Must-Know Modern Homes: Eames House

Charles and Ray Eames are just two of their most influential designers of the 20th century, having made a number of iconic pieces of furniture that many contemporary houses cannot function without. The husband and wife team did not limit themselves to furniture, though. They produced movies (the most famous is Powers of Ten), made toys and games (House of Cards), and even designed multimedia environments (IBM Pavilion at the 1964–’65 world’s fair). Of interest here is your house and studio that have been an extension and impetus for much of their successful output.

If very little is discussed about the structure of the Eameses aside from their very own home, it is because they made very little architecture besides their very own residence. Frustrated with the work of design and the cancellation of a couple projects, they abandoned structure in favor of furniture soon after their home was completed. Nevertheless their home and studio are as influential in architecture since their seats are in the world of furniture design. The structures simultaneously embody the universal and the personal, pointing the way to how the steel and glass of contemporary architecture could be vibrant, creative and, most important, dwelt in.

Eames House in a Glance
Year constructed: 1949
Charles and Ray Eames
Location: Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles
Seeing info: Reserved self-guided exterior tours only
Size: 1,500 square feet (home) and 1,000 square feet (studio)

More: 10 Must-Know Modern Homes

The complete title of the job is Eames House, Case Study House No. 8. Charles began designing the home in 1945 with Eero Saarinen, when they were commissioned by John Entenza, the editor of Arts & Architecture magazine. The Case Study House program conducted until 1966 and saw the realization of 23 modern houses that embraced industrialization.

Eames and Saarinen’s first design positioned the home and studio volumes in an L-shaped plan atop a mountain on a 3-acre site in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, overlooking the Pacific. The home was dramatically cantilevered from the mountain, away in the neighboring Case Study House No. 9 (planned in precisely the same period and made by Eames and Saarinen), but by 1947 the Eameses (no longer functioning together with Saarinen) simplified the plan and tucked the house to the hillside along a long retaining wall.

The home is hidden among the trees within this aerial. Many of them were implanted in a new mound constructed from the home’s excavation, helping to block the views between No. 8 and No. 9.

Basically what Charles and Ray did using the next plan was to simplify it while still using the same standard steel construction that was arranged prior to the redesign. This opinion of the west facade indicates the 12-inch-deep joists that support the roof and therefore are exposed inside. The home is organized around 71/2-foot-wide bays that are 17 feet high and 20 feet deep; one bay is out around the west, but the rest are enclosed.

Both house and studio are aligned along a retaining wall around the north (left in this photograph), together with the studio on the east, the home on the west and a courtyard in between. The far east and west ends characteristic double-height spaces. Here we’re looking into the living room’s two-story space on the west.

This view from atop the retaining wall looking west reveals the east side of the home facing the courtyard and studio. Notice how it is more powerful than the west facade. This is because the Eameses placed the service areas across the retaining wall around the north but also across the courtyard, in effect freeing up the ends for the double-height spaces. (A floor plan is seen at the conclusion of this ideabook.)

The courtyard divides the home and studio (the studio served as a home office until 1958, when the office was transferred to Venice, California), but in addition, it provides some relief to what would have been a bunch of service spaces if this were just one long building. The courtyard was designed to be covered but was built as an open space, enclosed on three sides.

Eames saw the home as a progressive means of extending wartime industrial production to the problem of the housing shortage. In this way the job was regarded as a prototype for future houses scattered throughout the country, but it’s clear upon coming to the home that it is highly idiosyncratic. Reyner Banham humorously described Charles as having a “hot-rodder mindset into the elements of building,” customizing standard components in unexpected manners.

First glances can result in comparisons with Piet Mondrian’s paintings, however James Steele, in a book-length analysis of the home, talks about your home as a personal expression of a specific style. In their short film on the home from 1955, the Eameses present the building via snapshots of flowers, toys, trees, architectural details — just about everything but the wide-angle views of architecture we’re used to today. The focus on details and moments in the movie finds a parallel in the moments of colour experienced about the facade and within the home.

This last opinion of the Eames House reveals how the duo actually dwelt in the home and used it as a casing that comprised and worked with their possessions and furniture. The home was not a container to be kept minimally furnished. It was a total environment, where the smallest artifact was as critical as the largest parts of architecture. It arouses the Eames style at all scales.

The exterior of the Eames House could be visited with reservations. Interior tours are available for members of the Eames Foundation.

Banham, Reyner. Age of the Masters: A Personal View of Modern Architecture. Harper & Row. Banham, Reyner. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. The Penguin Press, 1971. The Eames FoundationFrampton, Kenneth and Larkin, David. American Masterworks: The Twentieth Century House. Rizzoli, 1995. House After Five Years of Living. A short film by Charles and Ray Eames, 1955.
Steele, James. Eames House: Charles and Ray Eames. Phaidon, 1994. More:
Eames on Film: The Architect and the Painter
10 Must-Know Modern Homes

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