Number 1 - Don’t stop playing
From the age of three Ray was creating her own paper dolls and making outfits for them. This expanded in their later years when they would ask friends to try on different adults. They never stopped playing with ideas and that childlike desire to make never left. It wasn’t about the money, it was about the adventure. When it becomes all about the pressure of making money it can lead to a drought in creativity — if the well is dry, start playing again.
Number 2 - Don’t box yourself in
Charles and Ray seemed to refuse limits. If they wanted to branch into a certain area they just did, if they wanted to have a go at film, they saw the vision and just did it. Ray herself studied painting before she decided to focus more on design. She said, “I never gave up painting I just changed my palette.” Who says you must stop where you are, in the field you are in, with the materials you use. There’s a difference between purposeful quitting (or postponement) and losing your momentum. Don’t be afraid to branch off — it might lead somewhere wonderful — if it doesn’t, it probably won’t be wasted in the end.
Number 3 - Don’t lose your head
Remember those should be remembered. Charles had a bit of an ego and it was documented that in 1946 at an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art he named a show completely after himself ‘forgetting’ that others had contributed including his wife! Who knows why he did that. It goes to show that being brilliant and having questionable character is something that we all face. The exception to this is perhaps Max DePree, the chair of Herman Miller. His style of leadership is written about and held up as an example to follow. You can lead in a field or lead the field - we get to choose.
Number 4 - Don’t always try to fit in
Just create — do what you do. Andy Warhol said, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding to make even more art.” Henri Matisse said, “Creativity creates courage.” Have you lost yours?
Photos by Faye Hedges
What you should think about when wanting to buy original Eames?
It makes sense that you before you buy a classic vintage piece you make sure that it is actually a classic vintage piece. There’s nothing more embarrassing than spending your well earned cash on something that is later discovered to be a fake. So what should you look for? How do you make sure that you are buying the genuine article?
It makes sense that anything that is original, unique and of quality is likely to be followed shortly after by an imitation. This is the case certainly with the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman.
These tips should help:
- Make sure that you study the shape and style carefully before you purchase. Remember that the original does not recline when you sit in it, it is already low and fixed in that position so, if you sit down and the chair reclines, you know you have a knock-off.
- The armrests have also been altered in copies. They don’t use as much leather when they cover and the curve is different or non-existent.
- Check the description of the fabric and check other materials that are used — there is no PVC used or faux leather with Eames furniture. The leather description should be Italian (not Italian style) and make sure that if you speak to the vender this is confirmed. Make sure that the bases are die-cast aluminium. This is where the molten metal is forced into a mould cavity. The fakes might contain some metal but they can sometimes be connected using plastic which isn’t up to the job. The shock mount should be made of rubber and the only screws you should be able to see are the ones on the braces of the back shell.
- Eames items should arrive with you pre-assembled or at minimum mostly assembled — we are not shopping from Ikea (other furniture manufacturers are available).
- One of the rare and collectable features of the Eames Lounge Chair is that multiple layers of real wood veneer are used, this means that each chair has an individuality. If you are looking at chairs that all have the same grain it’s possible that they are trying to fob you off with a generic laminate.
- Make sure that the seller is not duping you by advertising more than one item in a picture but actually only really selling one — this is a mistake easily made by the keen shopper on the hunt for a vintage gem on a bargain budget. We guess this is just plain old common sense but it’s worth saying.
- This tip isn’t really relevant to your purchasing decision but may help you lengthen the life of your newly prized possession. It is worth, especially in the Eames Lounge Chair, to have a look at the quality of the shock mounts. If it’s a true vintage item (and this tip might actually help you verify it’s age) it’s possible that the glue has become less strong over time. Let’s be honest they’ve been around for a long time and last a lot longer that some tat produced today. But consider looking at the joints and mounts in the sale room or ask for close up pictures, these might be worth replacing by a quality furnisher to make sure you give the piece more quality years of service.
Remember anything that is brilliant is likely to be copied. Sometimes the price tags will unfairly dupe you as they are trying to sell you a fake. Other times they might be close in design but it’s still not the real thing. With the latter, you have to decide how much you want the real thing and how much effort you’re willing to put in to make sure that you have it.
If you want to make sure you have a bonafide vintage classic make sure that you are willing to put in the graft and by that we mean, have a conversation with the seller and if you can have a look at the piece yourself or send someone with a keen eye along to make sure you’re not embarrassed in the long run.
