Charles Ormond Eames Jr. was a world-renowned American designer, known for his contributions and achievements in the fields of furniture design, architecture and movie industry. Together with his wife Bernice Alexandra Eames, also known as Ray Eames, Charles worked on the idea of developing the modern design style of 20th century. His works are widely considered as some of the most important in the post-war design history, with the Eames Lounge Chair being one of his most famous designs, which retained its popularity to this day.
Early Life and Education
Charles Eames was born on June 17th, 1907. He briefly studied architecture at the Washington University of St. Louis but left the university after two years. Some claim that he was, in fact, dismissed because his teacher disapproved of his interest in modern architects and also his own modern and different vision of the architecture of the time.
He met his first wife, Catherine Woermann at the University of Washington and married her in 1929. The same year, he travelled to Europe, where he got acquainted with the works of designers like Ludwig Mies van Rohe, Le Corbusier and Eliel Saarinen. This experience strongly influenced Eames’ future work.
After his trip, Charles opened his first architecture office together with Charles Gray and Walter Pauley who joined the somewhat later. He continued his studies in 1938 at the Cranbrook Art Academy in Michigan, thanks to the designer Eliel Saarinen who invited him. At a later time, Eames even collaborated with his son, Eero Saarinen, with whom he designed prize-winning furniture for New York’s Museum of Modern Art “Organic Design in Hume Furnishings” competition. During his studies at the Art Academy, he met his second wife and business partner, Bernice “Ray” Kaiser. After their wedding, the couple moved to Los Angeles, California.
Charles Eames: Designer, Architect, Teacher, Filmmaker
Despite achieving certain success as an architect, Eames continued to develop his multiple talents. During the Second World War, both he and his wife got interested in industrial design. In fact, following their work on moulded plywood furniture design, the army subsidised them to produce materials needed for war, including splints, stretchers and fuselages. Once the war was over, they decided to use this experience to contribute to the development and design of mass produced designer furniture.
At a later time, Charles Eames got the opportunity to work as a professor at the Art Academy of Cranbrook, where he became head of the industrial design department due to his expertise in the field. He also gave lectures at the prestigious University of Harvard in 1970.
Eames’s architectural achievements are well known and appreciated internationally. He worked on many different architectural undertakings, including building houses, bridges and even churches. However, his most widely recognized work in this area probably is his own house, the Eames House, a modern architectural gem. Situated on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the building has been home made from prefabricated and assembled parts. The Eames couple also designed a house for Herman Miller’s son, the producer of their furniture. This house, located in Zeeland, Michigan, was mostly inspired by Scandinavian design with its cedar exterior.
But, the Eames couple also had a passion for the cinema. After settling in Los Angeles, they started creating short films with the aim to communicate their philosophy of experimentation, education and design. From their first film “The Unfinished Travelling Boy” released in 1950 to their last in 1982, they brought innovation in the film industry by creating truly immersive experiences. “House of Science”, created for the Century 21 World’s Fair in Seattle, Washington in 1962 remains the prime example of the couple’s experimental approach. With their multi-screen technique, punctuated by speed and perspective, they produced a futuristic and unique work of art.
Interested in many different subjects and curious about a wide variety of topics, Charles and Ray Eames conducted detailed researches as a foundation of their projects. They also participated in the creation of various exhibitions, the most famous of which was The Franklin and Jefferson Exhibition opened in Paris in 1975.
New techniques for Modern Design
In 1946, the experimental moulded plywood designs made by Charles and Ray Eames during the war were displayed at the Modern Art Museum in New York. Three years later, Herman Miller and his company decided to continue the production of their design furniture. The collection was a great success at the time, and it retained its popularity and appeal to this day.
The success of this collection was what earned the Eames couple their international reputation, and brought critical acclaim to Charles’ continuing innovation in terms of techniques and materials used to manufacture their furniture. After moulded plywood, Charles also introduced the fiberglass furniture, plastic resin and wire mesh chairs. His well-known designs include the Eames Lounge Chair, the moulded plywood chair (DCW), the RAR Rocking Chair or the metal chair with plywood seat (DCM). However, the Airport seat, developed in 1962 for the O’Hare Airport remains one of his most famous and widely reproduced creations.
With the goal to introduce a rational and comfortable design, the Eames couple was firmly convinced that comfort and ergonomics were the keys to the modern design and that everyone should be able to develop their own tastes regarding interior design. At the time, the women were the ones who were most engaged in organizing and decorating their homes, and very often, they were doing so by following a certain set of rules. The Eames couple aimed to introduce the new vision of interior design, founded in experimentation and developing a personal taste.
Experiment is, according to many, a major element of the couple’s work. Indeed, in 1958 they became the first people to open a technical centre for testing the efficiency, reliability and the design of the furniture they had imagined. They produced their models in many versions, testing them in different ways in order to create ideal furniture they can reproduce and duplicate in big quantity. DMC aluminium chair is one example – Charles created 13 different versions before completing his design. This technique was also used for the couple’s architectural works. Even the Eames House was firstly produced in a dollhouse format, fitted with miniature replicas of the furniture.
Eames Furnitures Today
The most emblematic furniture designed by Charles and Ray Eames is still being produced by the Herman Miller and Vitra companies to this day. The Lounge Chair was sold in over six million copies since it was first released and many replicas are available all over the world. It’s also worth mentioning that the replicas of Charles’ office and the couple’s other works are on display at the Vitra Design Museum in the city of Weil am Rhein in Germany, preserving the lasting legacy of the Eames couple whose creativity and the spirit of innovation inspired many designers over the decades.