Curvy, Loungy and Fun: The Work of Charles Eames

Photo of Charles and Ray Eames i i

Charles and Ray Eames, left, married in 1941 and continued to design furniture into the 1970s. Courtesy Eames Office, Vitra AG, Herman Miller © 2007 hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Eames Office, Vitra AG, Herman Miller © 2007
Photo of Charles and Ray Eames

Charles and Ray Eames, left, married in 1941 and continued to design furniture into the 1970s.

Courtesy Eames Office, Vitra AG, Herman Miller © 2007
Eames' Sling Seating i i

Eames' tandem sling seating serves millions of travelers at public transportation stations. Courtesy Eames Office, Vitra AG, Herman Miller © 2007 hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Eames Office, Vitra AG, Herman Miller © 2007
Eames' Sling Seating

Eames' tandem sling seating serves millions of travelers at public transportation stations.

Courtesy Eames Office, Vitra AG, Herman Miller © 2007
Eames Lounge Chair i i

The curvy Eames lounge chair with ottoman is made from leather and plywood. hide caption

itoggle caption
Eames Lounge Chair

The curvy Eames lounge chair with ottoman is made from leather and plywood.

Eames Molded Plastic Chair i i

The Eames adapted molding techniques developed during World War II to mass produce this classic design. Courtesy Eames Office, Vitra AG, Herman Miller © 2007 hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Eames Office, Vitra AG, Herman Miller © 2007
Eames Molded Plastic Chair

The Eames adapted molding techniques developed during World War II to mass produce this classic design.

Courtesy Eames Office, Vitra AG, Herman Miller © 2007

Travelers in many American airport terminals today might not think twice about the low-slung black leather seats they settle into before their flights.

But the ubiquitous adjoining seats at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, among other locations, are one of designer Charles Eames' most famous works.

Eames, who was born 100 years ago today, believed that furniture should be functional. He and his wife, Ray, worked as a team, and ultimately created some of the most recognizable furniture designs in the U.S.

Fans of the television show Frasier will recognize the Eames lounge chair, a curvy leather and plywood design with an ottoman. Eames' grandson, Eames Demetrios, says his grandfather "wanted to make it have the feeling of a well-used first baseman's mitt."

Demetrios, who heads the Eames Office in Santa Monica, Calif., said his grandparents were innovative perfectionists. In the first decades of the 20th century, plywood, aluminum, and plastic were new materials. His grandparents experimented relentlessly before they used them in a successful design.

"The Eames Office design process was really hands-on," Eames says. "Understanding was not something that Charles and Ray delegated ... so they would do mock-ups in the office again and again, until they had it right."

The husband-wife team used techniques developed during World War II to mass produce their classic one-piece plastic seats used in schools and libraries.

They also designed houses and made films. Powers of Ten, which teaches students about perspective, is often shown in schools and museums.

Despite their iconic reputations, Demetrios says that Charles and Ray were first and foremost his grandparents. They took care of their family, and they inspired each other in their work.

"I think people have a little bit of trouble recognizing the ability of a husband and wife to be equals," Demetrios says. "They both pushed each other in different directions and trusted what the other could bring to the table."

Charles Eames died Aug. 21, 1978. His wife died 10 years later — to the day.

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