Charles Ormond Eames JR (1907-1978), commonly called Charles Eames, was an american designer, still known today for his works in the fields of the furniture design, the architecture or the movie industry. He and his wife Bernice Alexandra Eames, called “Ray” , worked together to develop the modern design of the 20th century. His works are considered as some of the most important of the after-war design history. His most famous work is the Eames Lounge Chair, which is still really popular today.
Eames, a pioneer designer
Charles Eames first studied Architecture at the Washington University of St. Louis, that he left only after two years. In fact, according to the legend, he has been expelled because his teachers disapproved his modern and different vision of the architecture at the time.
However he met his first wife, Catherine Woermann, at this university of Washington. He married her in 1929. The same year, he travelled in Europe where he discovered the works of designers like Ludwig Mies van Rohe, Le Corbusier or Eiliel Saarinen. They had a big influence on his own future work.
After his trip, in 1930, Charles opened his first Architecture office, together with Charles Gray and Walter Pauley later. He only went back to his studies in 1938, at the Cranbrook Art Academy in Michigan, thanks to the designer Eiliel Saarinen who invited him. Later, he would even collaborate with his son Eero Saarinen and win the first place of an organic design creation contest. During his studies at the Art Academy, he met his second wife and work partner Bernice Kaiser. After their wedding, they went to Los Angeles, in California where they spent the rest of their life.
Charles Eames: Designer, Architect, teacher and filmmaker
Eames had more than one talent. After starting an architect career, he interested himself in the industrial design, just as his wife Ray, during the second world war. In fact, following his works on the Molded plywood, the army subsidised them to produce some war material such as splints, stretchers and fuselages. After the war, they decided to use this work to create and produce design furnitures and then contribute to the development of the design mass production.
Later, he had the opportunity to become a professor at the Art Academy of Cranbrook, where he studied himself and where he became head of the industrial design department, which was its specialty. He also gave lectures at the prestigious University of Harvard in 1970.
In terms of architecture, he created many buildings such as houses, bridges or even churches. His best known work in this area remains probably 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 also designed a house for Herman Miller’s son, the producer of their furnitures. This house located in Zeeland, Michigan, was mostly inspired by the Scandinavian design, with its cedar exterior .
Finally, the last passion of Charles and Ray were the pictures and the cinema. After settling in Los Angeles, they started creating short films. From their first film "The unfinished Traveling Boy" in 1950 to their last in 1982, they managed to communicate their philosophy in terms of experimentation, education and design. They also innovated in this film industry, by creating truly immersive experiences, like the movie "House of Science" in 1962, released in Seattle. By using an oval screen and multiple images, punctuated by the speed and the perspective,they have made of this film a futuristic and unique work of art.
Charles and Ray Eames have worked and succeed in many subject. Curious about everything, they always made deep researches to achieve their projects. That’s why they also participated in the creation of various exhibitions. The most famous one was The Franklin and Jefferson Exhibition of Paris in 1975, of which they created the design.
New techniques in the service of modern design
In 1946, the experimental works of molded plywood carried out before and during the war by the Eames couple, were exposed in the Modern Art Museum of New York. Following this, three years later, Herman Miller and his company decided to produce and sell their design furnitures . The furnitures collection was a great success at the time, and this success remained the same until today. Thanks to it, Charles Eames gained his good notoriety.
This success was mostly due to the fact that Eames continued to innovate and develop techniques to manufacture its furnitures. After the molding plywood, he also introduced the fiberglass furnitures, the plastic resin chairs and the wire mesh chairs. Among his most popular works, there is the Eames Lounge Chair, the molded plywood chair DCW (Dining chair Wood), or the metal chair DMC with its plywood seat. One of its most popular creation remains the Airport seats, developed in 1962 for the O'Hare Airport and widely reproduced since.
Charles’s idea was to introduce a rational and comfortable design. His wife and himself were convinced that comfort and ergonomics were the keys of the modern design and that everyone must be free to have its own tastes regarding its interior design. While all the women at the time were following some rules to organise and decorate their home, the Eames offered a new vision of what should be the interior design. There is not just one way to decorate our house, we must experiment and make it according to our own tastes.
The experiment was actually a major element of the couple’s work. Indeed, in 1958 they became the first people to open a technical center for testing the efficiency, the reliability and the design of the furnitures they had imagined. They always used to test their models and to make many versions of them. By this way, they created ideal furnitures, that they could reproduce and duplicate in big quantity. For example, Charles concocted 13 versions of the aluminium chair DMC before manufacturing the good one. This technique was also accurate for their architectural works. For instance, he created a prototype of its own house in a dollhouse format, fitted with miniature replicas of all its furnitures.
Eames Furnitures today
Currently, his most emblematic furnitures are still produced by the Herman Miller and Vitra companies. The Lounge Chair, for example, was sold over six million copies since its launch. Many replicas of the furnitures are for sale in all the world.
You can also admire Charles’s works and a replica of his office at the time of his death, at the Vitra Design Museum in the city of Weil am Rhein in Germany. The museum pays tribute to this creative genius and his wife, whose modernism and creativity has inspired many designers over the decades.