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Context is key: famous housebirds

What is the link between birds and design? Whether you adore birds or try to avoid them as much as possible, there’s one little bird that made it to the top of furniture design and is loved by many bird lovers and haters. When this bird nests inside your home, chances are it might never leave again. I’m talking about the Eames house bird! The legacy of the Eames household is quite immense and of great importance for furniture design today, so let me introduce you to the couple first…

We always tend to talk about Charles and Ray Eames in one breath. But Charles Eames and Bernice “Ray” Kaiser only met in 1941, after Charles divorced from his first wife. He was already an architect by then, and a teacher in the industrial department of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he met Ray. Ray on the other hand, began her career as a painter, because she studied abstract expressionism and later decided to go the the Cranbrook Academy of Art to explore other art movements. So, it was obvious that after they married, their disciplines would intertwine together. Ray took care of most of the graphic design and artwork, while Charles took care of the furniture design – but always with each other’s approving.

It was never the purpose of Charles and Ray Eames to design the Eames house bird – or even put their name on the design! It all started with the project of the Eames house, one that is considered an important example for modern architecture. Charles and Ray built the house as their home and studio, and was part of the famous Case Study House program by John Entenza, to show American citizens a new way of modern living. Charles and Ray wanted to develop an up-to-date home, which reflected their own needs: living and working in the same place in harmony with the environment outside.

The house is a truly unique building that is spacious and cozy at the same time, and the couple loved to decorate the space! They brought in accessories and souvenirs from travels, and this is exactly where our Eames house bird enters the story. The souvenir, brought back from the Appalachian mountains in Canada, is actually made by Charles and Edna Perdew, an elderly couple who, after they both retired, started to paint and carve bird decoys for hunters. The bird appeared a few times in different magazines as background decoration for designs of Charles and Ray. The mid-century families fell in love with it, and the rest is history: here we are today, with an accidental design classic from the Eames household, never made by Charles and Ray in the first place!

The Swiss furniture company Vitra. saw potential in the rising interest for the little bird, and responded to the popularity by re-designing the bird in the shape as we know it today: solid black, steel wire legs and with a reference in the name of the bird to Charles and Ray Eames.

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Photography by Ineke Tack, Laura Willems and Stephanie Duval.