Ray Eames

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Ray Eames
Ray-Bernice Alexandra Kaiser

(1912-12-15)December 15, 1912
DiedAugust 21, 1988(1988-08-21) (aged 75)
Occupation(s)Artist, designer, filmmaker
Years active1936–1978
Known forArtist with Allied Artists Association, Hoffmann Studio and designer at The Eames Office, The India Report

Bernice Alexandra Kaiser Eames (née Kaiser; December 15, 1912 – August 21, 1988) was an American artist and designer who worked in a variety of media.

In creative partnership with her husband, Charles Eames, and The Eames Office, she was responsible for groundbreaking contributions in the fields of architecture, graphic design, textile design, film, and furniture.[1] The Eames Office is most famous for its furniture, which is still being produced today. Together as a couple, the Eames are considered one of the most influential creative forces of the 20th century.

During her lifetime, Ray Kaiser Eames received notably less credit than she has been given posthumously in art and design literature, museum shows, and documentary films.


Early life[edit]

Ray Eames was born in Sacramento, California, to Alexander and Edna Burr Kaiser and had an older brother named Maurice.[2] Edna was Episcopalian and Alexander had been raised Jewish, but did not practice. Ray and Maurice were brought up as Episcopalians.[2] Bernice was known to her family as Ray Ray.[3] Her mother was a housewife, and her father managed the vaudeville Empress Theater (now the Crest Theatre), in Sacramento, until 1920. He then became an insurance salesman, later owning a downtown office to better support his family.[2][4]

The family lived in an apartment for much of Ray's early childhood and then moved to a bungalow outside of town. Her parents taught her to value both the natural world and objects that induce joy, which later inspired her inventions in furniture design and toys.[5]

Ray came from a loving but overprotective home. Her elder sister died a few months after Ray was born, and her parents lived in fear that they would lose her, too. The overprotectiveness was further fueled by Ray's mother's anxiety that her "short, squat child might be deformed."[citation needed] Despite and because of this, Ray was very close to her mother, living with her in California and New York until Edna's death in 1940. Ray was also close to her older brother, Maurice. [6]

Work and Education[edit]


Ray graduated from Sacramento High School in February 1931. She was a member of the Art Association, the Big Sister Club, and the decorating committee for the senior dance.[7]

After graduating in 1931, she spent a term at Sacramento Junior College before moving with her widowed mother to New York to be nearer her brother, then a West Point cadet.[8]

In 1933, Ray graduated from the May Friend Bennett Women's College, in Millbrook, New York, (where her art teacher was Lu Duble) and moved to New York City to study Abstract Expressionist painting with Duble's mentor, Hans Hofmann.[9]

New York Work[edit]

During the 1930s, Kaiser’s artistic career centered around her painting. In 1937, she became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists (AAA) group and exhibited paintings in its first show at Squibb Gallery April 3-17, 1937, New York City.[10][11] The AAA group promoted abstract art at a time when major galleries refused to show it. She became a key figure in the New York art scene and developed friendships with painters Lee Krasner and Mercedes Matter, both important figures in Abstract Expressionism. While the Whitney Museum of American Art holds in its permanent collection a painting by Kaiser, little else remains of her art from this period.[12]

Kaiser lived alone in New York City until she left the Hoffman Studio to return home to care for her ailing mother. Edna died in 1940.[13]

Cranbrook Academy[edit]

By September 1940, Kaiser was entertaining the idea of moving back to California and building a house there. Her architect friend, Ben Baldwin, suggested she might first enjoy studying at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She took his advice and, once at Cranbrook, learned a variety of arts, moving beyond painting as her sole focus.[14]

Life and Work with Charles Eames[edit]

Also at Cranbrook, Kaiser met her husband-to-be, Charles Eames, who headed the school's industrial design department.[15] Charles was a married man with one child, but he soon divorced his first wife. In 1941, he married Ray, who changed her name from Kaiser to Eames.[15]

Settling in Los Angeles, the couple began a highly successful and lauded partnership in design and architecture.

