Charles and Ray Eames were a husband and wife team whose many iconic furniture designs were instrumental in shaping the style we now know as mid-century modern. But in addition to designing furniture, they also designed buildings. Arguably their most famous architectural creation was the Case Study House #8, the California home where they both lived and worked.
The Case Study Houses were a series of pioneering residential designs, commissioned by Arts & Architecture Magazine and intended to test ways of building efficient, inexpensive modern homes during the post-World War II building boom. This list of Case Study Homes includes the names of many notable architects; #6 was designed by Richard Neutra, #9 by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, and #8 by Charles and Ray.
The house made its debut in the magazine shortly after its construction in 1949. (You can see those original pictures here — there are even construction sections, if you're into that sort of thing.)
The Eames house is built on a 1.4 acre lot in Pacific Palisades, just across the Pacific Coast Highway from the sea. The north side of the lot slopes up to a wooded bluff; in the middle is a grassy meadow. When Charles and buddy Eero Saarinen first began discussing the design in 1945, they imagined a dramatic shape projecting from the slope and cantilevering across the meadow. But the war put a bit of a dent in their plans.
The house was supposed to be constructed of standard parts that could be ordered from a steel fabricator's catalog, but as a result of post-war shortages, the pieces took three years to arrive. In the meantime, Charles and Ray fell in love with the meadow and decided against interrupting it with the house. Instead, they decided to build along the line of the ridge, leaving the meadow intact.
In the new plan, the house was built into the slope, with a retaining wall on the north side. They added a second floor, or mezzanine level, with bedrooms overlooking the double-height living room, and introduced a courtyard to separate the studio space from the living space. The new plan required only one additional beam.
The decision to turn the house to sit more naturally on the site was a good one. When I visited the Eames house, I was struck by how its avant-garde architecture gracefully melds with the loveliness of its location — the giant trees, the sloping meadow, the sound of the ocean not far away. Charles and Ray loved it too — they continued to live and work there from the time they moved in in 1949 until their deaths.
Today the house has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, and continues to be maintained by the Eames Foundation and serve as the home for the Eames Office. If you're in L.A., we recommend that you stop by for a visit, keeping in mind that reservations are required. (It is worth it.)
For further reading: The Eames House on Wikipedia