THEIR GOAL WAS TO BUILD A BETTER SOCIETY, and that they did--countless homes and commercial spaces today are furnished with the sleek, vibrant designs of Charles and Ray Eames, the husband and wife who operated out of a former garage in Venice in the mid-20th century. Entranced with the period's breakthroughs in science and technology, the Eameses embraced the new discoveries, fashioning furniture out of plywood, plastic, wire mesh and aluminum and creating their landmark home in Pacific Palisades out of steel and glass. They also wanted the streamlined furniture they produced to be functional and affordable for the families of postwar-boom America. Today through Sept. 11, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is hosting "The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention," an exhibit chronicling the designers' artistic and cultural impact. On the following pages, members of the Eames fan club show off their favorite pieces.
"I love the cards--they're a perfect metaphor for life in Hollywood," jokes actress Ann Magnuson of the Eameses' Original House of Cards. This House of Cards never collapsed, however: the Eamses' deck has been in continuous production since 1952, with the 54 cards, each with slots on the sides, meant to be joined into different three-dimensional shapes. Magnuson, who is featured in the upcoming "The Caveman's Valentine," lives in a 1939 Richard Neutra house and is a fan of the simplicity and idealism in mid-century architecture and furnishings. "This is design by people who believed that art could be part of everyone's life." Appearing on the faces of the Eames cards are familiar everyday objects such as scissors, spools of thread, matches and coins--what the Eamses called "good things." "They remind me of my grandmother, who was very artsy-craftsy," says Magnuson. "She transformed ordinary things--bits of old cloth, beads and yarn--into tiny dolls. Like the Eameses, she was fascinated with simple things."
"Most people see the Eames house as a modern icon," says Eames Demetrios, grandson of Charles and Ray Eames, of the Pacific Palisades house that broke new ground with its unique construction. "But to me, it's always been my grandparents' home." Demetrios, who is director of the Eames Office, which oversees the legacy of the original design studio, recalls sitting in the cozy living room alcove around a coffee table that the couple designed, discussing everything from photographing spider webs to their fascination with the American circus. "They were interested in everything." To commemorate the 50th anniversary of their Case Study House No. 8, a limited edition of 500 30-by-45-inch gilt-over-brass copies of that table will be issued through Herman Miller, the company that has produced Eames furniture since the mid-'40s. "I keep it just as they left it," Demetrios says of the original table, which is topped with objects that caught the designing couple's eye: an abalone shell, glass prisms, a caliper, small boxes, a large gold star. "They looked at the objects as research, a sort of design shorthand for inspiration."
Husband-and-wife team Hsin-ming Fung and Craig Hodgetts of Hodgetts + Fung, the architects responsible for the concept development of the traveling Eames show, own his-and-hers LCWs (Lounge Chair Wood). They were designing an electronics show exhibit to display new Microsoft games and wanted to do an entire environment in red, but were having trouble finding attractive chairs in that color--until they turned to the red-stained ash-face veneer LCW. By the end of the exhibit, they liked the chairs so much they decided to take them home. They now keep company with eight reissued DCMs (Dining Chair Metal) as well as several vintage Eames pieces that the couple have collected over the years. "Although one would think that plywood chairs would be very hard, you can literally sit in them for hours," says Fung. "The seat is wider than most dining chairs and allows you a lot of wiggle room."