The Eames House[edit]

In California, the couple was invited to participate in the Case Study House Program, a housing initiative, sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine, with a mission of building and showcasing a series of economical, yet inventive, modern homes that used wartime and industrial materials.[citation needed] John Entenza, the owner and editor of Arts & Architecture, recognized the importance of the Eameses' thinking and design practices—he also became a close friend of the couple. Originally, Charles and his Cranbrook colleague Eero Saarinen were hired, in 1945, to design Case Study House Number 8, envisioned as Charles and Ray's future residence. The plan was for the home to share with other Case Study houses a five-acre parcel in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood, north of Santa Monica, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Because of post-war rationing, materials for that first scheme (then called “the Bridge House”) had to be back-ordered. In the meantime, Charles and Ray spent many days and nights on site in the meadow, picnicking, shooting arrows, and socializing with family, friends, and coworkers. They soon discovered their love of the existing eucalyptus grove, the expanse of land, and the unobstructed ocean views. Eventualy, they decided not to build the Bridge House, but instead reconfigured the materials to create two separate, glassy, block-like structures, nestled into the property’s hillside. Saarinen played no role in this second version of the house—instead, it became a collaboration between Charles and Ray. Once the materials arrived, in 1949, the buildings were erected in the period from February through December. The couple moved in on Christmas Eve, and the house became their sole residence for the rest of their lives.[16] It remains a milestone of modern architecture.

The Eames Office designed a few other architectural works, many of which remained unrealized. But, in 1950, they succeeded in building the Herman Miller Showroom on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles and, in 1954, the De Pree House in Zeeland, Michigan, for Herman Miller founder’s son, Max De Pree, and his growing family. The unbuilt works include the Billy Wilder House, the prefabricated kit home known as the Kwikset House, and a national aquarium.

The Eames Office[edit]

The designs of Ray and Charles were highly collaborative.

Graphic design[edit]

The Eames Office's graphic and commercial artwork, however, are largely attributable to Ray. Independent of her husband and the Eames Office, she designed 27 covers for Arts & Architecture, from 1942 to 1948. She also contributed to the 1948 Eames furniture advertisements for Herman Miller.[17]

Ray's sense of form and color was the primary driver behind the Eames "look." Her sensibility made the difference between "good, very good—and Eames."[citation needed] While she did not make drawings, she was committed to documenting and tracking all the Office's projects, and in this capacity she embraced the responsibility of organizing and protecting the enormous collection of photographs that the office produced over the years.[7]

Textile design[edit]

In 1947, the Eames Office created several textile designs, two of which—"Crosspatch" and "Sea Things"—were fabricated by Schiffer Prints, a company that also produced textiles by Salvador Dalí and Frank Lloyd Wright.[18] Two of her patterns received awards in a textile competition organized by MoMA.[citation needed] She worked on graphics for advertising, magazine covers, posters, timelines, game boards, invitations, and business cards. Original examples of Ray Eames textiles can be found in many art museum collections, and some of her designs have been reissued by the Maharam company as part of its “Textiles of the Twentieth Century” collection.[citation needed]

Plywood design[edit]

Between 1943 and 1978, the Eames Office produced numerous furniture designs that were commercially manufactured, many with plywood. The first of the plywood pieces was a leg splint, made for the US Navy.[19] The idea arose when one of the Eameses' medical friends described the problems caused by standard metal splints, which had been mass produced using simple designs molded in one plane, rather the a more ergonomic compound curved design that better fit the human body. Ray's early background in fashion design proved useful here. as the splint resembled a clothing pattern with a system of darts to contour the plywood to the shape of a leg. The Navy commissioned the Eameses to mass produce 150,000 splints. Their company became the Molded Plywood Products Division[20] of Evans Plywood. The splint profits enabled these emerging designers to expand their production and experiment with plywood furniture creations.

