That’s how Eames Demetrios challenges sceptics to prove why his furniture means ‘long term’
My NAME is Eames. Eames Demetrios, just to let you know.” That’s how the grandson of Charles and Ray Eames, two of the most important American designers of the 20th century, begins our interaction. He is particular about the name, for a reason. He says, “My mother Lucia is Charles’ daughter (from the first marriage). Charles had one sister, Adele, but no brothers. My mother thought the name was not going to continue, so she gave it to me as my first name.”
Eames, the name, has an important place in the history of furniture and industrial design, architecture, filmmaking, and even photography. And Demetrios is working relentlessly, while juggling his own passion as a multimedia artist and filmmaker, to take the name forward as the director of the California-based Eames office. In fact, this office had an octopus that recognised Charles every time he walked in, says Demetrios (53) sharing a fond memory of his grandparents.
The fruits of Charles and Ray’s innovation that we still enjoy are the Moulded plywood chair, and the Eames lounge and ottoman, among others. Both had been developed after decades of research, as the two wanted to make sure they comfortably support the human body.
Demetrios was in Bengaluru recently to offer a glimpse into the lives of his legendary grandparents through the travelling exhibition called Essential Eames Pocket Edition. The show has on display a few pieces of chairs, toys and a leg splint (designed for the US navy in 1940s).
Miles away, at London’s Barbican Center, another exhibition, titled The World of Charles and Ray Eames, is displaying a battered seat and trash can — remains of one of the two prototypes of fiberglass seats that the couple were making for a Los Angeles studio.
Herman Miller, which manufactures the Eames chairs, has also recently opened its first production unit in India, outside Bengaluru.
But there were more historical reasons why Demetrios wanted to bring this exhibition to India.“PM Jawaharlal Nehru had invited Charles and Ray to visit India in 1958 and recommend how Indians can take traditional crafts forward into modern world. Their India Report is the founding document of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad,” he explains.
Going beyond looks
Demetrios lets us in on the Eames core philosophy. “They always said that the role of a designer is of a thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests. So when a host offers a chair, it should be comfortable. My grandparents spent a lot of time making sure the design worked and not just looked good.”
He also reflected on the misplaced priorities of design firms today. “There is a lot of emphasis on style over problem-solving. As designers and even as consumers, we are missing what design is truly about.” He believes that design is about how it can solve a problem. “How it looks can be part of that,” says Demetrios, who asks people to “have a seat” if they are doubtful about the comfort of their minimal-looking chairs.
He cites another disturbing trend of a growing disconnect between materials used and the process of designing. “When you change the design (of a product) on a computer, it’s not the same as changing it in the actual object. These computer-aided design tools are great, but it’s often being used to do things quicker, and not better. ”
While picking up a piece of furniture, Demetrios says buyers must get sustainable and authentic products. “It’s easy to make a chair that looks like a chair,” he says, hinting at the thriving knock-off market.
“Be a responsible citizen of the world and buy things that last. Also, if the product is not comfortable, get something else. Buyers should challenge the parameters of qualities. A lot of things look good, but when you get them home, they start wobbling and you begin to question your purchase,” he adds.
The exhibition is on till December 30. At Gensler, Bengaluru. `25,000 upwards. Details: hermanmiller.com
Sustainability is key
Staying true to Charles and Ray’s philosophy of sustainability, the brand introduced eco-friendly fiberglass chairs five years ago. Demetrios regards it as their biggest innovation in recent times. He explains, “It’s got eco-friendly qualities such as monomer-free resin and no off-gassing (during the binding process). It retains the beautiful textures and colours of our vintage pieces.” In late ’80s, his grandmother had discontinued the Eames moulded plastic chair as they had environment-harming resins. In fact, instances of the couple’s pursuit of sustainability can also be found in their films.
His fictional world
Much like his grandparents, Demetrios is multi-faceted himself. One of his most-anticipated creative projects is Kcymaerxthaere. Underway for more than a decade, it is a global storytelling project that creates a parallel universe through the creation of historical plaques and sites. Indonesia has hit headlines as one of the destinations of Demetrios’ epic project. Telling us about its progress, he says, “We are still working on the labyrinth in Indonesia. It will be more than 100 meters long. We hope it will be underwater and swimmable.”
— Barkha Kumari