EAMES: The Architect and the Painter


A few weekends ago, Rob and I saw the new documentary about Ray and Charles Eames called: EAMES: The Architect and the Painter by First Run Features and narrated by none other than that multi-multi-tasker James Franco. It was excellent – if you are a fan of modern design or just creative thinking in general, I highly recommend it. It’s still playing where we saw it, at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village until Dec 8, but if  you miss it (or it never came to a theater near you), you’ll be happy to know that the DVD is being released on December 13. Here’s the trailer:

I must confess that, before seeing the film, I only knew about the chairs they designed and sold through Herman Miller. In fact, when we first looked at our house, one of the iconic Eames lounge chairs was stretched out stylishly in the living room, further confirming the good taste of the previous owners and further endearing us to the place…

Eames lounge chair and ottomanTurns out Ray and Charles also made lots of short films, designed the IBM Pavilion for the 1964 Worlds, and involved themselves in all kinds of projects, both obscure and for large corporations. They even made splints and stretchers for the US Navy during World War II. Theirs was truly a creative and eclectic collaboration. Here is one of their more famous short films:

(Okay, it was slightly disillusioning to discover that their marriage started with an affair on the part of Charles, and ended with some extramarital shenanigans on his part, as well…sigh, but I do believe that you have to separate the art from the artist, however challenging. And you never know what the whole story was, so its best to reserve judgment…)

Typical of that era, Charles received most of the credit from the media, but it was interesting to learn that Ray was equally involved and influential in what they produced – she was a true artist and brought a sense of style to everything they did. It was she who suggested that they include a simple bird (a piece of folk art they apparently picked up in the Appalachians) in the famous advertisement for their Eames wire chairs (making her one of the original designers to “put a bird on it” in the words of my Portlandia pals).


You can now purchase reproductions of this bird all over the place, including Design Within Reach.

Like my blogging buddy Suzanne, at Inspire; to breathe, I was enchanted by the footage of their home in Los Angeles.  It was first designed in conjunction with Eero Saarinen as part of the Case Study House program for Arts and Architecture Magazine.  This weird, boxy, and colorful structure has been named a National Historic Landmark. The outside is reminiscent of Mondrian:

Eames outsidesource

The inside is so warm and quirky. I love the attention to detail and coziness that has been created despite the large, open plan. It has a great balance of curves and angles…and that mega Monstera plant in the corner is a marvel!


The way these two brought creativity to their entire lives and pursued a diversity of interests is truly inspiring. They are most famous for their chairs but they applied their talents to so many different projects.

I’ll close off with one of my favorite anecdotes from the film. One of their friends/colleagues recounted going to their house for a dinner party. This man was looking forward to dessert, but to his dismay (and obvious delight), Ray served…a bowl of inedible flowers. In other words, a treat for the eyes instead of the stomach. Beware future dinner guests: I’d like to try this evil/awesome trick. (But I promise to follow up that course with a second one involving obscene amounts of chocolate and a chuckle.)


Thanks for reading. Did you see the film?

FYI: another recent documentary that has stuck in my mind: Bill Cunningham New York, about the New York Times fashion photographer who still captures his images while riding his bike around Manhattan, despite being in his 80’s…

10 replies

  1. The reading room of an archives I worked in has 50+ Eames chairs (like the ones in the still shot from the trailer, above). When I pointed that out, nobody knew what I was talking about.

    I love architecture and interior design from the 1950s and 1960s. You might be interested in a blog post I wrote about Mid-Century Modern, which mentions another Case Study house, by Pierre Koenig: http://megustasi.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/mid-century-modern/

    I did not know about this Eames film — thanks for the post!

  2. Aw, that was nice of you to link to my blog! 🙂

    And I totally forgot about the 2nd video – thanks for including it! That seems so high-tech for back then to me somehow, but then again how would I know? Ha.

    Anyway, great write-up.

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