Eames Style Defined
Eames style is sensible yet fun and is intended to boost the quality of both furniture and life for the average homeowner.
It's pretty easy these days to find stylish furnishings on a modest budget, but that wasn't always the case. Give credit to Charles and Ray Eames for laying the groundwork: This husband-and-wife design team dedicated their careers to crafting no-frills pieces that were sensible yet fun, intended to boost the quality of both décor and life for the average homeowner. Although the couple's furniture was designed for mass production to keep costs in line, it's anything but cookie-cutter—Eames chairs, tables, sofas, and accessories have become icons of innovative design.
The Eameses saw beauty in the ordinary and believed in elevating everyday objects to art forms. They eschewed conventional wood, upholstery and padding, instead aiming to make modern materials—molded plywood, plastic, metal—as comfortable as cushioning. Their pieces are modular and multipurpose, suited for public settings as well as private homes and designed to maximize function while conserving space.
In a famous 1971 speech at Harvard University, Charles Eames drew upon the banana leaf as an example of the couple's design philosophy, pointing out that in India, the lowest castes ate off banana leaves while upper castes ate from opulent dishware. But the wealthy who were truly enlightened, he posited, went a step beyond, choosing the banana leaf for its purity and simplicity. "I'm not prepared to say that the banana leaf that one eats off of is the same as the other eats off of," he said, "but it's that process that has happened within the man that changes the banana leaf."
These designers show how to incorporate Eames furnishings into your decor:
Get the Look
Intrigued by the Eames approach to design? You'll want to build your décor around classic pieces such as these.
Molded plywood chair. This elemental chair has been lauded as one of the most important and influential designs of the 20th century. A technological tour de force, it's crafted from plywood veneer molded into soft curves through a process that prevents splintering or cracking. The chair cradles the contours of the human shape, yet doesn't sacrifice durability for comfort.
Elliptical table. Constructed of layered laminate atop wire X-bases, this narrow, low-slung table took its cue from the American surf culture of the 1950s (in fact, it's commonly nicknamed the "surfboard table"). Its exaggerated length provides ample room for propping feet or resting drinks, while its curved form adds a note of levity.
Lounge chair and ottoman. Tipped at a cozy, reclining angle, the Eameses' padded lounge chair and companion ottoman—designed for legendary film director Billy Wilder—are an exception to their usual cushion-free forms. Yet even the cushioning takes a novel tack: A hidden zipper attaches it to a plastic backing that sits within the chair's molded plywood exterior, maintaining a sleek look.
Sofa Compact. At just 30 inches deep, this little gem has an unusually shallow footprint that makes it ideal for tight spaces. With no arms or other appendages, it helps to preserve a clean, open feel. A tilted seat gives the sofa's occupants a sense of settled-in ease.
Molded plastic chair. The original Eames version of this chair was molded from a fiberglass/plastic blend, but today, matte polypropylene is the material of choice. Regardless, the stackable beauties took the design world by storm when the couple introduced them. They were the first chairs to be manufactured with industrial mass-production techniques, and their shapely, unconventional lines belie their snugness. Choose from versions with metal bases, dowel bases, and rockers, available in a palette of bright colors.
Walnut stool. This petite, sculptural stool represents the ultimate in versatility. Its small scale (it stands less than two feet high) and portable nature allow it to float from room to room and serve any purpose needed, from seat to table to display perch.