The Eames House – A modernist beauty of residential housing

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Petra Bjelica
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The Eames house

Eames house is one of the historic landmarks of mid-20th century modern architecture. It represents both an ingeniously designed modernistic house made of low cost materials and a comfortable, functional space for a live-work lifestyle that answers all its inhabitant needs, and more. A magical, bright, and joyfully place to spend time in.

Eames House, Author: user “Ilpo’s Sojourn”, CC-BY-2.0

Charles and Ray Eames, who designed and constructed the house for themselves to live in, were a very inspiring and creative married couple, collectors and globetrotters. Charles was a design polyglot who was an expert in architecture, photography, industrial engineering and graphic arts, while Ray studied painting with some of the leading Abstract Expressionists of the time. They were a perfect symbiotic pair to project and decorate the house that pushed many boundaries and set new standards for modern day residential housing.

Eames House, front view, Author: Gunnar Klack, CC-BY-SA-4.0

Eames House was planned as a part of a Case Study program started by Arts and Architecture magazine to promote the use of mass produced housing made of high quality, low cost and prefabricated materials. Known as Case Study N.8, this house was one of the few on the long list of designed projects actually used for living in, but ironically it wasn’t used in mass production at all. On the contrary, it became a unique family home where the couple lived until Ray’s death in 1988.

Courtyard, Author: ercwttmn, CC-BY-2.0

It was built in 1949 on a 4 acre lot, sited on top of a cliff that overlooks the beautiful Santa Monica beach on the Pacific Palisades, California. The construction took only a day and a half using prefabricated steel and glass, and the overall cost was about $10 per square foot in today’s prices. They nestled the construction on a sloping meadow and it was backed by a retaining wall 8 feet tall and 220 feet in length. The project consisted of two separate structures that had a central courtyard between them and garden beds on both sides. There were two mirroring boxes of glass constructed in a grid, with different-sized parts framed with thin black steel. The façade included panels in different materials and colors, including glass that was wired, clear or translucent; natural and painted gray panels; blue, black, orange, red or white stucco; silver or painted aluminum; and some specially-treated opaque panels. The bigger box was used as a residential space and the smaller one as a working studio.

The structure of the house, Author: Canela.colores, CC-BY-SA-3.0

The specific mirroring was a result of consciously planned and aesthetically organized placement of panels and windows as a reference to the Mondrian and De Stijl movement, creating a play of shadows and light. The interior was also doubled – the residential part consisted of a double height ceiling living room, small bedrooms, small kitchen and a dining room, and the other box had a studio the same as the living room, a kitchen and utility room and a storage section. The entrance was modest and indistinguishable from many other panels. It was designed in the manner of Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of a confined entry that leads to an open voluminous space.

The entrance, Author: Dystopos, CC-BY-1.0

The Eames’ highly regarded the natural environment of their house and it was an essential part of their lifestyle. They loved the landscape so much that they eventually changed their previous idea and adapted to the site in an attempt to unite their creation with nature. The house was intended to serve as a re-orientor in nature from the very beginning and as a place of relaxation. They fell in love with the eucalyptus trees surrounding the house, for example, and designed the windows and panels in accordance with the shadows and the view they provided. Gardens were also very important to them, and they cared about having them clean and taken care of. They paid attention to every detail, always. But as well, they followed some Bauhaus principles such as constructing the form to follow the function. Ray Eames once stressed that she aimed for what works well over to what looks good because it lasts. And their solutions sure did.

The approach to the house, Author: Gunnar Klack, CC-BY-SA-4.0

The couple was famous for their love of having guests and hosting them, so it was natural for them to make the space where they could interact with people and for entertaining as the most important part of their home, besides the studio space for working. The guiding idea of their design was to properly anticipate both their needs as tenants and the needs of their guests. Their life in work and work in life was perfectly manageable in that flexible and liberating space, with rooms that were floating into each other with movable interior walls.

Eames House, Author: user “Ilpo’s Sojourn”, CC-BY-2.0

One cannot overlook the influence of Japanese minimalism in the interior of the house. But, on the other hand, that minimalism met a new trend they introduced to interior design – the idea of decorating the space with anything and everything. All over the place were their collection of many different objects, shells, rocks, fabrics, folk art, books, straws, sculptures and a lot of plants. One of the interesting things were the paintings that were hung parallel to the floor and faced down from the high ceiling. Their living room was a magical place that enjoyed the daily cycle of the sun every day in the beautiful continuation of space and the play of light.

The entrance to the studio part, user “Ilpo’s Sojourn”, CC-BY-2.0

Today their studio is used for the Eames Foundation and their unique home is conserved as it was at the time of their death. Unchanged, it is available and open for any interested visitor who would like to experience one of the most treasured residential modernist houses which, by a survey of the Los Angeles Times, is one of the all-time top 10 houses in Los Angeles.