Eames and staff
  • LaChaise prototype (1948) Charles & Ray Eames and staff
  • Molded Plastic & Fiberglass Armchair Shell various bases (1948-1950)Charles & Ray Eames and staff
  • Molded Plastic & Fiberglass Side Chair Shell various bases (1948-1950)Charles & Ray Eames and staff
  • Molded Plastic & Fiberglass Rocking Chair or DAR (1948-1950) Charles & Ray Eames and staff
  • Wire Mesh Side Chair or DKR (1951) Charles & Ray Eames and staff
  • Hang-It-All (1953) Charles & Ray Eames and staff
  • 670 & 671 or Eames Lounge & Ottoman (1956) Charles & Ray Eames and staff
  • Leisure Group (later Aluminum Group): High Back Lounge, Low Back Lounge, Dining Side Chair (1958) Charles & Ray Eames and staff

Exhibition design


  • House Of Cards, a card construction game.
  • The Coloring Toy (1955)
  • Stephens Speaker (1956)

Awards and recognition

On June 17, 2008, the US Postal Service released the Eames Stamps, a pane of 16 stamps celebrating the designs of Charles and Ray Eames.


A well-received documentary about the couple titled Eames: The Architect and the Painter was released on November 18, 2011 as part of the American Masters series on PBS television.

Exhibitions and retrospectives

  • Charles and Ray Eames at the Design Museum, London (1998)[13]
  • Library of Congress exhibit (1999)


  • "Eventually, everything connects."—Charles Eames [from]
  • "Innovate as a last resort."[14]
  • "Design is the appropriate combination of materials in order to solve a problem."[15]
  • "I have never been forced to accept compromises but I have willingly accepted constraints." [16]
  • "Take your pleasure seriously."{}
  • “The details are not the details. They make the design.”
  • "I like to consider myself to be very very funny, the funny thing is, I don't know what a joke actually is."


  • Caplan, Ralph, "Connections: the work of Charles and Ray Eames". Los Angeles: UCLA, 1976.
  • Rago, David and John Sollo. Collecting Modern: a guide to mid-century furniture and collectibles. Gibbs Smith, 2001. (ISBN 1-5868-5051-2)
  • Drexler, Arthur. "Charles Eames Furniture from the Design Collection of Modern Art, New York". New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973 (ISBN 0810960281)

Further reading

  • Demetrios, Eames. An Eames Primer. New York: Universe, 2002. (ISBN 0-7893-0629-8)
  • Gössel, Peter (ed.) Koenig Gloria. Eames. Taschen, 2005. (ISBN 3-8228-3651-6)
  • Albrecht, Donald. The work of Charles and Ray Eames: a legacy of invention. Harry N. Abrams in association with the Library of Congress and the Vitra Design Museum, 2005. (ISBN 0-8109-1799-8)

External links

  • A Virtual Encyclopedia of All Things Eames
  • The Library of Congress Website for The Work of Charles & Ray Eames
  • The Industrial Designers Society of America Charles Eames page
  • The History of Eames Furniture
  • Eames Foundation
  • Museum of Modern Art website
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Page on Charles & Ray Eames
  • Art Directors Club biography, portrait and images of work
  • Charles Eames - Design Dictionary—Illustrated article about Charles Eames
  • Ray Eames on The California Museum's California Legacy Trails
  • Internet Movie Database
  • "A Communications Primer"(1953) at the Internet Archive
  • American Abstract Artists

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