Eames Lessons Learned from Tools Posted May 4, 2016 by Daniel Ostroff

Charles and Ray Eames found design lessons and inspiration in good old-fashioned tools.


Tools at the Eames Office. Photograph by Charles Eames

In notes for an anticipated 1956 television appearance, Charles wrote: Good tools are perhaps the most foolproof against the trap of originality for its own sake. The familiarity with tools and the experience of designing tools for specific purposes play a great part in our attitude toward any problem we approach. This was certainly apparent in the chair.” Charles expanded upon this idea in seven pages of hand-written text, which are featured in An Eames Anthology (pages 147-149).

WrenchCharles and Ray outline a very direct relationship between a specific tool and a specific Eames chair in another one of their texts, also included in An Eames Anthology (pages 115-117).

We had only seen the heavy spot weld used on wheel wrenches. But after many trials, we found the heavy spot weld an excellent and impressive joining device. . . When a product is designed in a way that its production varies from the norm and its given field, it becomes the responsibility of the designer to help make the necessary transition. It is not so much the creating of tools and techniques as it is the searching out of appropriate existing ones that will provide a product of greatest ultimate service to the consumer.

Here is an upholstered Eames Fiberglass Armchair from 1952 with its “wheel wrench-inspired” base. Even though the forms are similar, the important lesson Charles and Ray took from the wrench was to apply the same spot-welding technique to their chair bases.

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The Eames Office was filled with tools which they used daily. You can see some of these in Eames Office photographs in the gallery below. They made tools for special uses, such as the Kazam! machine; they used tools to make models; and they were inspired by the direct relationship between the design of tools and their functionality.

For Charles and Ray, their job wasn’t done when a form was complete; it was done when they had developed the manufacturing process by which the design could be produced.