Tag Archives: Charles and Ray Eames

Debate Style

In honor of tomorrow night’s third and final Presidential debate of this election, I thought I’d take a look back at a couple of the past debates and point out the true winners …in design.

1960 Presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon

The first televised debate, in Chicago, Illinois, 1960,  is famously known for staging the cool, calm John F. Kennedy Jr. against the sweaty Richard M. Nixon.  But, did you know it also featured the elegantly designed chairs of Hans Wegner?  Known simply as The Chair, it was designed in 1949.

The Chairs, 1949, used in the 1960 debate are now a part of The Smithsonian Museum’s collection.

Hans Wegner was born in 1914 and lived until 2007.  He was a Danish designer known the world over for his sleek, sometimes historically referential  and always modern designs.  Also visible in the picture below are four gentlemen seated just in front of the stage, though the picture is quite dark, they appear to be seated in office armchairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames.

1960 Presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon, full stage view

If not by Eames, these four chairs were certainly influenced by his Office series furniture.  These particular chairs, known as DAT-1, were introduced in 1953.  D.A.T. stands for Desk Armchair Tilt.  They were part of the Eames Office series and were the first chair to offer the ability to tilt back in your seat.

1953 Eames DAT-1 chair, shown here in a lighter color than was used at the debate.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN SEYFRIED

This was not the last time an Eames chair would make an appearance at a Presidential debate.  After the 1960 debate, there was not another until 1976 – and Eames was there.  In San Francisco, California, 1976, it was incumbent Jimmy Carter debating President Gerald Ford.

Carter and Ford at their podiums with Eames chairs behind them.

The chair behind each gentleman is the EC 118 by Eames.  It was introduced in 1970.  It is very similar in appearance to the DAT-1, although it is at a taller height and has a round foot rail near the base.

The Eames EC 118, 1970
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN SEYFRIED

While the podiums from the 1976 debate appear to be in The Smithsonian’s collection, I was unable to find the chairs.  These same chairs were in the Vice Presidential date of that year, with Bob Dole and Walter Mondale in Houston, Texas.

Mondale and Dole debate with the E 118 in the background
AP PHOTOS

In both of the above cases, the chairs that were used, were relatively new designs.  In 1960, they were using designs from 1949 and 1953.  At the 1976 debate, they used chairs that had been designed only 6 years earlier.  But the iconic designs of Charles and Ray Eames have made it into the 21st Century.  Upon first glance at the set for the first debate between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, I was totally bored!  There was nothing.  No chairs,and the podiums were standard issue.  Then the camera zoomed out and we caught a glimpse of Jim Lehrer’s chair.

Jim Lehrer and his chair steal the show at the first residential debate of 2012 between Obama and Romney.

How exciting! An Eames chair!  All the way from 1958!  Mr. Lehrer is seated in the Eames Aluminum Management Chair, part of a series of aluminum furniture created by Charles and Ray Eames.  Originally designed for the residence of J. Irwin Miller, designed by the architects Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard.

The Eames Aluminum Management Chair, part of the Eames Aluminum Group series, 1958, produced by Herman Miller

This is a little sidetrack, but I wanted to include a picture of the house that J. Irwin Miller had built by Saarinen and Girard and where this chair originally went.  Miller was an interesting and important figure in the patronage of Modern architecture in the 1950s and 60s, and he and his house deserve a mention.  The house is now a part of the collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The Miller House, 1957
INDIANAPOLIS MUSEUM OF ART

The set of the second debate between Romney and Obama left me wanting more.  All it takes is an Eames chair, so I think I’m pretty easily satisfied!  But the wooden bar stools with blue upholstery and the tall metal plant stand-looking tables left me thinking, who designed this?  I’m still trying to figure out where they’re from.  Does anyone have them at home?

The second Presidential debate set at Hofstra University.
BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES

Perhaps I shouldn’t judge too harshly; maybe it was the simplicity of the second set which allowed for a more exciting debate.  Although, I like to think that good design excites the mind and creates a better dialogue.  Happy debating!

4 Comments

Filed under As Seen On TV

The Architects of Simplicity

It all begins with an architect.

Michael Caine as Leonardo DiCaprio's character's architecture professor in Inception.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s lead character in the film, Inception, used to be an architect.  But now, sometime in the near future, he’s an Extractor.  He can enter your mind through dreams and see your subconscious and thereby know your deepest secrets and inner-most thoughts.  It is up to the Architect of the dream, played by Ellen Page (Ariadne), to create the built world of the dream.

