When you enter the property of Charles & Ray Eames in Santa Monica, California, you pass a stacked cord of firewood, a shed of old tools, potted plants in clay jars, and a multitude of mulch-covered paths. There is nothing particularly remarkable about the landscape but, by virtue of their very proximity to the Eames’ house, everyday objects acquire a unique charge that can only be described as Eamesian. The Eamesian touch is tempting to describe, but best left for the images to speak for themselves. ~Michael Neault
A friend of mine who’s in the business of hocking cool furniture recently joked that if he heard one more person describe a piece of furniture as “Eames style,” he would absolutely lose it. I suppose if you’re in the industry and have a respectable knowledge of the expansive catalog of Mid-Century modern design and its designers, hearing something described as “Eamesian” without valid explanation could be a little grating on one’s intellect. The Eameses were undeniable rock-stars of furniture design (and textile design, and gadget and toy making, and film making, and advertising, and branding, etc.) in their day – but in the age of the internet and the revival of all things mid-century modern, their legend has grown to epic proportions – so much so that rapper Ice Cube is even cruising on the Eames’ plywood-made bandwagon.
Despite their ubiquity and iconic status, as a designer I still hold a strong reverence for the work and philosophy of Charles and Ray Eames. How can one not, as a visual artist, or even a person of academia for that matter, respect their mission to educate and communicate through the power of design? Their endless curiosity and experimental approach to everything they touched has undoubtedly changed the way the modern world thinks, works, and lives. And though their philosophy to only take from Mother Earth what is necessary, and their quest to “bring the best to the most for the least” has not fully been realized (their licensed products are, let’s just say, pricey), this utopian-minded thinking was ahead of its time in the midst of the splurge and excess of late 1950′s and 1960′s consumerism.
On a recent trip to the West Coast, I was given the opportunity to take a private tour of Case Study House No. 8, or more commonly, the Eames House, by a former employee of the Eames Office and an old friend of Charles and Ray. The home and studio rest on a hillside in the affluent neighborhood of Pacific Palisades, just north of Santa Monica, with vistas of Santa Monica Pier and the ocean just beyond the towering Eucalyptus trees that were left untouched per the revised design for site. The modest buildings, though not organic in material (steel and glass) or shape (a box), somehow exist in harmony with the leisurely maintained coastal nature surrounding them.
The interior was remarkably preserved the way Ray had left it, except for the living room, which was on loan to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for their California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way” exhibit. In its absence, the Eames Foundation cleverly recreated a 1951 Japanese tea-party the Eameses had hosted in the living room, where guests like Isamu Noguchi, Shirley Yamaguchi, and Charlie Chaplin dined and talked about current projects, and about life (oh, to be a fly on that suspended Hans Hofmann painting!).
As I walked the grounds photographing the meadow where the Eameses played and picnicked, and also the exterior architecture of the simple but beautifully designed home and studio, I began to understand on a deeper level their life’s work and philosophy. From the eclectic compilation of worldly objects scattered throughout the home, to the lush foliage of the adjoining patios, to the ingenious musical tower made of xylophone keys, wood, and plexiglass, 203 North Chautauqua Boulevard truly is a must see whether you’re a fan of the Eameses furniture, or simply appreciate their contribution to modern thinking about design and its impact on the world around us.
To learn more about the life and work of Charles and Ray Eames, check out the very informative PBS documentary film, Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter, here.