Charles Eames and his wife Ray, were one of the most influential architects and furniture designers of the 20th Century. Born in 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri, Charles trained to be an architect at Washington University. After two years of study, he was dismissed for having architectural views that were “too modern” and defending the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and other modern architects at the time.
In 1930 he started his own architecture practice in St. Louis and worked with partners Charles Gray and Walter Pauley. Eames’ early work was greatly influenced by Eliel Saarinen, a prominent Finnish architect whose son, Eero he befriended in 1938. Upon Eero’s suggestion, Charles and his family moved to Michigan to work and study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Eames and Eero Saarinen later designed award winning chairs for the New York Museum of Modern Art using innovative, wood-moulding techniques. Eames would go on to further develop the technique and apply it to making many plywood products including furniture and equipment for the U.S. Navy during WWII.
In 1941 he met and married Ray Kaiser, a female colleague at the Cranbrook Academy. The couple moved to Ray’s home city of Los Angeles and set up a workshop in the spare room of their house. Over the years, they produced many plywood prototypes in their workshop. They produced sculptures, chairs, tables, screens and even children’s toys – all in plywood. Eames’ products combined elegant, organic design, love for the material and technical ingenuity, which prompted Herman Miller, a US furniture manufacturer to put some of them into mass production. Their products went on to be displayed at one of Miller’s Case Study Houses used to promote versatility and affordable housing schemes.
After working in plywood, Eames started experimenting other materials, creating furniture from fibreglass, aluminium, plastic and leather. His opulent leather and plywood Lounge Chair was an iconic piece of design through the 60s and 70s as it was very popular among the very wealthy. Much of Eames’ success can also be attributed to the post-war glory days of the US, where new products and consumerism were revered – the timing and climate for designers like Eames was perfect for experimentation and responding to customer demand.