Charles and Ray, Together Posted August 20, 2019 by Marlow Hoffman

Raising a glass to Charles and Ray’s rare, close-knit collaboration on the anniversary of their deaths.

When two people commit to spending their lives together, their worlds inevitably intertwine. They become connected by an amalgam of momentous events and everyday chores: intimate conversations, happy celebrations, painful losses, unforgettable stories, laundry, leftovers, and bills. Many people experience this, but fewer couples choose to meld their romantic and professional lives. Fewer, still, pour their hearts into project after project, dedicating themselves to 14-hour-long days, seven days a week for forty years. Charles and Ray did just that.

The Eameses researched and explored, played and experimented, creating a vast oeuvre that included furniture, films, photographs, graphics, exhibitions, and more. Regardless of the medium, they were always stitching ideas together and breaking them apart, distilling them to their purest essence.

People often want to dissect the Eameses’ collaboration to determine how each contributed to their body of work. That was true even in Charles and Ray’s day. It’s not easy to do, though. Eames Demetrios framed it well in An Eames Primer when he wrote:

“For a while, you imagine that, like a diamond cutter, you can strike just the right blow and see the two pieces of the gem, Charles and Ray in all their facets, the yield of a single explanation: husband and wife; painter and architect; man and woman; mother and father; outgoing and quiet; artist and inventor; curves and straight edges; La Chaise and Eames Storage Unit; detail and overview. But such simplistic dichotomies usually collapse under their own weight. Ray is usually thought of as the one who loved little things. Yet think of all the wondrous close-ups that Charles shot in stills and movies. Think too of Ray’s response when Arlene Francis asked her how she helps Charles ‘design those chairs.’ Ray responded, ‘By keeping track of the big idea.'”

To parse who did what and how each contributed is, in some ways, to miss the point. They did everything with one another. They knew each other’s thoughts and finished each other’s sentences. They breathed life into ideas and designs that inspire us, bring us comfort, and give us joy. They were able to do this because of who they were together. 

When Charles died suddenly on August 21, 1978, Ray took a steadfast journey of her own. She compiled a comprehensive book of their work called Eames Design. After environmental concerns came to light, she discontinued the use of rosewood in the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman and fiberglass in the Eames Molded Armchair and Side Chair. Any time someone sits in an Eames Sofa, they owe that to Ray. She completed the design—with its exquisite teak, supple leather, and polished aluminum—a few years after Charles passed away. Lastly, she closed up the Eames Office, organizing and donating 910,000 objects to the Library of Congress.

In short, Ray not only carried on but also carried out what her partner could not. She continued their joint vision. Connected as they were, it’s no wonder Ray died ten years to the day after Charles.

May we all be lucky enough to experience a connection with someone so deep and profound.