Photos by Faye Hedges
There has been and probably still is much confusion over what is considered to be contemporary design, and what is considered modern design. So, what are they and where does Eames furniture fit in?
Modern interior design is best placed in the mid-century, post II World War Era. Whereas contemporary is anything that fits into the current timeframe of an interior design enthusiast.
Eames furniture fits completely into the description of Modern interior design along with other contemporaries such as Arne Jacobsen who, in collaboration with Fritz Hansen designed the Series 7 plywood chairs in 1955. Arne, an architect by trade was better known for his furniture than his buildings and the production of the Series 7 and the Ant Chair propelled both him and Hansen into the furniture design history books.
George Nelson a colleague of the Eameses worked to move American furniture design and manufacture away from the historical precedents that had previously been set. He wanted to drag the industry into the future and this can be seen clearly in his furniture as well as his very unique clock designs. The Starburst clock designed in the 1950s, was an iconic time-keeper that was quickly produced and sold by Herman Miller along with the likes of the Ball Clock and the Eye Clock. To find one in working condition is very rare and would be considered an investment piece to be proud of.
Harry Bertoia was a gifted artist. He was a painter, a sculptor and a designer and his pieces stand alone in their style as an amalgamation of everything that Bertoia seemed to love. The Diamond Chair is a thing of beauty and can be enjoyed visually as much as it can physically.
Verner Panton, equally great in design, focused more on colour and geometric fabric which highlighted his passion for the connection with the space around him. His best known design the Panton Chair was created in 1967 and his designs even influence contemporary fashion design (Moschino spring 2013 for example).
The interesting things to note about all of these designers was their fanaticism to create objects and designs that were out of convention. The Second World War had created hardship and many people were facing the challenge of rebuilding their lives. Perhaps this was a line in the sand for these creatives, to realign expectations and give people something that they had never had. All of the characters mentioned are artists at heart, creative and ground-breaking in their thought processes and desire to break the confines of the norm and what had gone before. They all experimented with similar materials; plywood, metal and plastics. Some might have been more outspoken than others but it has to be said there was an undeniable thirst to make things that mattered to people and at no point did they seem to want to stop the flow of ingenuity.
Photos by Faye Hedges
Ray and Charles Eames are serious role models for anyone interested in furniture design. However, it is worth noting that their sense of fun and inventiveness took them further than the realms of furniture. Throughout their years they were undoubtedly strong in their convictions to be creative with a purpose. They could never be pigeonholed, which is clear from their involvement in designing and creating leg-splints in the second world war. They were involved in the film industry and the art world, perhaps unsurprising considering their desire to create beautiful things that mattered. Is it surprising that they would stretch into the realm of children’s toys? Perhaps not.
Produced initially by Tigrett Enterprises, Eames won many Good Design Awards by designing a toy for the child that loves colour, creativity and inventiveness. The hidden value was connection, which came in the form of fun linked with education making it a winner in the educational toy market - a field that had been struggling up until this point. Eames toys became major players, which is surprising considering they marketed their toys by using the most simple, descriptive and non gimmicky names like ‘The Toy’. It doesn’t really send you to the shop with your wallet out, does it! The reputation that the Eameses had earned meant that they didn’t need flashy product names to sell anything they made—people just knew it would be an unusual, creative, purposeful product. Ray and Charles Eames never wanted to waste anyone's time or money, they certainly didn’t waste theirs.
The Colouring Toy wasn’t supposed to help children play in a meaningless way; it was more about allowing the shapes and colours to stimulate the mind of the child who played with it. There was no inherent structure or end as such, it was simply designed to help the child discover a myriad of ways that something could be used and enjoyed. It’s a far cry from the toys of today which are perhaps played with for 5 minutes - this was an age where gifts were treasured and possibly rare, and a time when people generally had a higher level of concentration, relishing the opportunity to spend hours at play.
There was also the famous House of Cards series of building toys, created using images approved by Ray Eames and Alexander Girard and applied to cards, with slots positioned to allow the building of towers, boxes, or anything one might think to build. The series came in large and small sets. The large set was made from 8-ply cardboard stock and the small set on playing card stock, both being highly collectable.
Learning should be interactive, which is something they sought to encourage when they designed Mathematica in 1961. Photos show it to be a room full of images that could be puzzled over and objects that could be touched.
