A Post-War Solution for Life and Work Posted May 2, 2019 by Kelsey Rose
The Eames House is an internationally-recognized historic structure that served as Charles and Ray’s primary residence for much of their lives. Discover how the Eameses secured their beloved meadow and constructed a home suited for life and work.
Charles and Ray, who intentionally moved from their social circles in the Detroit area to work more privately on their furniture explorations, quickly landed into the design and arts scene in Los Angeles in the early 1940s. Charles designed sets in the architecture department at MGM. Ray balanced her abstract painting career with molded plywood furniture experiments in the couple’s Neutra-designed second bedroom in the Westwood neighborhood. When Charles arrived home in the evenings, sometimes with excess materials from the set in tow, the pair would continue to refine their design processes.
The Eameses became fast friends with John Entenza, the recently appointed Editor of California Arts & Architecture Magazine, a publication Entenza transformed by dropping the “California” and focusing solely on the era of modernism. Entenza was a partial investor in the Eameses’ early molded plywood endeavors, namely, the leg splits for World War II. Around this same period, he also invited Charles and Ray to participate in the Case Study House Program.
Ray and John Entenza in the meadow before the house’s construction.
Alongside close friend and architect Eero Saarinen, Charles designed Case Study House #8: a mostly-floating single-story glass and steel home with a detached studio, for himself and Ray. This design was released to the public’s eyes in Arts & Architecture‘s January 1945 issue and served as an example of accessible housing for a married couple who had no children living at home, worked in the arts, and desired seamless integration of work and recreation.
Case Study Houses were required to use available post-war materials, but a steel shortage following World War II forced Charles and Ray to halt construction. In the meantime, the Eameses grew to love their eucalyptus-filled meadow overlooking the Pacific Ocean’s coastline. Their fondness for the meadow prompted them to realize that their original design, a “Bridge House” that would have cut across the landscape, no longer suit their evolved needs. Saarinen left the project a few months in (with no hard feelings—he collaborated with Charles on Entenza’s Case Study House #9 next door), and Ray joined Charles in the reorganization of the previously purchased house materials.
The couple re-established the Eames House as a two-story pair of structures: one with 1,500 square feet for living and one with 1,000 square feet for working. A team of five people spent 16 hours in February 1949, helping the Eameses construct the home’s foundation, its board form concrete retaining wall, and its Kaiser steel frame. Charles and Ray assembled the remainder of the home’s glass windows, window sashes, Cemesto and stucco panels, tallowwood wall, and remaining parts over the following ten months.
Charles and Ray moved into their new home on Christmas Eve of 1949 and never formally moved out. Living in the Eames House provided the couple with spaces that transitioned between household activities and Office projects with ease. It served as a location for picnics and for building The Toy. It functioned as a photo-shoot backdrop for publications like Vogue and corporations like Herman Miller. Its rooms and courtyards became sets for films such as Charles and Ray’s Soft Pad. It even became a play space where grandchildren could run around.
After almost fifteen years of living in the home, Ray observed, “the building for me ceased to exist a long time ago.” The mostly-glass facade allows one to feel fully immersed in nature while indoors, instead of being a mere spectator of the meadow surrounding the house. Charles lived in the home among its many shadows and reflections until he passed away in August of 1978 and Ray lived there until her death in 1988, ten years to the day of Charles’s passing.
Charles’s daughter, Lucia Eames, inherited the home after Ray’s passing and founded the non-profit Eames Foundation in 2004. Today, the home boasts a National Historic Landmark status, and roughly 15,000 people a year make the pilgrimage to smell the ground’s eucalyptus trees and to look through the home’s glass to see the couple’s objects neatly resting in their original locations.
To experience the Eames House, please contact the Eames Foundation for a reservation.