June 18, 2007

Mid-Century Modern Marvel

Yesterday I was treated to an exclusive tour of the birthplace of mid-century modern design. Tucked away on a private lane in Pacific Palisades, California, at the edge of a meadow and steps away from a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, sits a home that pioneered both loft-style home design and prefabricated home construction. It is known as Case Study House Number 8, or, alternatively, the Eames House.

The house was one of 25 commissioned as part of an exercise by Art and Architecture Magazine in 1945. The idea was to have prominent architects and designers of the day design and construct the ideal postwar American home. After an original design collaboration with their buddy Eero Saarinen (of Dulles Airport fame), husband and wife Charles and Ray Eames came up with this Bauhaus beauty. They built their home and adjoining studio from industrial materials (steel, glass, concrete, plywood) purchased from construction and fabricators' catalogs (and, in the case of the spiral staircase, from a shipbuilder's catalog). The Eames' proved how livable their house was by living and working in it themselves for the rest of their lives, and designing their iconic Eames Lounge Chair and other famous pieces in the on-site studio.

But a funny thing happened along the Bauhaus way. Young GI's returning from World War II and their wives rejected these radical, Teutonic-flavored designs in favor of frilly-detailed Levittown-style ranch homes. So, the Case Study Houses became one-off academic exercises.

Today, many of the Case Study Houses, especially House No. 8, are prized museum pieces that have greatly influenced current home design. The Eames House is highly unusual in that the children and grandchildren of Charles and Ray Eames administer the Eames Foundation to keep the house, the artifacts, and the design principles of Charles and Ray Eames alive. The Eames House, the interior of which is not open to the public, looks exactly as it did when Eames and Charles lived there, down to the books, sofa pillows, artwork and collectibles scattered about.

Yesterday, Ray and Charles' daughter Lucia, and her children (including family namesake Eames Demetrios, who can be seen in the top photo), most of whom are in their 40s and 50s, held a special event to honor the 100th anniversary of Charles' birth. They gave tours of the house, studio and grounds, and spoke about the work and design philosophy of Ray and Charles, and about meals, playtime and everyday life in this unique home. I was one of the lucky few to be able to attend this event, and will never forget it.
While you cannot purchase the Eames House, many of the Eames' designs, including their Lounge Chair, are still made in the U.S. by Herman Miller Inc. and, true to the Eames' democratic principles, are available for your own home.


At 8:26 AM, Blogger Barbara said...

I love the chance to see houses that are not the norm. The Kreeger Museum in DC was built as a living space dedicated to showcasing art and music, which it does quite well now that the original inhabitants are deceased. The house where my piano group met last weekend featured open wooden beams close to two centuries old and art even older.

I think it's great the children have chosen to keep this Bauhaus alive and well and occasionally show it to people like you.


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