Three Elements that Make the Eames House “Feel” Japanese

Numerous visitors to the Eames House verbalize a curiosity about the connection between the home’s architecture and the aesthetics of Japanese culture. While Charles and Ray had not visited Japan prior to building their home in the Pacific Palisades, particular elements of the home and its surrounding gardens are reminiscent of Japanese design. As the duo began their travels to Japan for both projects and pleasure, the objects within their home began to reflect their adoration of Japanese form and function. From a purely structural and material standpoint, here are three elements of Case Study House #8 that are commonly compared to Japanese architecture and landscaping:

When exploring the perimeter of the Eames House, one takes note of the two courtyards: one south of the residence and one nestled between the two structures.  Each are laid in a modular grid; the perimeters outlined by thin strips of wood and the interiors filled with either mondo grass, marble, red brick, or wood cut taken from the endcaps of a standard 2×4. The courtyards themselves are sparsely planted, much like a traditional Japanese garden, allowing for the space and textures surrounding the plants to become sculptural and as important as the plants themselves. The only greenery planted directly into the south courtyard among the red brick is a Bonsai tree, barely reaching three feet in height after nearly 60 years of life.

The windows upstairs in the residence and downstairs in the studio are framed by Plyon screens, a yellow-tinted glass cloth laminate that the Eameses framed with wood to create a sliding mechanism across the facade. Plyon, in this instance, was utilized to shade the interior from sunlight and to provide privacy, but it does also have a similar appearance and function to translucent Japanese-style shoji panels.

The interior of the residence boasts many low-resting Eames-designed pieces of furniture and collected objects. Whether it be the Eames LTR, a side table only ten inches in height; a pair of carved, painted wooden Indian seats; or an Alexander Girard checked pillow used as a floor cushion, the couple and guests alike were often situated at low levels in the space. This allowed for the expansive double-volume of the living room to be truly felt and for the person to be immersed in an indoor-outdoor relationship framed by the almost-invisible steel and glass structure. This design and arrangement of furnishings can be mirrored with the Japanese etiquette of sitting on the floor at low levels within a physical space.

Do you notice aspects of the Eames House, whether indoor or outdoor, that remind you of Japanese tradition?

Published by: Kelsey Rose Williams