We continue our look at the icons of design who inspire the office design team at Paramount to do what they do best. Helen, our Design Director, looked at legendary architect Zaha Hadid, so now it’s the turn of Design Manager, Jon Foster, to tell us whose work he particularly admires.
Jon’s design icons – Charles and Ray Eames
As you’d expect, there are a number of designers, artists and architects who influence and inspire us all. So picking one was no mean feat.
Some of my favourite architects include Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas. I am also a fan of the work of Future Systems. I was lucky enough to see their Malator House last year, which sits snugly in the hills of the Pembrokeshire Coastline.
However, the design icons I have decided to look at produce things on a slightly smaller scale, although equally as important. I’m focusing on the work of Charles and Ray Eames and their ‘back catalogue’ of products.
Some say that the secret to a good marriage is to keep things fresh and “experimental”. While I can’t speak for their personal life, the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames certainly built their reputation as influential 20th-century designers on the concept of experimentation and creativity. Not content with becoming pioneers in furniture, architectural and product design, they also worked in the mediums of film and photography.
In 1940, Charles and Eero Saarinen were working at Cranbrook Academy on designs for the Museum of Modern Art’s Organic Furniture Competition. I’d like to think that Charles and Ray’s eyes met over the complex curves of one of their moulded plywood chairs. Something obviously clicked, because the designs won the two first prizes at the competition.
Standing the test of time
This was just the start of a very successful relationship, founded on some basic but effective principles. They approached every project in the same way, asking themselves:
- Does it interest and intrigue us?
- Can we make it better?
- Will we have “serious fun” doing it?
I particularly like the fact that they really seemed to enjoy what they were doing. They also managed to combine elements of art, science, design, style and functionality into everything they did. In Charles’ own words, “The details are not details. They make the product.”
Their work dating back to the early 1940s stands the test of time extremely well. Their chairs are still favoured by architects and designers today. With the current cross-over of domestic and commercial design, many of their classics are being used as both modern office furniture and in people’s homes. Here are a few of my favourites;
The Lounge Chair & Ottoman
Charles and Ray’s original purpose for their chair and accompanying ottoman was to create a symbol of comfort and relaxation. In their words, “a special refuge from the strains of modern living”, a concept that is still current in today’s workplace with many manufacturers working to the same idea. Still produced today by Herman Miller and Vitra, its form and use of materials have influenced more recent products, like the Kruze chair by Boss Design.
Kruze chair by Boss Design
In 1946, the Eames Plywood Chair was introduced at the Museum of Modern Art’s “New Furniture Designed by Charles Eames” show. Interestingly, Charles had to clarify on numerous occasions that, despite the title of the exhibition, all Eames designs were made by Charles and Ray in equal collaboration. Back then, such a partnership was considered inconceivable by most people from their generation.
While the title of the show may have been misleading and not very creative, the way that they demonstrated the chairs’ extreme durability was certainly novel. A tumbling drum flipped them around like an over-sized tumble dryer!
This is another example of classic furniture which sits perfectly in today’s commercial environment. With its exposed plywood edging and complex form the DCW has been a major influence on current seating.
Moulded Wood Chair
With its instantly recognisable single-shell form, the Eames Moulded Wood Side Chair epitomises elegance and warmth. Its complex curves are the result of a process that gives the wood veneer extra flexibility, allowing it to be moulded into shape. Just as comfortable in an office as it would be in a dining room, variations of this iconic design can now be found everywhere from John Lewis to Ikea and certainly wouldn’t look out of place in an office fit out project.
The Aluminium Group
Still a popular choice with the architectural community, Charles and Ray had used aluminium in some of their early chair and table bases. They’d also experimented with stamping chair shells out of aluminium sheets for a furniture competition.
Originally introduced in 1958, the Eames Aluminum Group was a major departure from their concept of the chair as a solid shell. For the first time, they used the material for the side arms of the chairs. As with the majority of their designs, its influences can be seen in many current pieces.