The 1949 Charles and Ray Eames house in Santa Monica, California, is justly renowned as an example of innovative design thinking. It was a design studio and a home for the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century, and an extensive restoration with the help of this Getty Museum is nearing conclusion. However there is another Eames house: the Sonoma County, California, residence of daughter Lucia and granddaughter Llisa Demetrios and her family.
Both Lucia and Llisa are sculptors. Produced by William Turnbull, one of the first architects of Sea Ranch, their extraordinary barn-like compound is a treasury of Eamesiana and has a hardworking artists’ studio. Llisa gave me a tour.
It was a ride through the imagination — like being in Powers of Ten, the famed Eames film roughly scale. Open those marvelous ornamental blue steel entrance gates, made by Lucia, and then follow me to some design wonderland.
The house itself is a sort of artwork stockade — white board and batten walls wrap around a large rectangular central courtyard. Enter the portal and you also see the living area ahead and the bedroom and library tower to the left, mixing references to the towers of San Gimignano from Italy and early “bay area” layouts by William Wurster.
As you would expect in an Eames house, there are numerous lounge chairs …
… not to mention lots of different seats, though most of them — like the ones Lucia and Llisa are still sitting in here — are historical early cases.
Llisa recounts when her mum was a student at Vassar from the 1950s, she had an odd 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 completely new meaning.
Some of the rooms at the house are dedicated to aspects of furniture manufacturing. Here we see an array of early molded plastic and fiberglass seat samples.
One room functions as a lofty gallery and comprises objects from Eames-designed displays, 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 this room are just two tables covered with illustrations, letters 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 celebration.
Storage was a large deal in Charles and Ray Eames’ workplace — with its vast collections of found objects. It is possible to get a feeling of what it was like to preserve images prior to the electronic age here; this rolling cabinet was designed to hold slide carousels.
Some distance away from the house is a workshop, in a different grand barn, where cases of sculptures from both mom and daughter are located. Shown here would be Lucia’s “In the Curl” steel tables, that evoke her youth in Los Angeles, when she spent a lot of time bodysurfing.
Here we see Llisa’s “Core Sample” show in bronze, which examines themes of geology and moment — a fitting subject for a family enterprise that builds upon its remarkable heritage 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 an extremely persuasive visual complete — the encouraged and the service — telling a hieroglyphic narrative concerning invention.
Here’s a shot of Ray and Charles shown here. After spending time with Charles’ daughter and granddaughter, I began to see everything in new ways.
Eames on Film: The Architect and the Painter
As an example, it suddenly struck me from a space the Eames compound is genuinely a contemporary board and batten edition of an Italian mountain town: The house is 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 appeared to match my tour “The house must make no persistent requirements for itself, but instead aid for a background for lifetime. This house functions as a re-orienter and shock absorber.”
I totally concur. I believe that you could say that the best houses are frames to set you free.
Metal sculpture by Lucia Eames
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