Charles Eames Biography

Charles Ormond Eames Jr., along with his wife and collaborator Ray Eames, is a highly influential figure in the history of post-war American design. Considered one of the most important American designers of the twentieth century, Eames gained international fame through his architecture, exhibition designs, films, and multi-media presentations. His work is not only admired by architects and designers, but also by post-modernists. Eames’s products appealed to those seeking contemporary styles and imagery, offering an alternative to the cold and impersonal nature of much modernist design. With a steadfast belief in the crucial role of technology, Eames played a pivotal role in making modernism accessible to non-elite Americans in the post-war era. His workshop was a dynamic fusion of aesthetic, technical, and intellectual concerns, earning it the reputation of a “Renaissance workshop” and a “designer’s heaven.”

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 71
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Catherine Woermann, Ray Kaiser; children: Lucia Jenkins
  • Born Country: United States
  • Died on: August 21, 1978
  • Place of death: Saint Louis
  • U.S. State: Missouri
  • More Facts
  • Education: Yeatman high school, Cranbrook Academy of Art
  • Awards: 1977 – AIA Twenty-five Year Award, 1979 Royal Gold Medal, 1985 – The Most Influential Designer of the 20th Century IDSA
  • Quotes By Charles Eames
  • American Men

Childhood & Early Life

Charles Eames was born to Charles Sr., a railway security officer, and his wife Adele. He was the younger of his parents’ two children. He attended Yeatman high school and developed an interest in architecture. He went on to work at the Laclede steel company where he learned about engineering, drawing, and architecture. He enrolled in Washington University at St. Louis on an architecture scholarship but left after two years. It is said that he was thrown out for his advocacy of Frank Lloyd Wright and his interest in modern architects. His dismissal is also attributed to the fact that he worked as an architect at Trueblood and Graf. As he could not devote enough time to both his studies and work, he decided to leave.


In 1930, Charles Eames established his own architectural firm in St. Louis with partner Charles Gray and later Walter Pauley. He received a fellowship to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he later became the head of the design department. It was there that he met Eero Sarinen and Ray Kaiser, who assisted him in his designing and later became his wife and business partner. In 1941, he moved to California with his wife and continued his designing work by molding plywood. During World War II, they were commissioned by the Navy to produce molded plywood splints, stretchers, and experimental glider shells. In 1946, they started their own furniture label known as ‘Eameses’ molded plywood furniture. They expanded their establishment and partnership by opening a branch in Europe as well, where a company called ‘Vitra International’ was given the manufacturing rights. Charles Eames included a number of remarkable designers in his office, which was operational for more than four decades. Many innovative designs emerged, including the molded-plywood DCW and DCM chairs, the Eames Lounge Chair, the Aluminum Group furniture, the Eames Chaise, and various toys. In 1970-71, he gave a series of lectures at Harvard University, known as the Charles Eliot Norton lectures, where he introduced his ‘banana leaf parable’ concept.

Major Works

In 1949, Charles and Ray Eames designed and built their own home in Pacific Palisades, California as part of the ‘case study’ program sponsored by the ‘Arts and Architecture’ magazine. Called the Eames house, it was hand constructed using pre-fabricated steel parts meant for industrial construction and is considered the most important post-war residence built anywhere in the world. In 1950, they produced a short film called ‘Traveling Boy’ to document their interests in furniture production. They further released ‘Powers of 10’ in 1977, which visually demonstrates orders of magnitude. In 1961, Charles Eames came out with his first exhibition, ‘Mathematica: A world of numbers…and beyond’, which was sponsored by IBM. This exhibition was a landmark one in the field of science popularization exhibitions. He also had other exhibitions such as ‘A computer perspective: Background to the computer age’ and ‘The world of Franklin and Jefferson’.

Awards & Achievements

Charles Eames won an Emmy Award in 1960 for his visually inventive documentary film, ‘The Fabulous Fifties’. He earned a Kaufmann Industrial Design Award in 1961 for his accomplishments in design development. In 1977, he received the American Institute of Architects Award for his outstanding achievement in the support of the profession of architecture. In 1979, he was awarded the Queen’s gold medal for architecture by the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 1985, he was named the most influential designer of the 20th century by the Industrial Designer’s Society of America. He also has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame for his contribution to the culture of the United States through architecture.

Personal Life and Legacy

In 1929, Charles Eames married Catherine Woermann, whom he had met at Washington University. They had a daughter named Lucia Jenkins a year later. The couple divorced in 1941. In the same year, he married Ray Kaiser, whom he had met at Cranbrook Academy of Art. After Charles’s death, Ray completed their unfinished projects and worked on a book describing their work. She also transferred many of their objects to the Library of Congress. Charles Eames’s daughter, Lucia Eames, established the Eames Foundation to preserve and protect the Eames house and celebrate the works of her parents. In 2006, the Eames house was named a National Historic Landmark and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2008, the United States Postal Service honored Charles and Ray Eames by issuing a stamp collection commemorating their work. In 2009, House Industries created the Eames century modern typeface, which honored the Eames aesthetics.

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