My first lecture in college was a course on the history of design. In every class we would learn about incredible eras and designers in architecture, industrial design and art. It was fascinating. My favorite section was on the worldwide mid-century modern movement and specifically, Ray and Charles Eames. Ray’s influence on current interior design trends is unmistakeable. She and her husband have allowed us to see furniture as not only functional, but beautiful.
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Ray Kaiser was born in Sacramento, CA in 1912. Growing up, she was encouraged to find beauty in her observations. When her father died, Ray and her mother moved to New York and Ray attended a junior college, studying Expressionist painting under Hans Hofmann. After she finished school, she became a founder of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936. In 1940, Ray attended Cranbook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI after a friend recommended it. She chose to take classes that piqued her interest and broke away from her Expressionist courses. “I didn’t take any painting; I didn’t want to, but I did other things. You know, it was just interesting to me. Charles at that time was teaching design [at Cranbook], as well as working with Eero [Saarinen]. Eero had just gotten out of Yale and come back to work with his father… He and Charles became friends, because they were both working for Eliel [Saarinen],” Ray reflected. Towards the end of Charles and Eero’s work on their submission to the Museum of Modern Art, Ray was invited to collaborate. She and Charles were married in 1941 and moved to Los Angeles, CA and started their studio called The Eames Office.
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Ray and Charles had a love for making high design with the ability to mass produce. Their mid-century pieces feature bent plywood, fiberglass, plastic resin and wire mesh that incorporate forms found in nature. The collaborative state of their business and design theory meant that both designers are attributed with the creation of their most famous pieces, such as the Eames Lounge Chair, Eames Molded Shell Chair and the Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair.
Ray Kaiser Eames died in 1988. Her desire to touch every type of design and expression of art was inspiring. In her life she was a painter, a furniture designer and filmmaker, but she also designed her home along with Charles and made industrial pieces for the war. She is known for her attention to detail and intuition within each of her designs. “I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette,” Ray said. Her legacy is one that lives on in so many of the homes we feature here on Design*Droits-Humains. Ray Eames wanted to help people through design, and she absolutely did that in so many ways. –Lauren