The Eames House, also known as Case Study House No. 8, is a landmark of mid-20th century modern architecture located in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles. It was designed and constructed in 1949 by husband-and-wife Charles and Ray Eames to serve as their home and studio. They lived in their home until their deaths: Charles in 1978 and Ray, ten years to the day, in 1988.
It was a home filled with gifts from friends, family and colleagues. The way the Eameses lived their life in their home echoed how they lived their life at work. They anticipated their guests’ needs – whether welcoming visitors at the house with delightful treats or when designing a chair and considering how best to meet the needs of the user — the guest in this case. They believed in the iterative process: the redesigning and rethinking of a project to improve it, whether it was through creating the three versions of their film Powers of Ten, or the two house designs for the site, or the constantly evolving décor during the early years.
Charles described the house as unselfconscious. There is a sense of that “way-it-should-be-ness”. Charles and Ray designed a house specifically to meet their needs, but they were those universal needs that we all share as humans. They believed in the honest use of materials and straightforward connections. The details WERE the product!
And then by nestling the house into the hillside, rather than imposing it on the site, they realized their original intent: for the house in nature to serve as a re-orientor. The scent, the sound of birds, the shadow of the trees against the structure whether inside or out, the openness of the site—all the elements join seamlessly.
Charles said, “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.”
Come visit and explore how the house exemplifies many of the themes of the Eameses’ work: from furniture to exhibitions, the guest/host relationship, the iterative process that leads to meeting the need, the importance of the direct experience, the relation with nature, the life in work and work in life, the importance of details, and more. Together the structure, collections, and landscape tell the story of the couple’s approach to life and work.
The Eames House consists of two glass and steel rectangular boxes: one is a residence; one, a working studio. They are nestled into a hillside, backed by an eight foot tall by 200 foot long concrete retaining wall. The structures are aligned along a central axis with a court on the ocean side of the House, a court between the two structures, and a parking / utility spot on the Studio far side. At 17 feet tall, each has a mezzanine balcony overlooking a large central room. Public and private spaces are naturally defined by what is easily visible.
When Charles and Ray were home, they would open the curtains and doors and windows. We do too. With doors open, the patios and structures became a long, unified space for living.
Color: The facades are essentially black-painted grids (consisting of eight 7.5 foot bays for the House and five for the Studio), with different-sized inserts of glass (clear, translucent, or wired), grey cemestos panels (both painted and natural), stucco (off-white, black, blue, and orange/red), aluminum (silver or painted) and specially-treated panels (gold-leafed or with a photographic panel). The transparency and translucency of the glass combines effortlessly with the painted colors and wood finishes. In referring to the Eameses’ work, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History blogged: “In all of their projects, color was a strategic tool; never did they apply hues indiscriminately. Rather, their brilliant palette spotlighted salient points of information that they wanted to convey, capturing both the eyes and minds of viewers.”
Materials: You can see the use of the off-the-shelf components, or the new plywood and plastic materials that the Eameses developed for their furniture.
The Eameses looked at life as being an act of design. The residence is filled with the “stuff” of their living. The stuff that tells the story of their lives, interests and loves. Intangibles of color and form. Careful arrangements of objects and flowers, whose value is really based upon being part of the collections. And as some might feel, the stuff that transmutes a structure into a home.
The residence is presented as it was at the time of Ray’s death in 1988. In fact, it has changed little from when Charles was also alive, and even from 1958 when the team consolidated their creative work at the Eames Office located in Venice, California.
Books, fabrics, folk art, prisms, shells, rocks and straw baskets….groupings unified by each element’s careful selection and the overall curation. This may be a modern structure, but it is filled with, as one writer intimated, a wonderful Victorian clutter. While these objects have, for the most part, nominal value as individual pieces, they have a huge value as part of the carefully-placed collection. They help visitors to better understand the Eameses’ work via that direct experience that the Eameses felt was so important.
In perfect Eamesian fashion, the two structures are presented appropriately, which means differently. The studio is the headquarters of the Eames Foundation and is furnished to meet our needs. Interspersed with contemporary Eames furniture are objects from the pair’s work lives. It had always been a flexible-use space, changing function depending upon the Eameses’ need. It has been a working studio, a guest suite, a home office and skunk works, and after Charles’ death, Ray’s bedroom.
