The Eames house is a landmark of mid-20th century modern architecture and design, located in the Pacific Palisades neighbourhood of Los Angeles. It is also known as Case Study House No. 8, one of roughly two-dozen homes built as part of The Case Study House Program in the 1940s.
Initiated by Arts & Architecture magazine, the program was a challenge to the architectural community. The magazine asked the architects to design a home that is both progressive and modest and that ‘expresses man’s life in the modern world’. The structure was to be constructed entirely from "off-the-shelf" parts available from steel fabricator catalogues, making optimal use of materials and techniques developed in the Second World War.
"Arts & Architecture's case study house for 1949 is truly a study of logical use of materials and integration of spaces. Materials long used in common practice take on a new freshness. The results will be provocative to many and, for all we know, might be one of the small steps toward the development of a building idiom for our time." - Arts & Architecture magazine, April 1949
The brief stated that the architects had the liberty to choose their client, real or hypothetical, in order to define the details of the house. Charles and Ray proposed that the house they design be “for a married couple working in design and graphic arts, whose children were no longer living at home.” In other words: they built it for themselves, to serve as their private home and studio.
They designed the house specifically to meet not only their needs, but the universal needs shared by all humans. Charles described the house as unselfconscious with an effortlessness and “way-it-should-be-ness about it”. It anticipates the users’ needs without imposing itself upon them.
Just as a good host tries to anticipate the needs of his guest, so a good architect or a designer or a city planner tries to anticipate the needs of those who will live in or use the thing being designed.
– Charles Eames
Eames House is a prominent architectural example of the influence of the De Stijl Movement outside Europe. The sliding walls and windows give it the trademark versatility and openness of De Stijl.
The designers believed in the honest use of materials and straightforward architectural connections. The 17 foot (5.1 m) tall facade is broken down into a rigidly geometric composition of brightly coloured and neutral panels between thin steel columns and braces, painted "a warm grey".
“We felt very free about painting the house. We felt that we could experiment—we could try a color and see its relationship to others, then, if we didn’t like it, we could simply change it. But, in fact, we haven’t changed it. For instance, when we painted the blue panel, we weren’t exactly sure how it would look. Some people said the very vivid color would fade (we had bought the paint from Sears), but it didn’t fade. It’s still there. It needs re-painting now and I’m thinking of doing it this year.” - Ray Eames, to historian Pat Kirkham, in 1983
By nestling it into the hillside they intended for the house to be absorbed by nature, to become part of the land that they had come to love and to avoid impinging upon the meadow that fronted the house. The scent, the sound of birds, the shadow of the trees against the structure — all the elements were to join seamlessly.
As for the interior design, the Eameses' collection includes Isamu Noguchi floor lamps, folk and Abstract Expressionist art, Japanese kokeshi dolls, Chinese lacquered pillows, Native American baskets, Thonet chairs, and of course numerous Eames furniture designs. The maximalist interiors were grouped in idiosyncratic tableaux and have earned the Eameses a reputation to be "humanizing" modernism.
Of the twenty-five Case Study Houses built, the Eames house is considered the most successful both as an architectural statement and as a comfortable, functional living space. The brash sleekness of the design made it a favourite backdrop for fashion shoots in the 1950s and 1960s for publications such as Vogue. But perhaps the best proof of its success in fulfilling its design is the fact that it remained at the centre of the Eameses' home and work life from the time they moved in on Christmas Eve 1949, until their deaths: Charles in 1978 and Ray, ten years to the day, in 1988.