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Charles & Ray Eames

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There is no way around these two names in the design world

If you love design, love to browse through furnishing blogs and can spend a whole afternoons in furniture stores, the name Eames should not be completely unknown to you. Many think instantly of their most well-known works of art, the Eames Lounge Chair or the Eames Plastic Chair. However, the Eames family stands for much more than just world-famous furniture products and fascinates in many facets. We have put together a brief overview here. The following overview will help you to navigate between chapters:

The biographies of Charles and Ray Eames

Charles Eames - father, traveler, award-winner (1907 - 1978)

Probably by far the most influential American architect and designer of the 20th century was born on June 17, 1907 in St. Louis in Missouri. In a then fast-growing small town Charles decided to deepen his passion and enrolled for the study of architecture at the Washington University in St. Louis. 1930 – at the age of 23 Charles was already connected with many events: His marriage to his first wife, Catherine Woermann was just a year ago when his daughter Lucia Dewey Eames was born. The feeding of the new family in mind, Charles opened his first architectural office in the same year. But the acceptance of every order available did not bring the family out of the critical financial situation. Gloria Koenig writes in her book about Eames that this situation led even to the decision to travel with less than a dollar in cash to Mexico in 1933. His wife and his three-year old daughter Lucia he sent to Catherine's parents then. The culture and colours of the explored Mexico where he traded pictures for food, impressed Charles so much that these experiences were to influence his later works.

After some time, Charles finally got a scholarship at the Cranbrook Academy of Work in 1938 that would change his whole future life. Not only was this continued in the following year into a lectureship for design. Together with Eero Saarinnen he also won the "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" competition in 1940 which was held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The University in St. Louis was so convinced by the work of Charles Eames that he was made Head of the Department of Industrial Design of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in the same year he won the award.

Der Eames Lounge Chair

Professionally, it went very well for Charles - in his marriage, he however faced increasing difficulties. How and whether his future wife Ray Kaiser was the cause, who attended the Academy of Art in Cranbrook in 1940, will probably remain a mystery. Of the initial stage of the love story between Charles and Ray only the marriage proposal and the year of the wedding in 1941 is known. In the same year his marriage had failed with Catherine. Charles proposed in a letter to Ray in which he not only confessed his sincere love, but also directly asked about her ring size.

Along with Ray Charles launched an unprecedented career - with the creation of numerous pieces of furniture that are still at the head of the design world today. A summary of their joint professional career can be found in the chapter "The career of Ray and Charles Eames".

Ray Kaiser (later Eames) - her talent expressed itself at the age of 3

Der Eames Lounge Chair

That Ray (born Bernice Alexandra Kaiser in 1912 in Sacramento, California) her talent expressed itself at the age of 3 That Ray (born Bernice Alexandra Kaiser in 1912 in Sacramento, California) had a special talent could be perceived at the early age of 3 as her extraordinary talent to draw was discovered. Keeping true to her values her life path led her to the May Friend Bennet School in Millbrook (New York) to Manhattan, where until 1939 she studied painting under Hans Hofmann, a famous German-American painter, teacher and art professor. With the intention to settle in California, Ray Kaiser made a stopover at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1940, to take up a four-month design study. A stopover that changed her life: because while working with Eero Saarinnen and the preparations of the sketches for the "Organic Design in Home Furnishing" competition - organized by the Museum of Modern Art - she met Charles Eames.

The marriage of the two in 1941 joined not just two loving people, but also created a perfectly functioning cooperation in the design world. Ray - largely unnoticed by the public - acted as the creative part in addition to a technically operating Charles Eames. In 1988, Ray Eames died at the age of 76 years, 10 years after her husband Charles.

Continuous success - the career of Ray and Charles Eames

Initial mutual projects by Ray and Charles from 1941-1943 were drafts of aircraft parts, stretchers and greaves made of deformed plywood for the military on behalf of the US government.

Already then it was obvious: As an Eames you paid close attention to your designs - taking time for details and always seeking the reduction to essentials. Charles Eames shared this view by saying, "Those needs and designs which have a more universal quality will tend to permanence”

The first chair in serial production

Vitra Plywood Group LCW

The first significant success of Charles Eames did not take long: the drafts of the so-called "Organic Chair" achieved award-winning results in the "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" competition. That the chair did not manage mass production was because of the back then difficult production regarding technical practicability. Vitra offers the Vitra Organic Chair at present which resembles with its uniquely shaped seat the 1940 design. Back in 1940 production in larger numbers was managed with the Plywood Group. Seat and back were separated and individual plywood shells were used. The Vitra produced Plywood Group included besides chair a formally equal, but slightly lower chair and several coffee tables in the late 1950s.