In 1957 they created a toy well advanced for its time: the do-nothing-machine, which was produced for Alcoa, the Aluminium Company of America. This was a colourful device, made for fun and education and powered by the sun.
Consumerism always took a side step with the Eameses. Creating was about meaning, solving the problem, making the leap and helping us think. It’s as though Ray and Charles Eames were the Alice in Wonderland of innovation—they were always one step ahead down the rabbit hole and enjoying every moment of the journey!
Surprisingly there isn’t a great deal to be found on the background of the wonderful tables Charles and Ray created. To look at them we can surmise that they wanted them to be able to perform, but at the same time, have a genuine and simple classic appeal.
The single segmented base tables were designed and manufactured from 1964 and took their inspiration from the conference room. Functionality was crucial as ever and practicality always won versus attractiveness. Clean lines are commonplace throughout all Eames tables regardless of whether their anticipated destination was to be the conference room or a family lounge.
In an old vintage photo of the couple’s lounge you can see Eames coffee tables on display as a regular part of their family life. In fact, Eames products are everywhere. They were obviously proud of their work and celebrated the work of others.
A vintage photograph of Charles and Ray Eames. (Source: The New York Times)
Ray Eames once said that, ‘What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts.’ Durability mattered then and it still matters. The type of people who aspire to own Eames furniture are not those who subscribe to the throw-away culture of consumerism. They are those that want their homes and offices to say something about who they are and what they admire. They value quality, simplicity and maybe even function over form, with the long-term view of investing in items that will last a lifetime.
There are a range of different tables made from different materials. There is the classic plywood collection made with either wooden or metal legs, as well as the single segmented base tables, perhaps with more of a professional edge, incorporating tops that are made from veneer, melamine, beech or walnut. These segmented base tables came with a four-star base, which can be fitted with castors to suit the intended context within which the piece is housed. The modular units support tops of different lengths and widths so as to increase usability in multiple and varying arenas.
These tables do not look out of place in homes or in boardrooms (the latter preferably surrounded by Eames office chairs!). One might be a suitable centre-piece for the lounge; the setting for a candle lit dinner for two, or maybe the companion to a co-worker in the midst of a business deal. Whatever place it may take, an Eames table belongs right at the heart of the room it’s within, serving those surrounding it with serious aplomb.
Most of us would approach our work with a sense of appreciation for a pay cheque. It is the luxury of a few to be ready for the working day, knowing that the challenges within it invigorate and somehow bring us alive. Ray and Charles certainly had that luxury, even though they worked hard and were so prolific in the body of work they created. When they approached a project with their team there would be certain questions asked: ‘Does it interest or intrigue us? Can we make it better? Can we have fun doing it?’
What do you get when you put artistic problem solvers, who aren’t afraid of failure, in a room together? An outstanding product that breaks boundaries. When you add into the mix a focus on the human connection and thoughtful consideration of need, you get an Eames product.
The Herman Miller black leather aluminium group chair and soft pad office chair are a breath of fresh air to the work place. Designed in 1958, this product—like their others—broke the mould in terms of process. Well-versed in the use of plywood and plastic their focus shifted this time to the use of aluminium and fabric. It wasn’t their first use of metal; the practice perhaps came from creating the wire base for chairs in 1951, but this was the first time that aluminium brackets were used to hold the fabric, thus creating the shell. This shell—completely different in concept from what had gone before it—was just as comfortable, flexible and appealing to the eye as everything that had been invented by Charles. The adjustable castor base, simplicity of filigree profile and leather upholstery make this a perfect luxury item for any office. It’s difficult to believe that these chairs originally started their life as indoor and outdoor chairs. One would like to think they should be protected behind a desk in our homes or offices.
Aluminium was always in the running to be the material of choice due to its durability, lightness, resistance to corrosion and capacity to carry a load. Although the frame may have remained the same, the weather resistant seat fabric was updated to soft and luxurious leather, which we all know only gets better with age.
A long standing relationship with Herman Miller meant that Eames’ creations were produced and shipped from the Herman Miller factory in the United States from the late 1950s.
It is easy to see that the love of inventing and connection flowed into every item. There was the goal to make people feel comfortable while they worked—it was as simple as that, and to be honest, it should be that simple. You also have to admit though that the chair looks pretty awesome, from any angle, and although it doesn’t have to make you feel better about working for your pay cheque, we wouldn’t hold it against you if you did.