Leg Splint, designed for the Navy during WWII

The splint's use of bent plywood was a significant breakthrough for the couple's trademark design. They would later use similar bent plywood in their seminal Lounge Chair Wood (LCW) and the Eames Lounge Chair.[21]

Lounge Chair Wood (LCW)

Popular furniture[edit]

Ray and Charles worked together to create their most popular furniture:

Lounge Chair Wood (LCW)[edit]

Collaborating with Eero Saarinen, the Eameses applied their knowledge of plywood, gained from their Navy splints, to chair design. The resulting Lounge Chair Wood (LCW) won the Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Designs in Home Furnishings contest and, in 1946, went into production by Herman Miller.[22]

Time magazine called the LCW the century’s best design in its December 31, 1999 issue, writing that the designers had taken "technology [developed] to meet a wartime need (for splints) and used it to make [a chair that was] elegant, light, and comfortable. Much copied but never bettered.”[23]

Lounge Chair[edit]

Eames Lounge Chair

In 1956, the Eameses introduced their luxurious Lounge Chair,[24] which combined molded plywood with leather-upholstered cushioning. Charles likened the comfortable way the leather wears to a "well-used first-baseman’s mitt.”[25] It remains in production and has become something of a status symbol.[26]

Eames Fiberglass Shell Chair

Shell Chair[edit]

Originally created in 1948 for the Museum of Modern Art’s “International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design,” the Eames Fiberglass Shell Chair was first sold in 1950.[27][28] It was a wholly novel creation for its time, with the entire seat made of plastic, ultimately in range of distinctive colors, some of them vibrant.[29]

The first shell chairs were released in three colors: Parchment, Greige, and Elephant Grey Hide. Less than a year later three more colors were added, Seafoam Green, Lemon Yellow, and Red Orange. These six colors comprised the "first generation" of Eames shell chairs, made from 1950 to 1954.[30]


Charles and Ray also created these films for the Eames Office:

The Eames Office's Legacy[edit]

While the Eames Office is most widely known for its furniture, the design philosophy of Ray and Charles was far more holistic, and not limited to furnishings. Inventively, the scope of the work included film making, information design, and design theory.[34] The New York Times wrote in 2015 that “by the mid-1950s, the Eameses had become as indispensable to the American computer company IBM as they were to Herman Miller,” which has continued to produce their furniture.[34] Ray and Charles believed that design was “a way of life,” and they applied that belief to everything they did.[34]

Furthermore, the Eameses' deep appreciation for craftsmanship was fueled by research trips to India, Japan, and Mexico.[35][34]

Dedicated to designing high-quality objects, Ray and Charles were “fellow workaholics.”[36] For the armrests of Eames Lounge Chair alone, they experimented with13 different versions before arriving at the final design.[37]

Later years[edit]

IBM and The 1964 World's Fair

With their interest in communicating ideas visually, the Eameses also turned their attention to exhibition design, beginning in 1950, for the Chicago Merchandise Mart and the Museum of Modern Art, and continuing into the mid-1970s, for IBM.[38]

As ongoing consultants to IBM, Charles and Ray developed a special relationship with the company that involved not only the creation of films, presentations, and educational products, but also Charles and Ray's insights for the future of the company. [39]

During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Eameses designed a series of exhibitions for IBM, centered on scientific and mathematical themes, as well as famous individuals within those fields. If Ray was less passionate about computers than her husband, she shared his belief in their importance and used her talents to make them understandable and acceptable to ordinary people. [40] In 1961, the IBM Corporation commissioned the Eameses to create Mathematica: A World of Numbers and Beyond, presenting mathematical concepts in a pleasurable way.

