Charles Ormond Eames and Bernice Alexandra ”Ray” (Kaiser) Eames were two of the most important designers of the 20th century. They created famous designs and were the first to successfully design and mass produce molded plywood furniture. Also, they influenced modern architecture, they were graphic designers, industrial designers and they even contributed to the movie industry.
Charles Eames was born in 1907 and in a way he may have already had architecture in his blood, since he was the nephew of William S. Eames. But his active interest in drawing, engineering and architecture was peaked during his teen years, while he was working part-time for Laclede Steel Company. Of course, he studied architecture in college, but he dropped out after only two years, even though the legend has it that he was excluded because of his “too modernist” perspective. Anyway, in 1930 he started his own practice, but he completed his architectural studies starting with 1938, at Cranbrook Academy of Art. This is also the place where he met his second wife, Ray Eames, the one that will stay by his side until the end of his days and the one that will contribute to his masterpieces.
Ray Eames was born in 1912 and she was definitely an artist with multiple skills. She studied abstract expressionist painting and she also painted herself, she designed textile patterns and, even though the famous Eames pieces of furniture were often listed only with Charles’s name, she put in her share of effort for most of them.
One of the most famous creations of the Eames couple was the LCM chair. It was originally designed in the late ’30s, but it wasn’t mass produced until de ’40s, because at first the production process would have been way too expensive. Fortunately, the couple managed to create in their own apartment a machine that pressed sheets of veneer to a heated membrane, inflated by a bicycle pump. They called it the “Kazam! Machine” and it was responsible for one of the most famous chairs in history and a bunch of other inventions.
Another chair that influenced the design world was the Eames Lounge and Ottoman. Years of research and experiments went into this design and it was finally launched in 1956. However, this particular model has something very different from all the other Eames creations – it was designed as a high-end product. Otherwise, their famous motto was “create the best for the most for the least”, which meant the best product for the masses, at the lowest possible price. It is possible that this philosophy was influenced by World War II, which they lived in their prime and to which they also contributed with their innovation in plywood, with aviatic components, splinters and stretchers.
Their story shaped a lot of remarkable projects and it ended just as remarkable. Even though they died 10 years apart, they both passed away on the 21st of August (Charles in 1978 and Ray in 1988).