The Eames Ranch: Build Your World and Live in It

It’s not every day that one gets to visit the home and archive of the inimitable design couple Ray and Charles Eames. Back in May I was invited to join the Bluerun Ventures team for a full day design retreat at The Eames Ranch in Northern California. For those of you not familiar with their work, Ray and Charles are two of the most influential designers of the last century.

That expensive lounge chair you’ve been eyeing at DWRthey made it.

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Those molded chairs in your officeyes, they made those too.

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The airport chairsthat’s them!

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Beyond chairs, Ray and Charles contributed extensively to defining American ideas and culture through industrial design, film, architecture, and nearly every facet of material and creative culture. The volume and quality of their output is directly attributed to their design process; today, the foundation of what we call “design thinking.” Many of the values and principles that lead their design process are applicable to those creating products, companies, and communities today. Some reflections on my visit:

Build beautiful things that last.

At 55 years old, the tandem sling seating has become airport infrastructure. When Ray and Charles went about creating seating for the first commercial airports in the US, they took it upon themselves to talk to their users, in this case, the maintenance staff, who informed them that they had limited space to store replacement parts. They knew that if their product couldn’t easily be repaired, it would be replaced; a tragic fate for any creation. Their solution: compact tubes of no-seam, leather seat slings that handily fit in storage closets and on maintenance carts.

Picture4Always be testing.

Ray and Charles extensively prototyped and tested the longevity of their products. The barn in the back of the house is a shrine to this creative process. Inside of it were hundreds of parts organized neatly on shelves under the watchful eye of a Gandhi poster. Their granddaughter, Llisa pointed out a lovely table that never made it to production because Ray and Charles agreed that the legs were too weak to be reliable in the long term.  


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Celebrate the things that matter to you.

Their lives were filled with their travel treasures, imagery, and inspiration. They found products from all over the world that embodied their values and displayed them. Llisa shared one of her favorites, a hanging wall calendar from India that rolled up for portability. This also meant creating a library, displaying imagery from their travels, and neatly organizing artifacts in labeled drawers. Organizations today call this “culture.”


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Diversity is an Asset.

Ray and Charles never stopped creating, nor did they choose to specialize. Like Elon Musk, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo Da Vinci they were master generalists. Their seemingly endless energy to design led them to one exciting opportunity after another: films for the World’s fair, splints for the military, and even the architecture for an aquarium. The different projects molded the framework of design thinking, which could be applied across disciplines and clients.