Mathematica's success gave the Eameses confidence to continue using exhibitions to explore complex themes, and the prestige it brought IBM led that corporation to commission a pavilion and an exhibition for the New York World's Fair of 1964. For this project, Charles and Ray immediately entered into discussions on this project with Eero Saarinen. The result was a 1.25-acre site divided into several distinct exhibition areas, each covered with an enormous translucent plastic canopy held up by steel "trees." Some designers and critics, considered it somewhat excessive and vulgar and felt that the Eameses had gone too far in their popularizing science, technology, and "the modern." The general public, however, appeared to have loved it. [41]

Other Work

The Eames Office's productivity slowed after Charles died, in August 1978. Ray worked on several unfinished projects (e.g. a German version of the Mathematica exhibition), continued consulting to IBM, published books, gave lectures, accepted awards, and administered the Eames archive and estate.[17] She organized and donated approximately 1.5 million 2-dimensional objects to the Library of Congress for archival safekeeping. Featuring all Eames Office projects from 1941 until the mid-80s, she authored a book— although much of it was altered before publication (just after her death). In the years before her she died, in 1988, Ray hosted visiting groups of about 50 to 60 students, and was planning to host 100 members of the American Institute of Architects, to view the house and picnic in the meadow.[42]


Ray died in Cedars Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles, California, on August 21, 1988, 10 years to the day after Charles. They are buried beside each other in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. The Office closed completely after her death.[3]


To honor what would have been Ray's 100th birthday, Vitra renamed a street at its Basel Campus "Ray-Eames-Strasse 1."[43]

On February 23, 2013, a 3,300-square-foot exhibition entitled “Ray Eames: A Century of Modern Design,” Archived 2022-09-22 at the Wayback Machine opened in the Sacramento, California Museum.[44] The show ran for one year and featured work she produced before meeting Charles, in 1941, in addition to the work of The Eames Office.

Ray, along with her Charles, had also produced the India Report, creating a basis for the government of India's National Institute of Design, in Ahmedabad.


Ray' s contributions to the work of the Eames Office were severely overlooked during her lifetime,[33] with Ray often portrayed as an insignificant part of the Office. When the Eameses appeared on The Today Show in 1956, for example, the new lounge chair was presented simply as “designed by Charles Eames.” [45] The show's host, Arlene Francis, added that “when there is a very successful man, there is an interesting and able woman behind him.”[45] Francis proceeded to introduce Ray condescendingly, with the line, “This is Mrs. Eames, and she’s going to tell us how she helps Charles.”[45] In general, the media typically attributed the work solely to Charles, sometimes footnoting Ray.[24][46]

In the recent decades, however, Ray's work has received more attention. In 1990, the journal Furniture History published a thorough interview between design historian Pat Kirkham and Ray.[47] As Kirkham put it in the introduction to the interview transcript, "the interchange of ideas between these two enormously talented individuals is particularly difficult to chart because their personal and design relationship was so close."[47] Although Charles did not correct Arlene Francis, he often stated that Ray's role was essential to the work the two did together.[48]

Ray has also received posthumous recognition for her personal fashion sense, which the New York Times described as "too maidenly to be echt-bohemian, too saucy to be quaint."[49]


100th Anniversary Gold Medal (craftsmanship and excellence in furniture design and execution): American Institute of Architects (AIA), with Charles Eames, 1957[50]

Emmy Award (Graphics), "The Fabulous Fifties", with Charles Eames, 1960[51]

Kaufmann International Design Award, with Charles Eames, 1961[52]

Women of the Year 1977: California Museum of Science & Industry Muses, Los Angeles, 1977[50]

25 Year Award: American Institute of Architects (AIA), with Charles Eames, 1978[53]

Gold Medal: Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), with Charles Eames, London, 1979[54]

Gold Medal: American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA), with Charles Eames, 1977[55]

U.S. Postal Service Stamps, Charles and Ray Eames, 2008[56]


Anything I can do, Ray can do better.[57]

— Charles Eames

I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette.[57]