Experiments with fiberglass

Vitra Charles Ray Eames DAR

In the further course the couple experimented increasingly with the use of fiberglass as a material. Not only because of its relatively low price - also due to its material properties fiberglass was the optimum material: expensive metal could be forgone still with as unlimited possibilities in deformation as possible. The liquid plastic was simply pressed into in the favoured shape. The result was the first one-piece seating shell. Today especially the Vitra DSR and the Vitra DAR are known as descendants of these chairs. To protect the environment Vitra changed in today's production to the more compatible, recyclable polypropylene as a substitute for fiberglass respectively synthetic resin.

The Lounge Chair

Eames Lounge Chair

The Lounge Chair is probably to this day the highest respected masterpiece of the Eames. In 1956 Ray and Charles – appropriate to their diligence with several years of related development work – introduced the Lounge Chair. Originally intended as a birthday present for the director Billy Wilder, Ray and Charles Eames developed a modern interpretation of the club chair with high-performance: Both the Ottoman, which is delivered with the Lounge Chair, as well as the chair itself have plywood shells mounted on a mobile and swivel steel base. The armchair offers optimal comfort by connecting the upper plywood shell with the middle one via a rubber mounted metal support - thus the chair is even better suspended. A design which is brought not only into the living room and study of particularly conscious furnishings through Vitra, but also part of many permanent exhibitions, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

Following the success of the Lounge Chair Charles and Ray devoted themselves again to experiments with different materials. After their Aluminum Chair series (including EA 101 or 104) they received the contract to equip the lobby of the Rockefeller Center in New York. During this time, Charles & Ray Eames created a even today continuing quintessential of American design with their chairs.

The legacy of the Eames

The vision of the Eames

The couple Eames combines architecture and design in a perfect degree. Although it has been already mentioned that usually only Charles is mentioned in the media but his wife Ray had a very big impact on some of the most famous designs. On the trail of organic structures they were influenced by artists such as Paul Klee, Joan Miró and Alexander Calder, and emitted graceful aesthetic with their furniture pieces which enjoy great popularity to this day due with their unobtrusive design.

The couple has always been so engrossed in their own work that they sometimes felt proverbial bound. When dealing with them one quickly realized how much they lived the design. Thus they tried for example to show up often on product photos: a spectacle, where you could see the immense joy Charles and Ray Eames had while working, brining the modern design closer to the people, pushing its acceptance and taking uncertainties regarding the new furniture away. Thus a very well-known photo of Ray and Charles Eames was created, which shows them under frames of the Plywood Group - better known as the "Entomology photo".

The collaboration with Vitra

What started for Vitra founder Willi Fehlbaum with his first visit to the US in 1953, was to end in a highly profitable cooperation: During a taxi ride Vitra's founder was so excited by a chair placed in the window of a sales counter that he told the driver to stop immediately. The chair, which was until then licensed by the producer Hermann Miller, should be brought to Europe. In a meeting with the producer he finally obtained the transfer of production rights in 1957. This license related initially to the exclusive production of designer furniture by Charles and Ray Eames, but was expanded in 1984 to include the other rights for the entire Eames product line. Thus sales in Europe and the Middle East could be started without problems. The working relationship between Willi, his wife Erika Fehlbaum and the Eames was so pleasant that the Eames became good friends of the family and also shaped the vision of Vitra sustainably with their attitude. Even today Vitra keeps strongly to the role model Charles Eames.

The Eames House and remaining design studies

Vitra Design Museum

Not only in America the Eames have excited many. Also in Germany – thanks to the efforts of Willi Fehlbaum - their furnishings can be found in the Reichstag, the Federal Chancellery and many living rooms again. The company around founder Willi Fehlbaum earns particular respect for the preservation of the works of Eames - in the archive of the Vitra Design Museum material studies, tools and photographs of the Eames are kept. Even the house of the Eames, better known as Case Study No. 8 has been preserved. It follows the idea of an initiative started by the magazine "Arts & Architecture” in 1945 with which they wanted to show the people a new way of living in the post-war period. At the present time the house for which Ray and Charles Eames had given up everything at the time of construction, is still family-owned.