Ray Eames

“I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette. ”

Ray Kaiser Eames (December 15, 1912 – August 21, 1988) made up half of the creative duo that spread modern American industrialism to the world. She and Charles Eames reconstructed the relationship between design and society, and innovated with a scope that most of us can only gawk at (and preferably, we are gawking while seated in one of their lounge chairs or ottomans).

Ray and Charles combined their painting and architecture backgrounds to usher in revolutionary ideas on how the world works. They even made a functional and elegant design out of love itself – and left behind their imperfect and organic love letters to show for it. (“Dear Miss Kaiser, I am 34 (almost) years old, single (again) and broke… I love you very much and would like to marry you very soon,” for starters.)

Ray possessed a wealth of knowledge and creativity that can’t possibly be tapped into in one mere sitting, but I imagine that if we had the staggering chance to sit down over coffee and ask Ray to share some of her thoughts on intellect and creativity, her comments might sway somewhere in the direction of the following:

Learn form the masters, then go your own way. In the 1930s, Ray studied under Hans Hoffmann, a pivotal abstract impressionist painter and teacher (who also mentored Jackson Pollock’s wife, Lee Krasner). Abstract design played an important part of Ray’s education, which she took and ran with, with her own artistic individuality.

Remember that process is important. She and Charles made products that equally benefited client, designer and society. This concept brought about fiberglass, wire mesh chairs, molded plywood and mass production, to name a few. The entire intellectual Eames dynasty transpired through a honed creative process.


Remember that perspective is powerful. The only way to see anew is to step away from our own lens. The iconic Eames’ film “Powers of Ten” portrays how our universe shifts simply through our view of it. Ray continually awed the Eames Office designers and engineers with her ability to see an inner order within seemingly unrelated things, and to constantly reinvent the norm.

Scavenge. Ray’s office was known to be filled with scraps in all mediums, making the room itself a unique mixed-media collage. Often when someone in the Eames Office needed an unidentified thingamajig to finish their project, she would say she had “just the thing” and produce a random yet perfect scrap.

Transform your ideas. Your concept is the fixed core that be redistributed through different mediums. Each medium in some way changes the concept. Ray worked with print media, textiles, ceramics, furniture, metals and documentaries, among other things. If your idea seems solid but isn’t taking off, reconsider instead its platform.

FOLLOWING HER LEGACY: How can you take risks with your ideas and step outside the norm?

To learn more about Ray’s life, check out the Eames Foundation, Eames Designs and “The Architect and The Painter“.

Images via Vitra and Sleek design 

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