There is a good exhibition on at the Barbican at the moment (but not for much longer!). It features the life and works of Ray Eames and her husband Charles. Their distinctive style was established early on – he the all-American guy with broad shoulders, chiseled jaw and natty bow tie; she with high-necked blouses, voluminous gym slip and an up-do – sometimes with a straight fringe. They designed their own home, the IBM Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1964-5, and of course chairs.
There are lots of chairs at the exhibition (which did not permit photography), but you know these chairs don’t you? You can read a bit more about the Eames here and you can buy a modern version of their chairs too, if you want.
It certainly was fascinating to see the development of the chair being made from bent, shaped plywood, to fibreglass, to more ornate luxury versions. i liked the way they stuck with the idea of a cheap, stackable chair; comfortable and mass-produced, but also a thing of beauty and elegance. I like that they kept on working on the chair, trying new ways of making it – sometimes with three legs, sometimes with a rocker, sometimes padded in leather – always with a view to producing a modern classic that anyone could have in their home. They made a few chairs for children. Plus this multipurpose toy – known simply as “Toy”. It consists of four squares, four triangles and some connecting rods. The child or adolescent could make different items from the shapes, and use their imaginations to play at theatres, shops or castles. Although the panels were quite flimsy I liked Toy and felt it provided inspiration for dress designers. Or quliters.
Ray was really an illustrator and graphic designer. She designed a few outfits along the way, including the black, full-skirted dresses with a square neck that she loved. Artists do seem to have a distinctive way of dressing, don’t they? The pattern on the right was a textile design typical of the period, by Ray. The design museum in London also has more information and examples of their work.
These days plastic chairs and standardised designs are ubiquitous; split screens, computers and multi-sensory experiences seem commonplace and obvious. We who were brought up on Habitat and later Ikea take this cheap, packable furniture for granted. At the time, however, this highly creative pair were at the cutting edge. The span of their interest and achievement is impressive. Even if her dress designs do look a bit like Stephanie’s SWAP plans!