"Charles Eames builds a house of steel and glass"
Life Magazine, September, 1950


(above)EXTERIOR VIEW of Eames's house shows how it nudges into a hillside, is fronted by eucalyptus treet. The studio-office is at right, joined to the house by a patio

Charles Eames, whose stark, comfortable chairs in the last five years have made him the best-known U.S. designer of modern furniture and a winner in the Museum of Modern Art furniture competition (Life, May 8), recently designed a house and adjoining studio for himself near Santa Monica, Calif. As might be expected of a man whose chief concerns are simplicity, functionalism and economy (p. 152), Eamesıs own house is simply built of steel trusses, bright stucco panels and great curtained expanses of glass. It is extraordinary functional, built for a couple that likes to live without servants or cocktail parties and work surrounded by the varied objects that interest them (opposite). And when work or contemplation pall, the Eameses have the ocean just across the meadow from their home.

(left) PERSONAL VIEW of Charles Eames shows an earnest, reticent, eternally bowtied man of 43. Decoration on heating duct at left is a piece of Eames whimsy.

(below) INTERIOR VIEW shows living room's 17-foot-high ceiling, unadorned steel-truss construction, to which Eames clamps lamps for varied lighting effects. He put up the pilings from an old pier outside the door because he liked their looks. He similarly suspended a Chinese owl kite and toy French horn from the ceiling.

(below) NATURAL DESIGNS embodied in Mojave desert plants fascinate Eames, who likes to mount them on the wall of his studio. From them, he says, he gets ideas for his own designs. The studio's equipment includes a 22-foot tack board for such specimens and experimental designs and a photographic darkroom.


(left) SPIRAL STAIRCASE in Eames's home is made of steel I-beam sections, pipe, and plywood. Wooden hand hanging from one step is a Brazilian good-luck symbol.

Eames Designs For Beauty and for the Family Budget: in 1945, when he introduced the first versions of what has since become celebrated as "the Eames chair," Charles Eames had behind him 38 years of useful but relatively undistinguished life. St. Louis-born, he had studied architecture at Washington University, practiced for a while, taught and worked at Michigan's Cranbrook Academy of Art with the famed Saarinen father and son team, designed sets for the movies and body-fitting plywood splints for the Navy. The first chairs he fashioned were based on modernism's familiar premises of simple beauty and functional comfort, but also on one other: that they be very inexpensive to manufacture, a form of simplicity which is seldom sought after by most modern designers. The chair's popularity started slowly, then snowballed ("the sitting sensation of modern design," rhapsodized one decorating magazine) until it is now selling at the remarkable rate of 3,000 a month.

A vague businessman, Eames does not know how much money his chair has made for him. As they came in, the profits have been plowed back into the small factory at nearby Venice where the chairs are assembled and into his studio, where he works with his wife and a handful of associates on furniture, house and industrial designs. Eames is so interested in making the products of his drawing board available at the lowest cost that the modest retail price of his newest chair ($32.50) bothers him. Although he designed not only the chair but some of the wood-working methods which helped make it inexpensive to produce, he guiltily feels that is should sell for less.

He recently brought out a new line of "case goods" (bookcases, cabinets, dressers) whose steel, wood and plastic panel construction noticeably resemble his new house. He has other ideas developing about which he is taciturn, although one of them is an assembled two-bedroom house to cost $6,000.

Eames likes to say his job is "the simple one of getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least." Few men are so earnestly dedicated to their jobs. To feed an insatiable interest in the looks of things, he and his wife take frequent sleeping-bag trips into the surrounding seaside and desert areas collecting weeds, rocks and driftwood whose appearance they want to study. They decorate their home with Chinese fans, Indian blankets and golden eggs for the same reason. Eames has a distaste for the superfluous which sometimes even affects his speech: "Take chair by wall," he may invite a visitor. Commented awed Movie Director Billy (Sunset Boulevard) Wilder, "He even has the guts to sit there and be quiet if he hasn't anything to say."


(right) For his friend Billy Wilder, Eames designed this special chair in which the restless Wilder can easily jump around while watching television.

return to the listing of eames articles