Charles and Ray Eames were pioneering American designers whose most famous work is the Eames Recliner. The Eames were so famous, the chair got its own unveiling on NBC's Today Show in 1956.
They also designed the Case Study House #8 in the Pacific Palisades, then lived in it from Christmas Day, 1949, until they died. On the outside, the house resembles a stark, modernist home with no soft lines. But go inside, and everything changes, and Off-Ramp got a rare and privileged peek when we interviewed Daniel Ostroff, editor of the new "An Eames Anthology," and Charles and Ray's grandson Eames Demetrios, chair of The Eames Foundation.
If you've been inside your friend's Mid-Century Modern home, where the coffee table holds either a stack of Dwell magazines or nothing — but never a cup of coffee or the TV remote — you're relieved to walk into #8. It's filled with carpets, plants, art, books and soft places to sit.
The anthology is as thick as a 2TB external hard drive, but it collects just a small portion of the Eames' writings that, as Ostroff explains, illuminates their process, a process that valued evolution above revolution. "They used to say, 'innovate as a last resort,'" says Demetrios. "And what they meant is that when you innovate for its own sake, little bits of knowledge and wisdom that have been accumulated almost unconsciously by people can be easily lost. For example, I can make an innovative car tomorrow. It'll have 23 wheels and there'll be absolutely no point to it. What they tried to do with their designs was have a quality called 'way it should be-ness,' so if something was really well designed, the idea of it having been designed at all would not be apparent."
The anthology includes the narration for the Eames' movie explaining the molded plywood chair, in which they say instead of designing a chair for how people should sit, they designed one for how people do sit. It's revolutionary, alas, in some design circles. "It might sound revolutionary," Ostroff says, "but it's actually consistent with the overall Eames message. They were living it a time when there were far more choices than man had ever been faced with before, and Charles and Ray said that when you're a designer, you're on safe ground if what you focus on are people, the people who use your designs. And the fact that they didn't go beyond that is one of their gifts."
Members Appreciation Day, the one day a year you can go inside the Eames House, is June 20, but you need to sign up by June 15. Daniel Ostroff will be there, too, signing copies of "An Eames Anthology."