The idea of inception (and don’t worry, I’m not going to give any spoilers) is to plant the seed of an idea in a person’s subconscious, but in order for the idea to take root, it must be in the simplest form, and if the Extractor can do that, then the idea can grow, organically in the person’s mind when they awake.

From the first scene in the movie, I knew I was going to have to write about it.  That first scene takes place as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, is escorted into a Japanese dining room.  The first shot we see of this room includes a view of the back of a large half-circular chair with lattice work design at the head of a table, lined along the sides by a dozen or so, smaller, half-circular chairs with vertical rails.

Japanese dining room in Inception with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Arthur), Ken Watanabe (Saito) and Leonardo DiCaprio

And just as nothing is as it seems in a dream, the same is true of this room.  While it is set in Japan, the chairs around this table are not Japanese.  In the image above the lattice work chair is not visible, but Arthur and Cobb are both seated in the side chairs. [You may need to click on the image and follow it to its original link to see the chairs more clearly.]

The lattice work style chair, whose back is to the audience in that first scene is a chair designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1903, called the Willow Chair.

Mackintosh's Willow Chair, designed in 1903 for The Willow Tea Room on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow, Scotland.

The side chairs were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1937, for the Johnson House, called Wingspread in Racine, Wisconsin.

Wright's Barrel Chair from 1937

That these two chairs, designed by a Scot and an American, fit into a Japanese setting, is of no surprise.  Both Mackintosh and Wright were greatly influenced by Japan, its architecture and design.  The elegant simplicity and minimal decoration of Japanese design was admired and copied by both of these architects.

Even the light fixtures, both in the Japanese dining room and in the main hall (as seen in later scenes, and below) contain light fixtures that are unmistakably Japanese in style, but appear much like fixtures by Mackintosh.

Leonardo DiCaprio stands in the main hall of a Japanese house under Mackintosh style lighting fixtures.

Notice the similarities in the lighting fixtures between the Japanese house above and those in The Hill House, designed by Mackintosh in 1903, below. Gabriele Fahr-Becker, talking about another building by Mackintosh in Art Nouveau (Könemann: Germany, 1997) stated, “The Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh’s most famous building, belongs to architecture and architects, or rather to building and the future.  This manifesto of simplicity, warding off all false pomp with its block-like, self-contained composition, has become a model for future generations of architects.” (p.53)  I like thinking of this quote in relation to the dream architect of the movie.

Interior view of the main hall with light fixtures at Mackintosh's Hill House, 1903.

The light fixtures in the library at The Glasgow School of Art, 1909, are modern interpretations of the more traditional cluster of lanterns that hang above the table in the Japanese dining room in the movie.

And since we seem to be covering all 20th century architects that were influenced by Japanese design, it only seems appropriate to include California’s Greene and Greene.

Charles and Henry Greene were also influenced by the elegance and simplicity of Japan, although their work tended to focus on the craftsmanship rather than the functionality of Mackintosh and Wright’s works.  And while I tend to think that Mackintosh and Wright looked more to the future and rejected Historicism more than Greene and Greene, all four men held true to their shared beliefs in simplicity, unity and nature.

And while dreams can combine ones ability to re-live memories of the past with wishing for the future, so did these architects.  Henry Greene was quoted in 1912 as saying, “the idea was to eliminate everything unnecessary, to make the whole as direct and simple as possible, but always with the beautiful in mind as the first goal…” (Greene & Greene Masterworks, by Bruce Smith and Alexander Vertikoff, Chronicle Books: San Francisco, 1998, p.27)

Freeman Ford House, 1909, by Greene and Greene.

It is so perfectly fitting, then, that the former Architect, Cobb, and his wife share a house outside of Los Angeles, that was built by Greene and Greene.  This house, the Freeman Ford House, is a metaphor for the beauty of simplicity in design and in the dreams of Inception.   Cobb may appreciate the house’s simplicity as a former architect, but he can also see the necessity in the simplicity of ideas.

While Pasadena is proud to claim the Freeman Ford house for it’s own, there are not many interior photos of it available online.  But it’s characteristics are similar to those in many other Greene and Greene houses.

This window, actually at the Ford House is a common design element, horizontal bands of windows with stained glass. A window like this is visible in the scenes that take place in the Cobbs' dining room.

This interior image is of Greene and Greene's most famous residential structure, the Gamble House, 1909.

