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Design History: Ray Eames

by Lauren Chorpening Day


My first lecture in college was a course on the history of design. In every class we would learn about incredible eras and designers in architecture, industrial design and art. It was fascinating. My favorite section was on the worldwide mid-century modern movement and specifically, Ray and Charles Eames. Ray’s influence on current interior design trends is unmistakeable. She and her husband have allowed us to see furniture as not only functional, but beautiful.

(Image above: The Eames Office)

Ray Kaiser was born in Sacramento, CA in 1912. Growing up, she was encouraged to find beauty in her observations. When her father died, Ray and her mother moved to New York and Ray attended a junior college, studying Expressionist painting under Hans Hofmann. After she finished school, she became a founder of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936. In 1940, Ray attended Cranbook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI after a friend recommended it. She chose to take classes that piqued her interest and broke away from her Expressionist courses. “I didn’t take any painting; I didn’t want to, but I did other things. You know, it was just interesting to me. Charles at that time was teaching design [at Cranbook], as well as working with Eero [Saarinen]. Eero had just gotten out of Yale and come back to work with his father… He and Charles became friends, because they were both working for Eliel [Saarinen],” Ray reflected. Towards the end of Charles and Eero’s work on their submission to the Museum of Modern Art, Ray was invited to collaborate. She and Charles were married in 1941 and moved to Los Angeles, CA and started their studio called The Eames Office.


Image above: The Eames Office

Ray and Charles had a love for making high design with the ability to mass produce. Their mid-century pieces feature bent plywood, fiberglass, plastic resin and wire mesh that incorporate forms found in nature. The collaborative state of their business and design theory meant that both designers are attributed with the creation of their most famous pieces, such as the Eames Lounge Chair, Eames Molded Shell Chair and the Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair.


Ray Kaiser Eames died in 1988. Her desire to touch every type of design and expression of art was inspiring. In her life she was a painter, a furniture designer and filmmaker, but she also designed her home along with Charles and made industrial pieces for the war. She is known for her attention to detail and intuition within each of her designs. “I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette,” Ray said. Her legacy is one that lives on in so many of the homes we feature here on Design*Sponge. Ray Eames wanted to help people through design, and she absolutely did that in so many ways. –Lauren

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  • Thank you so much for highlighting Ray! I think sometimes she gets overshadowed by Charles and she was an influential designer in her own right.

  • It is so nice to have Ray highlighted on her own! There is a great American Masters episode on both them, “The Architect and The Painter.”

  • I am absolutely thrilled to read your feature on Ray Eames. I spent several years in college researching her manuscript collection which she donated to the Library of Congress. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis focusing on her early years and artistic training in the decade she spent in New York painting with Hans Hofmann before enrolling in Cranbrook and meeting Charles Eames. Ray was an extraordinary person and I’ve long thought that her contributions have not yet been fully recognized. The experience of retracing her steps in 1930s New York by carefully working my way through her extensive archive of drawings, exhibition brochures, almost daily letters to her mother describing her activities, and beautiful bits of ephemera she collected and saved was the most enjoyable and inspiring research project I’ve ever had. I continue to be fascinated by Ray and study her design innovations and legacy in my career as an art and antique appraiser and mid-century modern specialist (http://www.artifactualhistory.com) If anyone reading this has any questions about Ray or wants to learn more about her, please feel free to reach out to me at info@afhappraisal.com I love to talk about Ray and what an amazing figure she was! Many, many thanks to Design*Sponge for featuring her. –Sarah

    • Fascinating – did not know she has studied with Hofmann! Her embrace of decorating with ‘stuff’ has always run counter to modern interior orthodoxy, and I love her a bit more than anyone because of it. I’ve seen photos of those drawer collections she saved, can’t imagine how wonderful it was to interact with them in person…

  • Love seeing Ray highlighted here, as she is definitely one of my favorites! She seemed to have such a knack for finding beauty everywhere and in everything – something I certainly aspire to!