Charles Ormond Eames, Jr (1907-1978) and Bernice Alexandra “Ray” Eames (1912-1988) are among the most important American designers of this century. They are best known for their groundbreaking contributions to architecture, furniture design (e.g. the Eames Chair), industrial design, manufacturing and the photographic arts.
Charles was greatly influenced by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and later created prize-winning work with Eliel’s son Eero for New York’s Museum of Modern Art, “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” competition. Their work displayed a new technique of wood moulding (originally developed by Alvar Aalto), that Eames would further develop into many moulded plywood products.
Charles and Ray married in 1941, moving to California where they continued their furniture design work with molding plywood. During the war they were commissioned by the Navy to produce molded plywood splints, stretchers and experimental glider shells. In 1946, Evans Products began producing the Eameses’ molded plywood furniture. Their molded plywood chair was called “the chair of the century” by the influential architectural critic Esther McCoy. Soon production was taken over by Herman Miller Inc, who continues to produce the furniture in the United States to this day. Another company, Vitra International, manufactures the furniture in Europe.
Examples of their work include the molded plastic or fiberglass chairs from the early 1950s and the famous Lounge Chair and Ottoman from 1956. Sturdy, comfortable and elegant office furniture was created in the 1960s, as well as seating designed for Dulles and O’Hare Airports. This Tandem Sling Seating is still in use in airports around the world today. The Eameses continued to create new furniture designs into the 1970s.
Charles and Ray received many honorary degrees and awards from universities and organizations across the country. Charles was an appointee to the National Council of the Arts and held the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship at Harvard in 1970-71. Ray served on the panel of “The Arts, Education, and Americans” set up by the American Council for the Arts in Education.
Charles died August 21, 1978. Ray died ten years later to the day. The Eames Office still operates today, run by Charles’ daughter, designer Lucia Eames.