— Ray Eames

See Also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Work of Charles and Ray Eames: A Legacy of Invention". Library of Congress. 20 May 1999. Archived from the original on 29 March 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Pioneering Women of American Architecture". Pioneering Women of American Architecture. Retrieved 2019-01-24.
  3. ^ a b Slessor, Catherine (January 1, 2015). "Charles Eames (1907–1978) and Ray Eames (1912–1988)". Architectural Review. Retrieved 2019-01-30.
  4. ^ "Designer Ray Eames in the spotlight". The Mercury News. 2013-07-23. Retrieved 2019-01-26.
  5. ^ Kirkham, Pat (1995). Charles and Ray Eames : designers of the twentieth century. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. p. 31. ISBN 9780262111997.
  6. ^ Kirkham, Pat (1998). Charles and Ray Eames: Designers of the Twentieth Century (4th ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press paperback edition. p. 31. ISBN 978-0262611398.
  7. ^ a b Neuhart, John (1989). Eames design - The work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames. New York: Harry N. Abrams. pp. 10, 21. ISBN 0-8109-0879-4.
  8. ^ Kirkham, Pat; Eames, Charles Ormand; Eames, Ray Kaiser (2001). Charles and Ray Eames: designers of the twentieth century (4. print ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-61139-8.
  9. ^ "Ray Kaiser Eames (December 15, 1912 - August 21, 1988)". Pioneering Woman of American Architecture.
  10. ^ Knott, Robert and J. Donald Nichols (1998). American Abstract Art of the 1930's and 1940's: the J. Donald Nichols Collection. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p. 13. ISBN 0810963752.
  11. ^ Jewell, Edward Alden (April 6, 1937). "Abstract Artists Open Show Today: They Arrange 'Demonstration of Revolt Against Literary Subject-Paintings'". The New York Times. p. 21. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
  12. ^ "Ray Kaiser Eames (December 15, 1912 - August 21, 1988)". Pioneering Woman of American Architecture.
  13. ^ "Ray Kaiser Eames (December 15, 1912 - August 21, 1988)". Pioneering Woman of American Architecture.
  14. ^ Women in Graphic Design 1890-1912. JOVIS. 2012. p. 437. ISBN 978-3-86859-153-8.
  15. ^ a b Schuessler, Jennifer (May 15, 2020). "Ray Eames, Out of Her Husband's Shadow". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Demetrios, Eames (2001). An Eames Primer. New York: Universe Publishing. p. 132. ISBN 9780789306296.
  17. ^ a b Women in Graphic Design. Jovis, Berlin. 2012. p. 437. ISBN 9783868591538.
  18. ^ "Textiles | Eames Office". Archived from the original on 19 March 2015. Retrieved 10 April 2015. Eames textiles (accessed April 1, 2015)
  19. ^ ""Charles and Ray Eames Design for the Wounded Body"". Boom: A Journal of California. 2: 46–48. 2012.
  20. ^ Kirkham, Pat (1995). Charles and Ray Eames: Designers of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 213–214. ISBN 0262611392.
  21. ^ Meier, Allison (October 17, 2016). "How a Leg Splint Shaped the Iconic Eames Chair". Hyperallergic.
  22. ^ Moreau, Dan (December 13, 2006). "Charles, Ray Eames Sat Up And Took Notice; Make Life Comfortable: The husband-wife team came through on designs to give furniture widespread appeal". Investor's Business Daily. 13: A03 – via Gale General OneFile.
  23. ^ "The Best of The Century". TIME. December 31, 1999.
  24. ^ a b Pepis, Betty (March 14, 1956). "Eames Has A New Chair In 3 Sections; A Chair in Three Parts". The New York Times.
  25. ^ "Art: Designing Man". TIME. January 12, 1959.
  26. ^ "Anatomy of a Classic: The Eames Lounge Chair". Valet Magazine. June 20, 2011.
  27. ^ Buur Stine, Liv (August 31, 2017). "The Story of an Icon: Making the Eames Shell Chair". Vitra.
  28. ^ "Entry Panel for MoMA International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design (7990b)". The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