The original intent—particularly for the living room and the studio—was to be a very flexible space, designed with the anticipation that it would be filled with objects. As Charles wrote in the 1945 issue of Arts & Architecture magazine: The living room is a “large unbroken area for pure enjoyment of space in which objects can be placed and taken away — driftwood, sculpture, mobiles, plants, constructions, etc.”
The end result? As one visitor exclaimed in the earliest days of its building, “Oh Mr. Eames, after seeing your home, I’ll never think of Modern as cold again!
The appreciation of nature is an essential part of life in the house. You can see, as Charles and Ray put it, how the house in its constant proximity to the whole vast order of nature acts as a “re-orientor and shock absorber” providing the needed relaxation from the daily complications arising within problems.
The final house design was driven by the Eameses’ decision to preserve the meadow and a row of eucalyptus trees. The meadow moves between green and sere as rain falls or stops. As one visitor said: “The Eames House is the only place in LA where you can experience the seasons.”
Roses of all colors were favorites, but especially clear reds, whites and pinks. Tiny to small roses (particularly pink Cecile Brunner) and tea roses were also preferred, rather than today’s typical mid-sized, store-bought cut roses. Other favorite flowers include violas, especially the ones with faces, and tiny, delicately-formed flowers, from lobelias to Santa Barbara daisies. Ray would exclaim at how precious they were.
Ray also delighted in picking and arranging these flowers, whether a large vase of roses or a tiny vase with a grass blade, clover and delicate colorful bloom. Mixes of freesias, daisy-style blooms (white, blue or pink), pink or red geraniums (single) and more were picked from the Eameses’ own pots and planting beds as well as the neighbor’s garden. These vases, set in the house, echoed the exterior plantings, helping to blur the line between indoor and outdoor.
Bordering the house are many pots, presenting bright spots of color seen both from outside as well as inside the house. The house itself contains a ficus tree, a planter filled with philodendrons, ferns, and African violets. Fresh flowers continue to be picked from the pots and planter beds, augmented by flowers from Farmers’ Markets, to form bouquets. By reflecting the seasons, they seamlessly link indoors and out.
Between the two structures was a central court where visitors would often be greeted. Many materials were laid in the courts: brick, wood, honed stone or rocks. Smaller squares and rectangles were left open, greened with ground covers or planted with a tree such as the Coulter pine, now grown tall.
The south bed had a specific planting plan, reflecting the seasonal shift between the hot/dry and cold/rainy seasons. In addition to being loosely divided into four quadrants, the bed was rimmed by narrow planting strips along three sides (the retaining wall being the fourth). The meadow-side quadrants might hold Icelandic poppies, while the back-side held delphiniums or foxgloves. Star jasmine edged the side facing the living room; the meadow-side edge held miniature geraniums, Santa Barbara daisies and lobelia (earlier, it held different colored verbenas and lobelia); the path-side edge currently holds lavender (but originally held ivy). On all sides, the plants spill lightly over the edges.
The north bed was more informal, set with a variety of loose plantings that petered into the hillside, but whose blooms beckoned visitors towards the house.
Meadow and Trees
The meadow was intended to look natural, even though a specific rye grass was used due to its color and leaf blade shape. It was not mowed; weeds would be allowed to grow and spring bulbs or wildflowers would be planted on a tiny hill. The meadow would grow with the winter rains, then slowly brown as watering stopped and heat grew. It has been commented: the House is one of the few places in Los Angeles where one can experience the seasons.
Around the perimeter of the property, the landscape was primarily native Californian plantings, notwithstanding non-natives such as the Eucalyptus, olives and pepper tree. Of course, the vast majority are eucalyptus trees. When their leaves dropped, she and the gardeners would carefully pick up all the leaves from the paths, leaving only the brilliant red ones.
At the end of the day, when Ray would arrive home from the Office, she would step out of her car, pause, inhale deeply and smile. It was always a joyful homecoming to the scent of the trees.
Bob Newman, Ray’s gardner talks about the site: