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Arts

The ultimate lounge chair: How the Eames redesigned the American dream

Charles and Ray Eames are among the most influential designers of the 20th century. The skills they developed during World War II helped the couple become pioneers of functional art.

Many Eames designs are classics. Their chairs, whether in molded fiberglass or bent plywood, can be found in countless executive offices, universities and restaurants worldwide, from the German Bundestag to a church in the Czech Republic or the Dubai airport.

The husband and wife, Charles and Ray Eames, were not only renowned for their pioneering work in architecture and furniture design, they also experimented in the fields of graphic and product design, painting, film, sculpture, photography and multimedia installations.

Starting on October 21, the Barbican Art Gallery in London showcases "The World of Charles and Ray Eames," a new exhibition exploring the creative universe of the influential designer duo. The exhibition also provides insight on the life of the husband Charles (1907 - 1978) and wife Ray (1912 - 1988) Eames.

The king of all chairs

"The Eames were masters of functional design," says Mateo Kries, art historian and director of the Vitra Design Museum, which houses the estate of the designer couple. "They designed mass-market objects which were practical and durable, while embellishing everyday life."

Among their most famous designs is the Eames Lounge Chair. Fans worship this luxury armchair as the king of all chairs. The Eames developed their know-how by working for the US war industry in the 1940s. They developed aircraft parts, leg splints and stretchers using bent plywood. They used the hitherto unknown technique of molding plywood with hot steam to design furniture.

They would later create other models using fiberglass, cast aluminum or wire. "The Eames always came up with groundbreaking inventions," says Kries.

In Germany, the Lounge Chair is produced by furniture manufacturer Vitra in Weil am Rhein. The estate of Ray and Charles Eames is managed by the Eames Office in Los Angeles.

'Eames' rhymes with 'dreams'

The couple knew how to market itself as a Hollywood brand. Charles briefly studied architecture before starting his own practice. Ray was an artist who had studied abstract expressionist painting. They met in 1940 at the Academy of Arts in Michigan and moved to Los Angeles. Old photographs show them happily trying out their own designs.

Who was the leader in the couple? "They both worked as equals," says the expert Kries. "None of them would hide in the background." There was nevertheless a clear division of tasks. "Ray was responsible for the artistic part and Charles for the technical aspects."

The couple not only created fabulous designs, but also a stimulating creative symbiosis.

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