Conversations about any form of design are often rife with tedious exaggerations but when it comes to Charles and Ray Eames, hyperbole is the only right way, as it’s really quite impossible to overstatement their influence on contemporary design (see there you go, hyperbole number one.) From that first day they opened their legendary studio in 1943 at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice, California the Eames’ consistently reshaped what it meant to be an American designer. What began with a chair, the molded plywood Eames Lounge, grew into something so much greater. To say the Eames’ were merely a pair of furniture designers would be doing them a great disservice, they were architects, filmmakers, concept artists, toy-makers, and graphic designers. In a word they were visionaries, and their vision was balance, a subject that’s paramount but oft forgotten in design. Along the spectrum of design, between the cluttered and the minimal, the Eames’ knew how to hit that sweet spot and execute concepts that worked, not only on an aesthetic level, but almost more importantly on a practical one.
For me, the epitome of the Eames’ work is a chair that has been a lifelong fascination of mine: the Eames molded plastic side chair. While the name is about as unsexy as it gets, it’s appropriate, telling half the chair’s story right off the bat. The chair was the Eames’ original idea realized, it was a durable, mass-produceable piece of furniture that could last for decades to come. On the other hand, the chair was beautiful, the design world’s answer to a post-war life where people could not only afford their own homes, but had a strong desire to fill them with what became known as “mid-century modern” pieces. The Eames chair was a revolution, it had lines that echoed European architecture, but also provided the comfort that American’s were used to, it was a piece of design that had a place in every home.
Charles Eames is not hailed by many as a style icon, but for me he is. His wardrobe was simple-button-ups, or popovers, solid bow-ties, darker sportcoats, and slim trousers. But it was the little things that make Eames so intriguing to me, the off kilter belt, a unique notch in his lapel, the occasional neckerchief, a certain texture in his sportcoat, a subtle stripe to his shirt, or contrasting buttons on a popover. In my opinion Charles’ style is like the Eames chair, it plays within the rules, but it reinterprets them. It’s the details and minor tweaks that make you want to take another look at the chair, or the way Charles’ wears his jackets. Being radical to a fault is never a good thing, but knowing where you can add that personality, and when change is appropriate is crucial, and this is what the Eames were best at, not just in their design, but in the way they carried themselves.