My Afternoon with Charles and Ray Eames

Little Notes

November 16, 2015

Last week, my mother and I spent the proverbial afternoon with Charles and Ray Eames in their home, Case Study No. 8 in the Pacific Palisades.

After completing the post-war house and studio next door in 1949, the couple — two of America’s most influential designers of the twentieth century design —lived and worked here until Charles’ death in 1978. Ray continued to live and work in the studio until she passed away in 1988. While Charles and Ray may not have been physically present during our afternoon visit, their generous and playful spirits accompanied us throughout our time there.

Above: According to the Eames Foundation, "Charles and Ray Eames wanted a home that would make no demands for itself, but would, instead serve as a background for 'life in work' with nature as a 'shock-absorber'."

Above: A wooden bench sits in the courtyard on the side of the house.

And as we walked around in awe, I kept trying to work out why it was my mother and I could feel their presence so strongly. Was it because we were so familiar with their work? Was it because the house had been left pretty much intact since they had lived there? Was it that the physical setting with the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean within sight and the smell of the Eucalyptus and dry California air was so seductive?

Above: The dialogue between the house and the Eucalyptus trees that preceded it carries on today.

Most likely all of the above and yet there was still something else. Elusive and hard to pin down, I had just about given up to trying to understand it and give into enjoying it for what it was when I came upon a set of interpretation panels in the meadow in front of the house.

Above: The steel structure of the house was built from off-the-shelf parts ordered from catalogues.

Above: Charles and Ray Eames enjoy the steel structure of the house that was erected in three days. Photograph via Penccil.

And there it was, this quote by Charles Eames.

“The role of the architect, or the designer, is that of a thoughtful host, all of whose energy goes into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests — those who enter the building and use the objects in it. Whether it be Brunelleschi in the 16th Century, or Stanford White in the late 19th century — their concerns were very much the same. And now, when anyone works on a project in our office, it’s with that sense of a host.”

Above: Charles and Ray Eames share a quiet moment in the living room, where they entertained guests frequently. Photograph via Aiga.

Sixty-five years later, the Eames’ are still playing host and now to guests that they don’t even know — something I imagine that would have given them great pleasure.  And as much as we could feel their spirit in the way they used their house, it was how they wanted others to enjoy and appreciate their house from which we benefited the most on our afternoon visit. My mother called it a “good home”.

Here’s to good hosts.

Above: The house overlooks a meadow with a view of the ocean beyond.

Above: The plants that keep growing capture the spirit of Eames'.

Above: The Eames' spent much of their time outside enjoying the meadow in front of the house where their five grandchildren played frequently.

Above: A view through the trees of the ocean at the bottom of the hill.

Above: Good hosts, Charles and Ray Eames enjoying the nature that was their home away from home. Photograph via Eames Official Site.

The Eames House is open to the public for exterior self-guided visits as well as private interior tours. Reservations are required in advance and details can be found here. London-based readers might be interested in visiting The World of Charles and Ray Eames exhibition at the Barbican.

Unless otherwise noted, photography by Christine Chang Hanway.

N.B.: This post was originally published on My Contents Have Shifted.

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Deborah Thomas
Deborah Thomas

Wonderful piece Christine, next best thing to actually being there. Would dearly love to go one day .
Best wishes, Deborah

Catherine Kwan
Catherine Kwan

Thank you for the writing and those pictures. I would love to go there soon.
Los Angeles has some hidden gems. There is a beach house of Marion Davis and Randolph Hearst in Santa Monica. You may like to visit it next time, it has more history then design.

Tricia Rose
Tricia Rose

We interviewed Charles Eames in Paris forty-one years ago in December Christine, at a time when his marriage was under strain due to his affair. Seeing their home – their happy home! – is unbearably poignant. I hope it was happy again.

Atalanta Goulandris
Atalanta Goulandris

Great post and wonderful pictures