Love and Discipline in the Age of Choices Posted April 20, 2016 by Daniel Ostroff
For its March 1958 issue, Family Circle magazine invited eight “authorities,” including Charles Eames, to offer advice on home decoration.
The other participants in the March 1958 issue of Family Circle included art historian Russell Lynes, industrial designer Raymond Loewy (whose wife is on the magazine’s cover), interior designer Everett Brown, home furnishings consultant Freda Diamond, Broadway stage designer Jo Mielziner, furniture maker Paul McCobb, and architect Eero Saarinen. Each submitted a photograph featuring a room of their own design, often including furniture they had created as well, to illustrate their home-decorating advice.
Charles, the most successful furniture designer of the group, did not submit an image of a room with Eames chairs. Instead, he presented an interior view of a nineteenth-century Indian pueblo along with this caption: “It is of course not intended as a model to copy. It serves only to demonstrate a quality that can come from a natural discipline combined with respect and affection for things.”
This is an eloquent demonstration of the Eameses’ belief that the best designs develop within the context of constraints. Charles and Ray studied history carefully and noted that the great architecture and designs of the past were made in the context of limited resources and technology. In speeches, Charles often referenced the builders of Chartres Cathedral, who produced an eternal masterpiece in the 12th century without motors or machines, and therefore were limited to working by hand with stone, glass, wood, and copper.
When called upon to address the problem of home decoration for Family Circle, Charles illustrated his advice by selecting a photograph of a room with humble, pre-industrial goods that were made of local, natural resources such as wood, clay, and wool. Those who furnished this room didn’t have great financial resources or many choices when it came to household goods. What is there is well made, and the room is warm, peaceful, and undoubtedly comfortable.
Charles and Ray identified our current era as “the age of choices.” They believed in the importance of discipline. They also advocated for consciously applying thoughtful constraints, especially in our modern world of multiplicities, machine-made goods, and a bewildering array of new processes and synthetic materials.
As Charles wrote for the 1958 Family Circle readers, “‘Things’ as a rule, are too plentiful and quality too casual to encourage love; they are too varied and unrestrained to promote discipline. Poverty has been an effective encouragement to discipline and to the cherishing of things, but it is not the only way. Personal involvement, and concern over inherent quality, are other ways. But whatever the way, at all times love and discipline have led to a beautiful environment and a good life.”