Architecture

The Eames House is as relevant today as it was cutting-edge 70 years ago

03 November 2019 - 00:00 By Julia Freemantle
Charles and Ray Eames originally designed their iconic California home as part of the Case Study House Program featured in Los Angeles' Arts and Architecture magazine.
Charles and Ray Eames originally designed their iconic California home as part of the Case Study House Program featured in Los Angeles' Arts and Architecture magazine.
Image: Carol M. Highsmith/Getty Images

For design lovers and furniture aficionados, the name Eames needs no introduction. It stands alone as a symbol of enduring design integrity.

Over the course of their careers, the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames created a veritable library of iconic designs that are still highly sought after today. Designs like the evergreen Lounge Chair which, when it was introduced in 1956, broke new ground and whose silhouette is instantly recognisable today.

"They loved their work, which was a combination of art and science, design and architecture, process and product, style and function. Their unique synergy led to a whole new look in furniture. Lean and modern. Playful and functional. Sleek, sophisticated and beautifully simple. That was and is the 'Eames look'," says Chris Morley, head of design for Middle East and Africa for Herman Miller, who stock the brand in South Africa under All Office.

Charles and Ray Eames.
Charles and Ray Eames.
Image: GettyImages/Ken Lubas

As further evidence of the prevailing appeal and ageless aesthetic of the duo's pieces, the iconic Eames House turns 70 this year. Incredibly, it is as relevant today as it was cutting-edge in 1949.

When the couple began designing the house in 1945, it was as part of the Case Study House Program in Los Angeles' Arts and Architecture - a project which saw the magazine build and publish reports about homes that focused on materials and technologies developed during World War Two. The idea was that these homes would be made of prefabricated materials that would not interrupt the site, would be easy to build, and would exhibit a modern style.

Originally Case Study House 8, Eames House as it became known, was also the Eames's personal home and studio. Built in a eucalyptus grove on a 1.4 acre piece of land in California, it was granted National Historic Landmark status in 2007.

Features that are now ubiquitous in residential design were revolutionary then

"In its free relation to the ground, the trees, the sea -with constant proximity to the whole vast order of nature - it acts as reorientor and 'shock-absorber' and should provide the needed relaxations from the daily complications arising within problems," said Charles Eames in 1945 in a design brief on the house.

Features that are now ubiquitous in residential design were revolutionary then - sympathy to the site, an eclectic curation of items, exposed architectural details, a relationship with nature.

"When designing, they considered the user's needs, just as they would consider the needs of a guest, and it led to furniture of not only great function, but also of playfulness and beauty," says Morley of the approach the couple took when creating pieces for Eames House.

An Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman inside the Eames House. First introduced in 1956, these pieces are sill covetable today.
An Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman inside the Eames House. First introduced in 1956, these pieces are sill covetable today.
Image: Supplied

This 70th birthday is also marked by the start of a 250-year sustainability plan by the Eames Foundation and the Getty Conservation Institute, which honours the couple's values and respect for materials.

The project will ensure the property is carefully maintained for generations to come - from measures to protect the interiors from light damage, to research into paint application and site management of the eucalyptus grove.

A limited edition of the Eames Low Table Rod Base table is being released with solid tabletops made from two of these trees.

A closer look at an Eames Low Table Rod Base; this design was first conceptualised in 1950.
A closer look at an Eames Low Table Rod Base; this design was first conceptualised in 1950.
Image: Supplied
The Eames Low Table Rod Base table is a design classic; it can be used as an occasional table, or several can be stacked together to create shelves.
The Eames Low Table Rod Base table is a design classic; it can be used as an occasional table, or several can be stacked together to create shelves.
Image: Supplied

"Charles and Ray Eames would have appreciated this inventive use of the trees that surround their home. They valued them so much that they designed the site of the house with their protection in mind. We work with the Eames Foundation to ensure the Eames legacy is protected and nourished.

"Projects such as the new tables are an example of how both companies are protecting that legacy of sustainable design," says Morley.


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