The book’s cover.

Charles and Ray Eames.

The story of Eames furniture is very much the story of the golden age of American manufacturing. Their famed bent wood furniture was the result of an experimental military process.

The Eames made use of that process in the early 1940's, working for the Army. They produced wooden splints, which many people still hold as one of the best things they ever designed.

The splints on the production line.

One of their very first produced fiberglass shell chairs, from the late 1940s. You can see the actual fibers in the mold -- subsequent models had far more refined materials that were completely smooth. The Eames were the first to bring high-tech mass manufacturing techniques to furniture design. In so doing, they literally created the practices of the modern furniture industry.

The famous lounge chair and ottoman, which evolved from their early experiments with bent wood. The piece remains an empire builder: Even today, it remains the highest selling piece of residential furniture in the sprawling Herman Miller collection.

The lounge and ottoman in its place of birth, the Eames studio.

One of the most remarkable things you’ll find in these books are the countless prototypes that never made it to production, such as this chair which these days would likely cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars -- assuming you could get a hold of one.

The influence of the Eames’s was felt even during their own time -- their circle of friends and acquaintances assured that. Here, furniture by one of their contemporaries, Alexander Girard, also for Herman Miller.

A view of their office.

The office at work.

What strikes you over and over again in the book is how rich and varied their aesthetic was -- it’s a far cry from the weak solution of mid-century knock-offs you’d find on today’s shelter blogs or vintage shops.

Co.Design

The Definitive History of the Eames Studio, and Its Works of Genius [Slideshow]

Even if you've got a passion for modern design, it can be hard to see anything new in the works of Charles and Ray Eames. Endlessly imitated, knocked off, resold, and referenced, their genius hides in plain sight, thanks to its ubiquity. It takes a pretty mammoth amount of work to bring a fresh perspective to something so familiar.

And that's precisely what you can find in The Story of Eames Furniture, which might be the definitive history of the Eames studio, and all of its brilliant designs.

Marilyn Neuhart and her collaborator John Neuhart spent over 15 years compiling the material in the two-volume set, and the hard work shows: The 800 pages are graced with over 2,500 images, so you'd be hard pressed to find such rich visual documentation of the Eames's work anywhere else. But more than that, the book also details the minutiae of process and circumstance that yielded each and every creation in the Eames oeuvre. What is most striking is the working method that would still be a high watermark in today's modern studios.

Far from being a collaboration between two geniuses, the Eames studio was populated by a cast of dozens, which included many names who went on to become famous in their own right, such as Eero Saarinen and Harry Bertoia. And yet all the work they turned out shared a singular sort of Eames-ness, thanks to a fanatical process that awarded plenty of creative freedom to the designers, even as it subjected everyone to the constant rigors of criticism and self analysis.

Even now, you can feel the impact of that approach: When someone such as Yves Behar talks about a simple office chair being an "epic challenge" that required 10 years of practice to even contemplate, they're responding to the legacy that the Eames's created, with their fanatical devotion to ergonomics and function. Sit in a shell chair or an Eames lounger; feel the way it seems to intuit your posture and bone structure. That's the truest statement of the remarkable process that lived in just a few rooms, in a California studio that created the modern furniture industry.

[You can buy the books at Amazon, for $125]

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4 Comments

  • Isobel Kramen

    Had the pleasure of being in Charles' company on several occasions. His mind was always jumping from one thought to another. A sprite at heart, he would sit on edge of stage while addressing tuxedoed audience. They had a wonderful relationship, feeding off each other's ideas, not competing.

  • Cliff Kuang

    @Elijah --- You're totally right, of course. Chalk that up to an error in the image credits we received. Thanks for commenting!

  • bobby veylupek

    Can you Imagine what they could have done with Laminated Carbon Fiber Panels?...~wow~...K2L

  • elijah wiegmann

    The works that bear resemblance to Dieter Rams is actually Alexander Girard for Hermann Miller.