The image of the Gamble House above shows the dominance of woodwork in the interior and the use of low ceilings and constricted space opening up into larger rooms and more open space.  We got to experience this every time Cobb walked down the long, narrow corridor to his dining room that looked out over a large backyard.

Another area of the movie Inception that I want to mention is the music.  I can’t talk about the musical theory behind it, but as I was watching the movie, in the theater, the soundtrack blew me away.  It was those two deep beats played by an ear-piercingly loud horn every time it was all about to go to Hell, that made me jump and stay on the edge of my seat.  I found an interesting article about how those two notes mimic the two notes played in the Edith Piaf song used to wake the dreamers, “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.” The music is by Hans Zimmer and it’s brilliant, not only in its ability to captivate but in the symbolism of a song about no regrets being used for a movie about continuously re-living dreams.  There’s something about the music (and this whole movie) that reminds me of Vertigo (or maybe it’s the cymbals in The Man Who Knew Too Much), which just makes me love it all the more.

One of the main characters in the movie is named Eames. Charles and Ray Eames are two designers and architects that I mention the work of often. Here is Cobb, with Eames, played by Tom Hardy, in Inception.

Here is Cobb, the former Architect, and Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, the new Architect. Every time I saw her on screen, I couldn't help but think, "note to self: wear scarves more often and study architecture in Paris."

4 Comments

Filed under In the Cinema, Music

Talk to Her …and sit in this chair.

Here’s a quick one.  After writing a previous post on Pedro Almodóvar, I decided I needed to see all his films.  My latest one is Talk to Her (Hable con ella), and just like the others before it I was intrigued, amazed, shocked and delighted.  His story telling, the look of the film and his actors are all superb.  So, it was truly an added bonus to see another famous chair in this movie.

View of Alicia's father's office.

This chair was designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1956 for the Herman Miller furniture company.

Eames Lounge (670) and Ottoman (671), 1956

And now that I’ve noticed this chair once, I must notice it somewhere at least once a week.  It’s in movies, on TV, in print advertisements.  It even appeared in a Cole Haan ad on the side bar of my email.

Advertisement for Cole Haan featuring the Eames Lounge chair

You might also notice a famous table in the scene from Talk to Her.  It is Eileen Gray’s chromed steel side table from 1927.  Built for the E 1027 house in the South of France, these tables were likely inspired by the chromed tubular steel furniture of the Bauhaus.

Side table designed by Eileen Gray in 1927 for her E 1027 house (built between 1926 and 1929). It was originally meant to be a bedside table.

1 Comment

Filed under Double Takes, Foreign Film, Modern Film

Sleepless in Seattle & the vague term of Egg Chair

I remember watching Sleepless in Seattle when it came out in 1993 and thinking Jonah had the coolest chair I’d ever seen – and that was it.

The chair in Jonah's bedroom in the movie

But now, watching it again as an adult and as a follower of design, I had to find out more about it.

Jonah's egg chair

I started by researching “egg chairs” and soon discovered that term opened up a whole can of worms, or, rather, a whole timeline of chairs!  His chair is the most recent in a long design lineage of chairs.  Jonah’s chair, originally known as the Alpha Stereo Chair, was designed by Lee West (dates unknown) and was made for Krypton Furniture.  It is now called the ModPod Egg Chair and they can now be purchased from a company called inmod.

Inmod's Mod Pod Egg Chair

But the story behind this “egg chair,” I think, begins in 1957, with Arne Jacobsen’s design of the first named Egg Chair.

Arne Jacobsen's Egg Chair, 1957 (This picture is of Design Within Reach's reproduction.)

Jonah’s egg chair has arm rests that are reminiscent of an Eames design.

The Eames' Molded Plastic Armchair, 1948 (This picture is of DWR's modern reproduction.)

Also from 1948, and also featuring a similar arm rest design is the Womb chair, designed by Eero Saarinen.

Eero Saarinen's Womb chair, 1948 (This picture is of DWR's modern reproduction.)

The final design component I noticed on Jonah’s chair was the base.  This great swivelling base that makes the whole scene in the movie as he and Jessica spin the chair around using only the tips of their toes that touch the ground.  This base must have been inspired by Eero Saarinen as well, in his Tulip Armchair from 1956.

Eero Saarinen's Tulip chair, 1956 (This picture is of DWR's modern reproduction.)

