Five Decades in Five Weeks, 1940s

It is easy to assume that projects and recognition happen by a stroke of genius or without many iterations. Charles Eames, when asked if he designed a chair in a flash, responded with, “Yes, it was a flash of inspiration…a kind of thirty-year flash.”

Over the coming weeks, we’re highlighting five important Eames Office accomplishments for each of the five decades of Charles and Ray’s oeuvre. We hope this allows you to further grasp the timeline for their contributions and their ability to simultaneously balance architecture, furniture, films, photography, lectures, exhibitions, and a duty toward sustaining a design-centric, playful livelihood.

1) Charles and Ray’s Marriage

The 1940s began with the most important collaborative effort of Charles and Ray: their marriage. After an instantaneous romance was established between the two, Charles and Ray married in 1941 at a close friend’s home in Chicago. The Eameses then hastily relocated to Los Angeles (their road trip to California was also their honeymoon) where they enjoyed a living and working partnership for 37 years. 

2) Eames Molded Plywood Leg Splint

Charles and Ray wished to help the war effort without hurting anyone, so when they heard of the inconveniences and further injury caused by metal leg splints used to carry wounded soldiers, Charles and Ray suggested a more gentle and economical solution: using molded plywood. The Eameses, in contract with the US Navy, produced 150,000 leg splints during World War II.

3) Eames Lounge Chair Wood

In continuation of their molded plywood experiments, Charles and Ray began creating the tools necessary for furniture production. They developed the “Kazam! Machine,” enabling them to use electricity, heat, and pressure to adhere sheets of veneer together and into forms for seating. Through the iterative design process, the Eameses were unsuccessful in creating a seamless shell of complex curves from the material as hoped. Instead, the LCW, or “Lounge Chair Wood,” was realized as a design made from two planes of molded plywood (a seat and a back) adhered to curved wood legs.

4) Eames La Chaise

The Eameses introduced molded plastic and fiberglass into their designs, finding that these materials did not adopt similar constraints as plywood (and were easily guided into single-piece forms). Charles and Ray perfected the La Chaise design for MoMA’s 1948 “International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design.” La Chaise bonded two fiberglass shells to a chrome base with oak footing, elevating the body into a reclined position.

5) Case Study House No. 8 and No. 9

In 1949, construction began on two Case Study Houses: the Eames House (No. 8) and the Entenza House (No. 9). The Eames House was constructed over the span of a year. It served as double-volume residence and workspace structures in tandem with one another, while surrounded by courtyards, connected pathways, and pointillistic flower pots. Shortly after completion, the Entenza House, designed by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, was assembled next door for the man who founded the Case Study Program, John Entenza.

The two homes shared a three-acre eucalyptus-filled meadow that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. The structures were described as “technological twins but architectural opposites.” While Entenza only occupied his home for six years, the Eameses spent the remainder of their lives inhabiting their design, filling it with treasured collections and humanizing its industrial envelope.

Interested in checking out other installments from this blog series? Learn about the Eames Office’s work during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.