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Ray Eames

Ray and Charles Eames

Ray Eames (r) and Charles Eames (l), circa 1940s. Courtesy of Eames Office, LLC

Formative Years

Ray Eames (née Bernice Alexandria Kaiser) was born in 1912 in Sacramento, California. In 1929, she moved with her widowed mother to New York City, where Ray pursued fashion design and studied art with German abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann. After Ray’s mother died in 1940, she left New York to audit classes at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where Charles Eames was one of her teachers and mentors.

The Eames Connection

While at Cranbrook, Ray helped Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen prepare for the Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition; they won two first prizes. Ray returned to New York but corresponded with Charles at length. In 1941, Charles divorced his first wife and he and Ray were married shortly thereafter, establishing a personal and artistic collaboration that would endure for nearly 40 years.

In a two-bedroom Los Angeles apartment designed by Richard Neutra, Ray and Charles began experimenting with molding plywood into compound curves; their focus was on designing everyday objects of high quality that could be produced at reasonable cost. During the day, Ray painted and designed covers for Arts & Architecture magazine; at night, she and Charles worked together producing experimental designs. Their accomplishments in molded plywood included sculptures, toys, chairs, and mass-produced leg splints used in WWII by the U.S. Navy.

LCW, DCW, and Case Study House #8

Ray and Charles’ first successful product design was a simple plywood chair curved to accommodate the human body ergonomically and provide maximum comfort. It was produced by the Herman Miller Company and marketed as an affordable chair suitable for all modern households. This concept was leveraged for the Lounge Chair Wood (LCW) and Dining Chair Wood (DCW), both of which have had a profound and lasting impact on twentieth-century furniture design in America.

Following the success of the LCW and DCW, Ray and Charles turned their attention to domestic architecture. Arts & Architecture magazine sponsored a project called Case Study Houses, aimed to provide solutions to postwar housing shortages by engaging young architects to design and build prototype ‘case study’ homes. The Eames Case Study House #8, which became their family residence, was built in 1951 in Pacific Palisades, California using standard materials. The configuration of the house, with its flexible plan, replaced traditional, fixed-room arrangements and became a hallmark of postwar modern architecture.

The Eames Message

Ray and Charles continued to produce furniture during the latter part of their career, but they shifted their focus increasingly to communicating through various forms of media. This included exhibitions, publications, and groundbreaking films, such as the iconic Powers of Ten. In this unusually creative partnership, every Eames project was a team effort geared to broadcast their message.

After Charles’ death in 1978, the Eames Office was disbanded and Ray Eames donated its archives to the Library of Congress. She died ten years to the day after Charles in August of 1988. The Eames’ design philosophy and products continue to exert a powerful influence in America and abroad.

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