An Eames Solution to College Students’ Storage Problems Posted May 17, 2016 by Daniel Ostroff

In designing the Eames Contract Storage system in 1961, Charles and Ray focused on furnishings for college dormitories as an extreme case of the problems of storage.

IMG_6059An Eames Contract Storage system, currently on view in The House That Modernism Built at The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

Herman Miller initially marketed the Eames Contract Storage exclusively to college dormitories, but Charles and Ray did not believe it was limited to that application; they thought this system could also be useful for homes. In the narration of their film ECS, the couple explained that if a storage system can “survive this extreme [college dormitory life], we will be confident that the normal, unusually rugged use should prove no problem.”

As with most of Charles and Ray’s products, the aesthetics of the ECS stem directly from practical considerations about the design need itself. The film, mentioned above, highlights the functional aspects of the design and how they would be meaningful to students.


One: A low hanging unit with shelf hooks and shoe storage.

Two: A short hanging unit with three shelves and a dressing mirror and laundry basket on the back of the door.

Three: A dressing unit with four shelves. A counter and drawers. Mirror and towel bar on the door.

Four: A study unit with desk, tack board, book shelves, drawer, and light.

Five: A bed that folds, complete with shelf and reading light.

The many useful features of the ECS fit into a single compact unit. The bed folds out of the way, creating more floor space when it is not in use. The recessed desk also helps maximize the use of space, while still providing the utility and service that students require for studying.

As part of the design process, Charles and Ray considered how the area around the ECS could be cleaned, explaining that, “It should be of interest to housekeepers…that the panels of the system do not touch the walls or the ceiling or the floor.” The design duo also considered hygiene, which is often a concern with teenagers: “Department of Sanitation, please note heavy mesh drawers and shelves permit constant ventilation through the accumulation of old socks, sweat shirts, etc.”

ECS-13Charles and Ray illustrated this aspect of the design, and many others, in a series of playful animated drawings (see additional illustrations in the gallery below).

Finally, the Eamses took into account both the cost and value of the ECS: “Controllers please note some of the most significant economies of such a system occur in the planning of the building; the efficient arrangement of the space; and the benefits derived per square foot per person.”

Charles and Ray believed in looking at a problem from every angle, and devising a practical storage solution was no exception. As with all their designs, they believed that: “The details are not details, they make the product just like details make the architecture. The gauge of the wire, the selection of the wood, the finish of the castings, the connections, the connections, the connections. It will be these details that provide service to customers and give the product its life.”

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Storage problems are a factor in all of our lives. Charles and Ray Eameses’ solution is more than a collection of well made parts; their ECS addresses the needs of all the people who come into contact with it, including those who use it, those who clean it, and those who pay for it.

The entire script from the film ECS can be found on pages 224-225 in An Eames Anthology.