|If you want to know and recognize some famous beautiful classic mid-century pieces that are still being produced today - take a look at the furniture produced jointly by the Eames’. Ironically, because they were trying to bring good design to the masses, they created a recliner with an ottoman which from the time of it’s design till now is considered a powerful display of good taste and has been sought after for many an executive office. (Of course, in our modern world, maybe executives are a big part of the hoi polloi.) Much of their work, which was created mainly for commercial/public spaces, would be stunning in today’s modern living room. The pieces can still be bought newly manufactured which is awesome, since you can often select their finishes, or you can buy them vintage. They really retain their value either way. And if you can spot an Eames chair or sofa - you can spot the grandchildren of their furniture designs at, say, IKEA. You can add a lot to your design savvy and repertoire by recognizing the work of these mid-century designers.
eames chair made by herman miller, recovered by retroredo
Charles and Ray Eames are most famous for the furniture and architectural designs they conjured into being. They would take commonplace simple things and, with their brand of wizardry, change them into magical tools for design or like alchemists change them into something that others could recognize as gold, so to speak. Their life story could be a great movie full of incredible props. It has the potential for inspiration, for adventure, for laughs and even some heart felt drama.
Now, for starters, you might think that like the California architects Greene and Greene, Charles and Ray were brothers. Nope, Charles and Ray were a husband and wife team. Ray was born Bernice Alexandra Kaiser in Sacramento California but was known as Ray sometime before she married Charles and took on his last name. The story of their relationship alone, if a designer went to the showing with a caveman who didn’t care about the props or the creative process, has plenty of elements to make a good movie.
From their beginning, between Ray and Charles, the personal blends with the professional, and good design is seen in the beauty and structure of nature, as well as, the logic of creative minds. Romance is found when - after getting married for example - they took a long scenic drive from Chicago, where they were married, to Los Angeles where Charles would be working in the art department of Metro Golden Mayer. On this honeymoon adventure they picked up a tumbleweed and brought it along with them. They kept that tumbleweed with them always and eventually it was hung in their famous Pacific Palisades home (which was built in 1949) and hangs there still today, as a memory of their long-standing love.
This story has scandal too. Charles was married to Catherine Woermann when he met Ray. He had met Catherine while they were both students at Washington University and when they married in 1929; it was her father that paid for the honeymoon that allowed Charles Eames to see, in person, the work of Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe and Walter Gropius. Later Charles met Ray as her college professor at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. (His only child ever, Lucia would have been ten years old.) As his student Ray worked together with Charles on a project for the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in 1940. What occurred during the creation of that show could be part one of a film trilogy. In the end, Charles was 33 years old when he divorced his first wife of 12 years and married Ray, 28, a month later. Harry Bertoia made their wedding band. Interestingly, Bertoia, along with Ero Saarinen, had worked on the MOMA project, with them, so it’s easy to suspect that they knew of Charles and Ray’s building love affair. Imagine directing how that played out, between them all, in the set for enchantment, the design studio.
Together their work was new and fresh. Ray believed that "What works is better than what looks good," Ray said. "What looks good can change, but what works, works." They were bohemians in the stereotyped glamorous world of Hollywood. A movie about them could inspire so many of us to keep up the good work. They applied their creative magic to their own situation, and like Cinderella’s godmother they used ordinary things for spectacular results.
As many of us wonder where we are going to do our work, Ray and Charles rented an apartment in a regular neighborhood and just used the “extra” room as a studio. And how about wondering how to create our work? The popular “magical” phrase at the time was “Ala Kazam!” Using that phrase, ingenuity, a bicycle pump and some Peter Panish “I believe, I believe”, they came up with the “Kazam Machine” which could mold and shape plywood right there in their apartment! In their “spare room” studio using the Kazam machine, spare parts and glue from Charles’ job, and their imaginations, they produced a leg brace they wound up selling to the Navy. This pot of gold and the Kazam machine allowed them to go on creating. They produced film, living styles, and even architecture. They built their own house as a prefab design that could be easily reproduced and set up within days by a few workers.
Their work was fresh and original; their lives non-conventional; and their ideas were put together with “Abracadabra” aplomb. It was a great meeting of minds which ended with Charles death. Ray finished what projects they had in an incomplete state but then never again produced anything on her own. She did tour and speak about their joint design philosophy up to the time of her passing, Aug 21 1988. It was ten years to the day that she had lost her husband. A cinematic ending to a romance and collaboration of 48 years (counting the ten that she remained single and devoted to promoting their combined ideas.)
Owning a piece of their furniture, you own quite a story as well as a 20th century example of good design.
reproduction herman miller eames chair
eames lounge made by herman miller, recovered
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