Ray Eames was one of the most influential female designers in modern design history. Born on December 15, 1912 to Alexander and Edna Burr Kaiser, the family resided in Sacramento, California in an apartment and then in a bungalow outside of town.
Eames studied the German Expressionist Hans Hofmann in New York City and later founded the American Abstract Artists group in 1936. One of her paintings is still on display at The Whitney Museum of American Art.
In 1940 Ray began furthering her education to learn a variety of different arts at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. Here she met Charles Eames. Ray and Charles were married in 1941 and settled in Los Angeles, where they began working together in design and architecture. They worked well together in the design process and used new materials and technology to create innovative high-quality objects produced at reasonable costs. They also collaborated on designs for monuments, house, exhibitions and toys. Ray also created several textile designs, two of them ‘Crosspatch’ and ‘Sea Things’ were produced by a renowned company called Schiffer Prints. Many of Ray’s textile designs can be found in various art museums today.
Ray was still painting and designing textiles while experimenting with processes to be able to curve and mold plywood. It was chairs that Ray and Charles created from this molded plywood that bought a break-through in their business and Eames Design gained an international following. Their furniture items were later made from fiber-glass, bent and welded mesh, cast aluminium, reinforced plastic and, of course, molded plywood and were manufactured and distributed by Herman Miller.
Many of their furniture designs are today contemporary classics, such as The Eames Lounge Chair Wood (a low seated chair as pictured above) and the ‘Time-Life Chair’.
The Eames Office was disbanded after Charles’ death in 1978 but Ray Eames continued to work on several unfinished projects. Ray Eames passed away in 1988, ten years to the day after Charles. They are buried next to each other in a cemetery in St. Louis.
Elsie de Wolfe
Elsie de Wolfe, also known as Lady Mendl, was one of the first recognised interior decorators in America. She was also an actress, a prominent society figure in New York, Paris and London and an author of the influential 1913 book ‘The House in Good Taste’.
Born in 1859 an only daughter to a Canadian-born doctor, her creativeness with style and colour was apparent from an early age.
Elsie married in 1926 to Sir Charles Mendl, but they kept separate residences as their marriage was a platonic one for social convenience. When Elsie was in New York she resided with a close female friend, Elisabeth Marbury, which many observed and commented on as being a lesbian relationship.
There were many different elements that aided Elsie in becoming an influential figure in interior design –her reputation as an actress, her social connections as well as her success in decorating the interior of the house she shared with Elisabeth.
Elsie de Wolfe revolutionised modern design by converting the dark, heavy and ornate interiors of Victorian times to brighter, softer, more feminine and less cluttered rooms. Her taste was practical and provided for more comfortable entertaining for guests. Elsie’s inspiration came from 18th century French and English art, fashion and theatre.
During her years as an interior designer, de Wolfe designed interiors for many prestigious private homes, businesses and clubs.
Frances Adler Elkins
Although the younger sister of renowned architect David Adler, Frances earned her achievement of becoming one of the most prominent females in the interior design industry during the twentieth century.
Frances was born on November 7, 1888. She didn’t go to college to study but followed her brother to Paris in 1908 while he studied architecture. During their time in Europe the siblings met various up and coming artisans and Elkins began a collaboration with two particular artists Jean-Michel Frank and Alberto Giacometti. She provided suggestions for some of Jean-Michel’s leather furniture and Alberto’s handcrafted plaster lamps.
Frances married a wealthy polo player, Felton Broomall Elkins in 1917 but they soon divorced in 1918. They had three children together.
In order to support their children Elkins began decorating houses for friends, and then moved into decorating hotels and clubs and later in her career collaborated with her brother, David Adler, on about 15 houses in California.
Her niche was combining traditional and contemporary styles, patterns and colour and also favoured French provincial furniture. Frances liked to mix white, blues and yellows in her rooms and would only ever allow pink and red coloured carnations to be the flowers used. Lacquered tables by Jean-Michel Frank and sconces made by Alberto Giacometti were often present in her rooms. Frances was also known to be one of the first decorators to use all mirrored walls in bathrooms.
Elkins ventured into furniture design, she created and manufactured only a very small amount of chairs that are today known as the ‘Loop Chair’ and the ‘Spider Chair’. Reproductions of both of these chairs are available today.