The Eames House Turns 70
How an experiment in modernist architecture—and modern experiments in preservation—are ensuring the Eames House’s legacy
Written by: Mindy Koschmann
Strolling up the drive to Charles and Ray Eameses’ now-iconic 1949 residence in Pacific Palisades, California, is like stepping into another world—a tree-lined, flower-filled sanctuary that’s far removed from the city streets below. If it’s a cool morning, mist will roll in from the Pacific and hover above the ocean-side bluff where the house resides. With that mist comes the tang of sea salt, mingling with the scent of eucalyptus and wafting through the copse of over 200 trees that populate the surrounding meadow.
The result, Case Study House No. 8, is a modernist masterpiece. The residence and studio, dual steel boxes nestled into the bluff, are exclusively comprised of off-the-shelf materials: black-painted steel beams and glass panels interspersed with rectangles of white, gold, orange-red, and blue. Placed behind a row of eucalyptus trees, the home’s precise, geometric shapes and engineered materials integrate effortlessly with the natural world. The structures live lightly on the land, taking advantage of the trees’ shade and beauty without encroaching on them.
Says architect Ravi GuneWardena, who has preserved and renovated homes by other mid-century architects like Richard Neutra, A. Quincy Jones, and John Lautner: “Each of these houses have very specific characteristics that have to be studied and dealt with uniquely. What is essential, however, is developing a system for researching all materials available for each house, deciphering the architectural intent of the original authors, and documenting every step in the conservation process so that someone can follow your methodology in the future.”
That’s exactly the approach EGA, GCI, and the Eames Foundation have taken since the beginning of the conservation project, when they replaced damaged floor tiles, made repairs to the home’s steel structure, and worked with engineering firm Wiss, Janney, and Elstner Associates to replace the roof.
As stewards of the Eameses’ legacy of sustainable design, Herman Miller and Vitra—the only official makers of original Eames furniture—are taking the felled eucalyptus trees just as seriously as Charles and Ray did while designing the house in the late 1940s (so much so that they finished their living room wall in eucalyptus wood). Working closely with the Eames Foundation, Herman Miller and Vitra have created solid eucalyptus tops for a limited run of Eames Eucalyptus LTR Tables, available September 6 in North America and late October in Japan through Herman Miller, and in Europe and the Middle East, through Vitra, starting September 6.
The importance of this work extends beyond the preservation of the Eames House. Learnings from the project are setting new standards for conserving mid-century homes, so the design impact of these historic gems will not fade with time.
What’s sure not to fade is Charles and Ray’s playful, colourful approach to both design and living, which is so apparent in the Eames Home and its landscape. With vanguard research and insight from GCI, and ongoing support from partners including Herman Miller and Vitra, this legacy is sure to thrive—and to be enjoyed by many—for years to come. If you’d like to support the Eames Foundation and its ongoing work to preserve the Eames House, please visit https://eamesfoundation.org/support/donations/.