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.