The husband-and-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames – architect and painter respectively – revolutionised the world of design by creating some of the most iconic pieces of furniture of the last century. Nowadays much of their work is to be found in the world’s most famous museums, and they are remembered as two of the greatest designers of the twentieth century.
Charles Eames was born in 1907, in St Louis, Missouri. He cultivated a passion for architecture from his youth and studied it at Washington University. He subsequently received a scholarship to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, the place where he made some of the most important acquaintances of his life.
The first of these was Eero Saarinen, with whom in 1940 he won first prize in the competition Organic Design in Home Furnishings, organised by New York’s MoMa, with their Organic Armchair.
Although they won the competition their design was too futuristic for the technology of the day, which did not enable plywood to be modelled as their curvilinear design required, and Organic Armchair was not produced commercially until 1950.
It was also at the Cranbrook Academy of Art that Eames met the art student Ray Kaiser. They were married in 1941 and moved to Los Angeles where they opened a studio.
Together they began experimenting with techniques for the three-dimensional moulding of plywood, which underlay many of their successful chairs and armchairs.
All through their careers they investigated soft, innovative shapes best able to adapt themselves to the human form: this is the reason why Charles and Ray Eames can rightfully be considered the pioneers of Organic Design.
Many of their works became milestones in the history of design, from Lounge Chair and Ottoman (one of the most famous armchairs in history) to La Chaise, a fibreglass armchair inspired by the work of sculptor Gaston Lachaise.
Charles and Ray Eames shared every aspect of their life together: married life, the world of design, architecture and other spheres of interest such as photography and cinema.
Their love for each other and the passions they held in common permitted them to leave an indelible mark on twentieth-century design.
We would like to thank Vitra, the exclusive producer of Charles and Ray Eames furniture for Europe and the Middle East, for their help in producing this article.
Los Angeles, March 2019