sky is the limit
Rom-coms show us that love can turn life upside down – and not just that of the two lovers, but also that of everyone around. But could it be that the feeling of two people who fell in love in 1940 has influenced what you’re sitting on right now or the type of hanger you leave your clothes on in the hall? Life, love and – as we are about to find out – the world of design are full of twists and turns!
Ray Kaiser, an art student, and Charles Eames, an architect, met at the Cranbrook Academy of Art near Detroit. Ray just got enrolled, and Charles was dean of the design department. They shared a completely different status at the college and their life situation was completely different too. Ray was, as we would say today, single; Charles was a husband and father. They were brought together not only by their love for each other, but also by their love for design.
When the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) held its “Organic design in home furnishing” contest, Charles, together with Eero Saarinen and Ray, came up with the innovative Organic Chair design based on molded plywood, which ended up winning the main prize. Who knows, maybe it was working on that chair project that sparked their love? And once it sparked, things escalated quickly. Charles divorced his wife in 1941 and married Ray the same year, with their relationship proving to be one of those that never ends.
Their honeymoon was a trip to Los Angeles where they were to settle permanently. Charles got a job in the film industry as a set designer, while Ray was supposed to design covers for magazines. But, like every love story, theirs too had a twist. Their plans were thwarted when the American Army approached them with a very special project. Not for chairs or armchairs, but for lightweight stabilizers for wounded soldiers to replace impractical metal models. Since the Eames had experience molding plywood, they did a great job.
For the Army, they created not only stabilizers for broken limbs, but also aircraft seats and other aircraft design components. In what concerns their love and working together, the term sky is the limit is the most appropriate! They were also entrusted with designing inexpensive and functional houses for soldiers, which were built from ready-made prefabricated elements. The ingenuity of their ideas is evidenced by the fact that they lived in one of such houses their whole life.
The unexpected collaboration with the Army gave them an unprecedented opportunity to test modern technologies and materials – as a result, they got to work not only with plywood, but also fiberglass and aluminum. And that paved the way for projects that soon changed the world of design forever.
Soft, organic furniture, extremely effective but also practical, as well as surprisingly clever children’s toys have persisted in spite of the passage of time and to this day remain a referential example of excellent design. What was considered ultra-modern at the time, has not aged a bit since then and the Eames couple’s works have become icons of world design.