‘It is mostly the little things that can complete the picture’
Well spoken words indeed, almost written to describe accessories rather than paintings for which it was originally intended. Any room, any table, any work space would be bleak and bland without them, that is for certain. Charles and Ray Eames never set out to become suppliers of accessories, the ones that happened did so largely as natural developments in product lines or through special commissions.
The early wartime work on the molded plywood forms would be the catalyst for the majority of the accessories that emanated from the original Eames Office. From Radios to screens, speakers to serving trays, the small range of Eames accessories that built up over the years was unique and always interesting.
The collaboration between Charles Eames, the Eames Office and the Evans Molded Plywood Division had worked with a good degree of success during the war years, especially considering the material was new. They had managed to use the new techniques for molding plywood into super strong and lightweight products which were adapted into things such as Leg Splints, pilots seats, litters and arm braces.
Once the restriction of the war period had been lifted, one could imagine that there was potentially an open book for the Eames Office to exploit with any number of plywood-based products. Whilst research and development would be wide ranging the limited outlook of the Evans Molded Plywood company would ultimately be a restrictive force. Their lack of experience and nervousness at venturing into too many markets would be understandable considering the post war need for directed rebuilding and value for money.
The immediate post war years did see some new product developments come to the marketplace using the plywood forms. As well as the furniture for Children that released in 1945 there was also a commissioned project for radio casings by numerous manufacturers of the time including Emerson, Zenith (no relation to Zenith Plastics), Hoffman and Teletone. The design need was to produce value driven radio enclosures for every home. The plywood forms were deemed to be perfect, due to their strength and lightness in weight and of course cost in relation to metal or other plastics. There was also a good argument that the plywood forms resonated a better sound too.
Some historians believe that the Eames Office, in collaboration with the Evans Molded Plywood Company, produced as many as thirty or more designs for radio enclosures and even gramophones too. The issue is that it cannot be substantiated with definitive records. The number of confirmed designs is small, so it is almost certain that there were more but as it stands, we can only highlight those that have been attributed to having Eames Office origins. The radio was an important accessory in 1950’s America and as such a good number of them were produced with varying degrees of rarity between the designs.
There were other plywood accessories too including the pipe stand which could very well be attributed to Charles himself seeing as he was an avid pipe smoke, often appearing in photographs with pipe close to hand. Also, as part of the first plywood furniture series was the FSW (folding screen wood). A beautifully constructed free-standing screen of plywood veneer interlocked with high strength fabric enabling the molded design to concertina either entirely flat or fully out and placed in the formation of choosing.
In 1956 the Eames Office was commissioned to produce designs for speaker casings for high end speakers made by LA based Stephens Trusonic. It is likely that the project was given to the Office not only because of it’s growing reputation at the time but because of the earlier work on the radio housings. The result was a series of four beautiful free-standing speaker designs. Not only were these designs visually unique and striking but the plywood constructions gave a fantastic resonating sound to the high quality components inside.
Waverly products utilized Ray Eames’ Sea Things pattern design for a series of serving trays and side tables in 1954. The company used template plastic tray designs and transferred patterns of various subjects on them during the 1950’s. The production of the Ray Eames design would last a couple of years and they can still be found today through they are quite rare. The ‘catch it all table’ is thought to number single figures and is extrememly hard to find today, reaching high auction figures.
Perhaps the most famous of all Eames accessories is the Hang-it-all coat rack. Made in 1953 by Tigrett Enterprises (the same company that made the toys and games) it consisted of a simple white wire frame with a series of contrasting colored balls to act as posts for the hanging of coats, jackets, umbrellas or hats. This popular design was sadly discontinued in 1961 with the demise of Tigrett but brought back to life in the 1990’s.