At Home with the Powers of Ten
(Note: this post was written for, and first appeared on Houzz.com.)
The Charles and Ray Eames house in Santa Monica of 1949 is justly famous as an exemplar of innovative design thinking. It was both a design studio and a home for the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century. An extensive restoration with the help of the Getty Museum is nearing completion – visit the Eames Foundation for details. But there is another Eames house and it is the Northern California home of Eames daughter Lucia, and granddaughter Llisa Demetrios and her family. Naturally, both Lucia and Llisa are sculptors. Designed by William Turnbull, one of the original
architects of The Sea Ranch, this extraordinary barn-like compound is both a treasury of Eamesiana and a hard working artists’ studio. Llisa gave me a tour. It was a ride through the imagination — like entering Powers of Ten, the famous Eames film about scale. Open those marvelous ornamental blue steel entry gates — designed by Lucia — and follow me into a Design Wonderland.
The house itself is a kind of art stockade — white board-and batten walls wrap around a large rectangular central courtyard. Enter the
portal and you see the living room ahead and the bedroom/library tower to the left, combining references to the towers of San Giminiano in Italy and early Bay Region designs by William Wurster. As you would expect in an Eames house, there are several lounge chairs,
not to mention plenty of other places to sit, though most of these chairs — like the ones shown below with Lucia and Llisa — are historic early
examples. Indeed, as Llisa recounted, when her mother was a student at Vassar in the 1950s she had an unusual dorm room: it was full of Eames furniture. Charles always sent her the latest prototype signed
are devoted to aspects of furniture production, as here in the array of early molded plastic and fiberglass seat samples showing configurations and colors. One room functions as a lofty gallery and
contains tables covered with letters, illustrations, and other memorabilia under a sheet of clear plexiglass. What a great simple idea — turn any dining table into a collage of family history! Something for
your next birthday party. Here and elsewhere in the compound are objects from Eames-designed exhibits like Mathematica: A World of Numbers and Beyond — commissioned by IBM for the California Museum of Science and Industry in 1961. Storage was a big deal for the Eames office — with its vast array of collections of found objects — and
you can get a sense of what it was like to preserve images before the digital age in this rolling cabinet designed to hold slide carousels.
Some distance away from the house is the workshop, in another expansive barn, where examples of sculptures by both mother and
daughter are found, like Lucia’s “In the Curl” steel tables evoking her childhood body-surfing in Los Angeles, and Llisa’s “Core Sample”
series in bronze, which abstractly explores themes of geology and time (a fitting subject for a family enterprise that daily builds upon its remarkable legacy 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 together form a very compelling visual whole — the supported and the support — telling an hieroglyphic story about invention. After spending time with the Eames family
(Ray and Charles shown above) you begin to see everything in new ways. For example, it suddenly struck me that from a distance the
Eames house/warehouse really is a modern board-and-batten version of an Italian hill town: the house as both archive and living laboratory of invention. In 100 Quotes by Charles Eames, a delightful little book published by the Eames Office, I found a statement that seemed to fit my tour: “The house must make no insistent demands for itself, but rather aid as a background for life in work. This house acts as a re-orienter and shock absorber.” I agree — in other words,
I think you could say that the best houses are frames to set you free (metal sculpture by Lucia).
NOTE: A few months after this post was published I learned the very sad news that our wonderful friend, the talented, generous, thoughtful, and kind Lucia Eames, died of a massive stroke. Our hearts go out to this extraordinary family. We shall always miss her and are so grateful for her way of opening our eyes to the world around us.