I covet many things, but none so much as the most wonderous Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. I’d like an original please; black leather and Brazilian rosewood. Beautiful, elegant and effortlessly stylish. Soft too, it seems....
This wonderful piece of furniture came about when Charles Eames casually said 'Why don't we make an updated version of the old English club chair?'. The aim was to create a beautifully proportioned chair that combined ultimate comfort with the highest quality materials and craftsmanship. Several years later and the Lounge Chair was born; now a famous design classic in the history of modern furniture.
But who were the makers behind the chair? Enter Charles and Ray Eames, a formidable pair. Born in 1907, Charles was an architect by trade, dropping out of the Washington University after two years to start his own successful firm. However, two brilliant Finnish architects, father and son Eliel and Eero Saarinen had a huge influence on his life, and persuaded Charles to resume his studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. A seemingly good decision on many fronts, because it was there he also met Bernice Alexandra ‘Ray’ Kaiser who became his second wife in 1941. She had originally trained as an artist and was already a key figure in the New York art scene. They moved to Los Angeles and the perfect partnership was born...
They worked across many projects together, and enjoyed an outstanding career in design and architecture - The Eames House needs it's own blog post. Perhaps another day...
Anyway, back to the story. Charles had already designed and built a new type of chair out of a new material called plywood. Unfortunately, World War Two interrupted his plans to refine the design, so he turned his skills towards helping wounded sailors in the US Navy...which sounds a bit weird until you learn that when a medical friend told the Eameses about the problems caused by unhygienic metal splints, they decided to create a more ergonomic compound curved design that better responded to the human body from - yes, you've guessed it - plywood. With her background in fashion design, Ray stepped in, and under her careful eye, the design for the splint's form resembled a clothing pattern with a system of darts to contour the plywood to the shape of a soldier's leg. Resulting in a brand new kind of splint – incredibly practical, but also rather beautiful.
That splint became a template for their design ethos - “We don’t do ‘art’ – we solve problems. How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?” and their mission statement was even simpler - “we want to make the best for the most for the least.” This, coupled with the overarching idea that form and function could work together was a recipe for success.
With the war over and consumers wanting a different style of décor, Eames furniture became the style of choice for America’s new middle class. In 1947 the Eames Office was established as their design studio, and for 40 years, it set the standard.
And whilst the majority of their furniture was created to be mass-produced and affordable, the exception was the Eames Lounge Chair. The initial vision by Charles was 'the warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman's mitt', but what transpired was something quite beautiful; three veneered plywood shells consisting of a headrest, backrest and the seat, with identical proportions between the chair back and headrest and seat and ottoman. Perfect symmetry and comfortable seating all rolled into one.
Charles was the ideas man, but Ray made their designs accessible; her sharp eye for detail giving often austere designs a playful, human touch. Charles may have introduced modernist design to middle America, but it was Ray who gave it mass appeal.
Still today, their work and ethos remain a benchmark to me and many other makers. And their 1956 Lounge Chair and Ottoman, pieces to dream of – and maybe one day even own…..