And finally, there is another egg chair …not like Jonah’s and not like the original by Jacobsen, but one from 1968 designed by Henrik Thor-Larsen.  It was first shown at a Scandinavian furniture fair in 1968 and became a quick classic – and let’s face it, shape-wise, it is the most deserving of the name, Egg Chair.

The Ovalia Egg Chair, 1968 (These are modern reproductions.)

The chair was manufactured from 1968 to 1978 and has been so popular that the company re-released it in 2008.

The egg chair, not to be confused with the ball or globe chair, by Eero Aarnio from the early 1960s, is a term that encompasses more chair history than I would have ever thought of in 1993 when I just wanted Jonah’s cool chair.

1 Comment

Filed under Double Takes, Modern Film

Vampires Have Style

Here’s the entry I didn’t think I would ever do.  And then once I saw the movie and spotted famous designs, I spent as much time as possible avoiding writing this entry.  But, I can’t deny that the Cullen’s house in Twilight is rather magnificent.  And Edward’s room, in particular, caught my eye.

The Cullen's house, Forks, Washington

The house used as the Cullen’s home was designed by architect Jeff Kovel and is actually the Hoke Residence (2007) in Portland, Oregon.  But I think Christopher Brown (who has also worked on Mad Men) and Ian Phillips, the movie’s art directors and  Gene Serdena, the movie’s set decorator, are to be credited with designing Edward Cullen’s cultured bedroom.  Remember, Edward Cullen is 109 years old, so if anyone would know good design …I’m just saying he’s had time to work out the kinks in his personal style.

Edward Cullen's bedroom

As everyone knows, vampires don’t sleep.  But who am I to question their necessity of a daybed, especially when it is the iconic daybed designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Barcelona couch designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1930

This classic piece of furniture has an interesting background.  In 1929, Mies van der Rohe designed the German Pavilion for the International Exposition of that same year in Barcelona, Spain.  It was for this pavilion that he designed chairs and stools, creating the Barcelona collection.

The Barcelona Pavilion and the aptly named Barcelona chairs and stools

The accompaning daybed/couch was designed in 1930 for use in Philip Johnson’s apartment at 424 East 52nd Street, New York overlooking the Museum of Modern Art’s garden.  And it was not until 1931, at the Berlin Bau-Austellung, or the German Building Exhibition, in Berlin, Germany that this piece of furniture was seen by the public.  Featured in an exhibit called “The Dwelling of Our Time,” the couch was featured in Mies van der Rohe’s Apartment for a Bachelor.

The daybed has also been photographed in The Farnsworth House (1945-1951) in Plano, Illinois and Philip Johnson’s Glass House (1949) in New Canaan, Connecticut.  Mies van der Rohe sold the design to Knoll in 1953 and it is still made by that company today.

Living room in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, 1951, with the Barcelona chairs and couch displayed

Living room in Philip Johnson's Glass House, 1949, with the Barcelona chairs, stool and couch displayed

Besides liking a piece of furniture that had been displayed in a bachelor pad exhibit, I think that I could see the 109-year-old unattached Edward Cullen adhering to Mies van der Rohe’s maxim of “less is more.”  (I can’t believe I just said that.)

Another view of Edward Cullen's bedroom reveals more design objects

Other famous furniture in Edward Cullen’s room includes his desk chair.  It is an Eames Molded Plywood Dining Chair, or in his case, a desk chair.

Eames Molded Plywood Dining Table and Chairs set

Charles and Ray Eames designed this ergonomical chair in 1946, making it a fairly ironic chair for a vampire to use.  It’s not like he’s going to have a stiff back or sore shoulders, is it? It has been sold since 1946, as it is sold now, by Herman Miller.  This influential design couple met when they were both adult students at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1940.  By 1942 they had moved to Los Angeles California and went on to design furniture, architecture and create films together.  They were both proponents of modern design and major influences on Modern Architecture.

According to the Herman Miller website, in 1999, the Eames Molded Plywood Chair was named by Time Magazine to be The Best Design of the 20th Century.  They playfully mention that the locomotive came in second.

It is interesting to note that in the early 1940s, Charles Eames was a set architect for MGM Studios. And he is noted, by the Design Museum, as having worked on Mrs. Miniver.

Edward Cullen’s room, while, I would venture to say, is nothing like a regular teenage boy’s room, it may be our first glimpse of an average vampire posing-as-a-teenager-but-who-in-reality-is-over-a-century-old’s room.  Minimalist in decoration, a little messy and filled with icons of design he’s collected over the years.

16 Comments

Filed under Modern Film