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Why Hollywood Is Celebrating Eames

Charles and Ray Eames, subjects of a documentary and a comprehensive art show, are releasing new versions of two of their most iconic chairs.
Courtesy of Herman Miller Inc.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Eames chairs are beloved by Hollywood, and the release of new versions of two of the most iconic will only further whet the appetite. This winter, Herman Miller is imparting a light note to Charles and Ray Eames' famously comfortable lounger and ottoman, offering them in white-leather upholstered ash. And Eames' sleekly functional Executive Chair (Don Draper's choice) can now go out on the patio -- it has just become available in weather-resistant metal.

In recent years, of course, Eames has become an easy signifier of modern-design sensibility -- in a recent issue of People, Simon Cowell prominently displayed a lounger in his living room. Collecting originals also has grown to almost become a competitive sport. "I'd see a pair of chairs I loved and I'd come back the next day and ask where they'd gone. 'Oh, Brad Pitt bought those.' I was dogged by him," says Daniel Ostroff, a film producer (The Missing, 2012's Of Two Minds) and noted collector.

Now three exhibits and a new documentary are offering a deeper look at the late husband-and-wife team who revolutionized modern design with furnishings that are at once utilitarian and sculptural.

The just-opened, James Franco-narrated doc Eames: The Architect and the Painter portrays a design duo who stayed true to their ideal of bringing high quality to a broad audience, especially in their innovative use of such low-cost materials as resin and plywood.

As Eames fan Ice Cube said recently: "The Eames were masters of sampling. They took existing materials, mixed them into something better and brought their designs to the people."

A comprehensive show, Collecting Eames: The JF Chen Collection, is on view at high-end vintage showroom JF Chen (941 N. Highland Ave., through Jan. 14). The more than 425 objects include a lyrically biomorphic La Chaise chair once owned by Tim Burton. Many of the pieces were originally collected by Ostroff.

More than 1,800 objects from the couple's Pacific Palisades home, now a museum, have been temporarily moved to LACMA, which has re-created the Eameses' living room as the centerpiece of its show Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965 (through June 3). Across the street, the A+D Museum (6032 Wilshire Blvd., through Jan. 16) is presenting Eames Words, spotlighting the pair's aphoristic quotes. "What works is better than what looks good," Charles once said. He died in 1978 at age 71; Ray 10 years later to the day at 75.

They were also filmmakers, making more than 125 movies, including the well-known Powers of Ten and shorts focusing on design. And one of their celebrated pieces has a Hollywood genesis. As Ostroff tells it, their friend Billy Wilder used to love to take office naps. He asked Charles to design a chaise for him, but insisted it not be mistaken for a casting couch. The item, still in production, ended up 18 inches wide. When Wilder saw it, he exclaimed, "That would be very good if your girlfriend was built like a Giacometti."

What do you think?

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