A husband and wife team, Charles (1907 – 1978) and Ray (1912 – 1988) Eames are among the most influential designers of American design history. Together, they contributed in furniture design, architecture, film, art, exhibits, and graphic design.
Charles Eames studied architecture at Washington University for two years. Many sources claim that he was dismissed from the University for supporting Frank Lloyd Wright and modern architecture. In 1930, he started his own architectural office in his hometown St. Louis, Missouri. In 1938, he and his family (wife Catherine and daughter Lucia, they divorced in 1941) moved to Michigan, to study at Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he later became head of the industrial design department. Ray studied abstract painting with Hanns Hofmann in New York before beginning her studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art. At Cranbrook, Ray assisted Charles and Eero Saarinen’s design project for “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” competition at the Museum of Modern Art.
Charles and Ray married in 1941 and settled in California where they continued to develop many innovative products using molding plywood. During World War II, they developed designs for splints and stretchers for the U.S. Navy. The production of their molded plywood furniture collection, featuring dining tables, dining chairs, lounge chairs, occasional tables, and a screen began shortly after the war ended in 1946, first by Evans Products Company and then by Herman Miller, Inc.. Various designs of their molded plywood furniture have remained in production to this day. They also designed furniture with other materials such as chairs using molded fiberglass, cast aluminum, and bent/welded wire mesh. Regardless of the style and material, their furniture was always sophisticated, yet simple and functional. Their design focused on improving ordinary people’s quality of life by fulfilling their needs.
Though Charles and Ray Eames are well known for their furniture design, they also devoted their time in other areas such as architecture, films, and exhibits. In 1949, they participated in the Case Study House Program sponsored by a magazine called “Arts and Architecture” and designed and built their own house known as the “Eames House.” They have also produced more than 100 short films, such as “Powers of Ten.” They also designed showrooms and toys for children. Regardless the form of design, Charles and Ray Eames successfully proved that good design can make the world more interesting and improve people’s quality of life as well.