Charles and Ray Eames are among the most important American designers of this century. They are best known for their groundbreaking contributions to architecture, furniture design (e.g., the Eames Chair), industrial design and manufacturing, and the photographic arts.
Charles Eames was born in 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended school there and developed an interest in engineering and architecture. After attending Washington University on scholarship for two years and being thrown out for his advocacy of Frank Lloyd Wright, he began working in an architectural office. In 1929, he married his first wife, Catherine Woermann (they divorced in 1941), and a year later Charles' only child, daughter Lucia was born. In 1930, Charles started his own architectural office. He began extending his design ideas beyond architecture and received a fellowship to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he eventually became head of the design department.
Ray Kaiser Eames was born in Sacramento, California in the middle of the century's second decade. She studied painting with Hans Hofmann in New York before moving on to Cranbrook Academy where she met and assisted Charles and Eero Saarinen in preparing designs for the Museum of Modern Art's "Organic Furniture Competition." Charles and Eero's designs, created by molding plywood into complex curves, won them the two first prizes.
Charles and Ray married in 1941 and moved to California where they continued their furniture design work with molding plywood. During the war they were commissioned by the Navy to produce molded plywood splints, stretchers and experimental glider shells. In 1946, Evans Products began producing the Eameses' molded plywood furniture. Their molded plywood chair was called "the chair of the century" by the influential architectural critic Esther McCoy. Soon production was taken over by Herman Miller, Inc., who continues to produce the furniture in the United States to this day. Another company, Vitra International, manufactures the furniture in Europe. In 1949, Charles and Ray designed and built their own home in Pacific Palisades, California as part of the Case Study House Program sponsored by Arts and Architecture Magazine. Their design and innovative use of materials made this house a mecca for architects and designers from all over the world. It is considered one of the most important post-war residences built anywhere in the world.
The Eameses continued to create new furniture designs into the 1970s.
Examples include the molded plastic or fiberglass chairs from the early 1950s and the famous Lounge Chair and Ottoman from 1956. Sturdy, comfortable and elegant office furniture was created in the 1960s, as well as seating designed for Dulles and O'Hare Airports. This Tandem Sling Seating is still in use in airports around the world today.
The Eameses designed numerous museum exhibits for IBM (Mathematica, The World of Franklin and Jefferson, Copernicus, and the 1964 New York World's Fair), the Smithsonian Institution, and others. They created a huge seven-screen slide show for the Moscow World's Fair in 1959. Charles and Ray received many honorary degrees and awards from universities and organizations across the country. Charles was an appointee to the National Council of the Arts and held the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship at Harvard in 1970-71. Ray served on the panel of "The Arts, Education, and Americans" set up by the American Council for the Arts in Education.
A design critic once said that this extraordinary couple "just wanted to make the world a better place." That they did. They also made it a lot more interesting.