  29. ^ Corrigan, Faith (May 24, 1956). "The Meaning Of 'Modern' In Furniture; Nelson and Eames". The New York Times.
  30. ^ "Shell Arm Chair Generations". EAMES.COM.
  31. ^ a b c d e Kirkham, Pat (1998). "Humanizing Modernism: The Crafts, 'Functioning Decoration' and the Eameses". Journal of Design History. 11 (1): 15–29. doi:10.1093/jdh/11.1.15. JSTOR 1316161 – via JSTOR.
  32. ^ Bishop, Ryan (October 13, 2020). "The Eames Office, the Cold War and the Avant-Garde: Making the Lab of Tomorrow". Theory, Culture, and Society. 37 (7–8): 71–94. doi:10.1177/0263276420958041. S2CID 225130844 – via SAGE Journals.
  33. ^ a b Stewart, Doug (May 1999). "EAMES the best seat in the house". Smithsonian. 30: 78 – via Gale Academic OneFile.
  34. ^ a b c d Rawsthorn, Alice (October 22, 2015). "The Eameses, a Team for Whom 'Design Was a Way of Life'". The New York Times.
  35. ^ Mathur, Saloni (Spring 2011). "Charles and Ray Eames in India". Art Journal. 70 (1): 34–53. doi:10.1080/00043249.2011.10791062. JSTOR 41430589. S2CID 191378606 – via JSTOR.
  36. ^ Filler, Martin (November 22, 2011). "Prisoners of the Fun Factory". The New York Review.
  37. ^ Moreau, Dan (December 13, 2006). "Charles, Ray Eames Sat Up And Took Notice; Make Life Comfortable: The Husband-Wife Team Came Through on Designs to Give Furniture Widespread Appeal". Investor's Business Daily – via GALE.
  38. ^ Kirkham, Pat; Eames, Charles Ormand; Eames, Ray Kaiser (2001). Charles and Ray Eames: designers of the twentieth century (4. print ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-61139-8.
  39. ^ Demetrios, Eames (2007–2010). An Eames Primer. New York, NY: Universe Publishing. pp. 21–23. ISBN 978-0-7893-0629-6.
  40. ^ Kirkham, Pat; Eames, Charles Ormand; Eames, Ray Kaiser (2001). Charles and Ray Eames: designers of the twentieth century (4. print ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-61139-8.
  41. ^ Kirkham, Pat; Eames, Charles Ormand; Eames, Ray Kaiser (2001). Charles and Ray Eames: designers of the twentieth century (4. print ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-61139-8.
  42. ^ "Pioneering Women of American Architecture". Pioneering Women of American Architecture. Retrieved 2019-01-30.
  43. ^ "Vitra names a street after Ray Eames". DisegnoDaily. Retrieved 2019-01-26.
  44. ^ Designer Ray Eames in the Spotlight, Mercury News, 2013{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  45. ^ a b c "Eames Lounge Chair debut in 1956 on NBC [1/2]". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12.
  46. ^ Reif, Rita (April 24, 1973). "Charles Eames—Casual Giant of Design". The New York Times.
  47. ^ a b Kirkham, Pat (1990). "Introducing Ray Eames (1912-1988)". Furniture History. 26: 132–141. JSTOR 23407149 – via JSTOR.
  48. ^ Kirkham, Pat (1995). "The Personal, the Professional and the Partner(ship): The Husband/wife Collaboration of Charles and Ray Eames". Feminist Cultural Theory: Process and Production: 207–226.
  49. ^ La Ferla, Ruth (December 12, 2011). "Ray Eames: How She Dressed". The New York Times.
  50. ^ a b "Charles Eames and Ray Eames Papers: A Finding Aid to the Collection in the Library of Congress" (PDF). Library of Congress.
  51. ^ "Ray Eames". Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation.
  52. ^ "Kaufmann Industrial Design Award Records: An Inventory of the Collection at Syracuse University". Syracuse University Libraries.
  53. ^ "Twenty-five Year Award". Design Intelligence.[permanent dead link]
  54. ^ Harrouk, Christele (May 20, 2020). "RIBA Royal Gold Medal Acceptance Speech by Ray Eames Released for the First Time". ArchDaily.
  55. ^ Gaddy, James (August 14, 2017). "Charles and Ray Eames". American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA).
  56. ^ "Stamp Announcement 08-25: Charles and Ray Eames". United States Postal Service. May 22, 2008.
  57. ^ a b Eames. Ammo Books, LLC. 2012. ISBN 9781623260316.

External links[edit]