The Eames family compound rides a rolling landscape -- like a modern wood version of an Italian hill town.
[Note: I would like to dedicate this post to the memory of Lucia Eames (who died shortly after it was written) and to the continuing invention and artistry of her remarkable family.]
The 1949 Charles and Ray Eames house in Santa Monica
California, is justly famous as an example of innovative design
thinking. It was both a design studio and a home for the most
influential industrial designers of the 20th century -- and an extensive
restoration with the help of the Getty Museum is nearing completion. But
there is another Eames house: the Sonoma County, California, home of
daughter Lucia and granddaughter Llisa Demetrios
and her family. Both Lucia and Llisa are sculptors.
Designed by William Turnbull
one of the original architects of Sea Ranch, their extraordinary
barn-like compound is a treasury of Eamesiana and includes a hardworking
artists’ studio. Llisa gave me a tour. It was a ride through the imagination — like being in Powers of Ten
the famous Eames film about scale. Follow me into a design
The house itself is a kind of art stockade — white board and batten
walls wrap around a large rectangular
central courtyard. Enter the
portal and you see the living room ahead and the bedroom and library
tower to the left, combining references to the towers of San Gimignano
in Italy and early "Bay Region" designs by William Wurster.
As you would expect in an Eames house, there are several lounge chairs .... not to mention plenty of other
chairs, though most of them are historic early examples. Llisa recounts that when her mother was a student at Vassar in the
1950s, she had an unusual dorm room: It was full of Eames furniture.
Charles always sent Lucia the latest prototype, signed “With love to
Lucia” on the seat bottom, which gives secondhand furniture a whole new
Some of the rooms in the house are devoted to aspects of furniture
production. Here we see an array of early
molded plastic and fiberglass
seat samples. One room functions as a lofty gallery and contains objects from
Eames-designed exhibits like "Mathematica: A World of Numbers and
Beyond," commissioned by IBM for the California Museum of Science and
Industry in 1961. In the center of the room are two tables covered with
illustrations and other memorabilia under a sheet of clear Plexiglas.
What a great, simple idea — turn a dining table into a collage of family
history! An idea for your next birthday party.
Storage was a big deal in Charles and Ray Eames' office — with its vast
collections of found objects. You
can get a sense of what it was like to
preserve images before the digital age here; this rolling cabinet was
designed to hold slide carousels.
Some distance away from the house is a workshop, in another expansive
barn, where examples of sculptures by both mother and daughter are
found. Shown here are Lucia’s “In the Curl” steel tables, which evoke
childhood in Los Angeles, when she spent a lot of time bodysurfing.
Here we see Llisa’s “Core Sample” series in bronze, which abstractly
explores themes of geology and time —
a fitting subject for a family
enterprise that daily builds upon its remarkable legacy in new and
exciting ways. I was especially attracted to Llisa’s studio, with its wall of
maquettes. The plank shelves and the diminutive
wooden sculptures form a
very compelling visual whole — the supported and the support — telling a
hieroglyphic story about invention.
After spending time with Charles' daughter and granddaughter, I began to see everything in new ways.Eames on Film: The Architect and the Painter
For example, it suddenly struck me that from a distance the Eames
compound is really a modern board and batten version of an Italian hill
town: The house is both an archive and a living laboratory. In 100 Quotes
by Charles Eames, a delightful little book published by the Eames
office, I found a statement that seemed to fit my tour: “The house must
make no insistent demands for itself, but rather aid as a background for
life in work. This house acts as a re-orienter and shock absorber.”
I absolutely agree. I think you could say that the best houses are frames to set you free.
Metal sculpture by Lucia Eames