A Sofa for Friends Posted June 14, 2020 by Daniel Ostroff

Visitors to the Eames House can’t fail to notice the alcove in the living room. While the living room’s height is 17 feet, the alcove—situated below their second-floor bedroom—has a lower ceiling of only 8 feet, which creates a very cozy space.

For seating in the alcove, Charles and Ray designed and installed a built-in sofa, which is more efficient in terms of space planning, than a stand-alone sofa. It is L-Shaped. There is an appropriately angled vertical cushion that supports a sitter’s entire upper back, a parallel lower vertical cushion for lumbar support, and a single horizontal cushion for its seat.

Charles and Ray Eames built the Eames House for themselves. When they entertained, they often sat in the alcove with visitors, and there’s a nifty pass-through from the kitchen through which they could serve drinks and other refreshments to themselves and visitors.

Fundamental to Charles and Ray’s design practice was to work on projects for which they had a personal connection and affinity. Few things are as personal to anyone as the home in which they live.

They moved into the house in December 1949 and after five years they celebrated their home with a film you can see on our YouTube channel, “House After Five Years of Living.” The one change they made to the alcove during the first five years was the addition of a magazine rack because Charles and Ray thoroughly enjoyed sitting and reading in their alcove.

In 1952, they designed the offices of their good friend Philip Dunne at Twentieth Century Fox studios in Los Angeles. They equipped his office with the same kind of three-cushion built-in sofa that they had installed in their own home. In Dunne’s office, this neatly installed sofa left plenty of room for both a conference area and a separate seating area.

After having had these two installations turn out so well, they devised their first stand-alone sofa for consumers in 1954: the Eames Sofa Compact.

On the back of this postcard which The Eames Office produced for the design’s introduction, they described the design concept:

“…anywhere, where service, budget, and pleasure are decisive considerations.”

“comfort, durability, light-weight, and light scale”

The Eames Sofa Compact, which has been available to consumers from Herman Miller since 1954, is a free-standing version of the “Alcove Sofa.” It has the same high back, three-part structure, and reinforced cord welting around each of the upholstered parts. Urethane foam seat cushions are supported by fabric-reinforced rubber webbing on a steel and wire-spring armature. These cushions are arrayed at the same time-tested angles as the built-in sofa at the Eames House and Dunne’s office.

The cushions are supported by an unobtrusive and sturdy steel frame and both the frame, and the tubular steel legs are chrome plated. Stainless steel glides have rubber bases.

As Herman Miller’s catalog expresses it: “Why ‘compact’ for a sofa that’s six feet wide and seats three? The clean profile of the Eames sofa compact is perfectly scaled for spaces too small for a traditional sofa—in executive suites, lounges, and homes. But you lose none of the comfort associated with the word couch. Impact and seating space in a sleek, slender, minimalist piece of classic mid-century furniture. With all the comfort you expect from cushy, heavy sofas, the Eames sofa compact sits well where bulky traditional sofas can’t. In your home’s vestibule, study, craft or sewing room, or home office. In executive suites, lounges, and reception areas. In small apartment living rooms, where it provides plenty of seating without ruining the scale of the room.”

Here is a case study for future designers to consider. When making things for others, first, in the words of Charles and Ray Eames: “design deeply for yourself.” Charles and Ray Eames offered the Eames Compact Sofa to everyone, after first making sure that it worked for themselves and for a friend.

The Eames Sofa Compacts are still made the same way as they were in 1954 and are available from Herman Miller in a wide array of upholstery materials.

Be sure to visit the website of The Eames Foundation, to learn more about The Eames House, shown below.