The Legacy of Charles and Ray Eames

We spoke to Eames Demetrios, the influential American design duo’s grandson, during his recent visit to Hong Kong where he launched a range of iconic Eames pieces in collaboration with Herman Miller and local design boutique COLOURLIVING


Design Anthology: How would you define the Eames’s approach to design?

Eames Demetrios: Charles and Ray believed in something called the guest-host relationship. They believed the role of the designer was that of a good host anticipating the needs of their guest. They didn’t believe in having a style for its own sake. They tried to solve each problem the best way they could, and trusted that their voices would be there no matter what. When we look at their designs, there’s a continuity of attitude and thinking even though visually they’re sometimes quite different.

They had a very broad practice and vision of design even before they became famous. That splint [an emergency transport splint for soldiers in World War II] was designed when they were living in an apartment and storing their design equipment in the bathtub. It was a very influential project for them because it was their first mass-produced object – they made 150,000 in the war effort.

When did you decide you wanted to work on preserving their legacy?

There were two different moments. The first moment was in college, when my professor showed us a picture of the Eames house and I said, ‘Wait a second! That was my grandparents’ house!’ I’d always known they did amazing things, but I didn’t realise that other people knew it too. And then the moment I decided to help came a few years later, when my grandmother died, and I made a film about closing their workshop.

How do Eames pieces today stack up to their very first pieces?

People often bring a fine art idea of authenticity to design; if you have your Jackson Pollock painting, there’s only one of that painting. But Charles and Ray weren’t just trying to make a chair that would go into a museum. They designed a system that would give you the same experience again and again. The chair that Herman Miller makes tomorrow is the same one that Eames originally designed; it’s just as authentic. The very first might be collectors-level, but Charles and Ray saw the mistakes they wanted to fix. From Charles and Ray’s standpoint, there’s no question that [today’s] is a better object.

As told to / Leanne Mirandilla
Images / Courtesy of COLOURLIVING