The multifaceted Eames Demetrios, director of the Eames Office and grandson of Charles and Ray Eames, visited Dubai mid-November to give a talk at IkonHouse in Al Serkal Avenue on the theme The Value of the Original. He talked to Selections about championing his grandparents’ ideas, designs and philosophy.

Anastasia Nysten: Your talk on The Value of the Original highlighted the extensive changes we’ve witnessed in the world of design over the years. How would you summarise this progression?
Eames Demetrios: Rather than design itself, in my mind it is simply the expression of design that has changed. Design has always been a problem-solving exercise, whether it was being undertaken in villages hundreds of years ago under a different name or in a modern setting today. However, what set Charles and Ray [Eames] apart, and others like them since, was the way in which they adopted an iterative process in their work, repeating what they did until they got the results they were looking for.

AN: How would you characterise Charles and Ray’s approach to their work?
ED: What’s interesting is that Charles and Ray weren’t particularly focused on self-expression. When they were designing, the look was usually the last thing they thought about. You can be skeptical about that, but the Aluminum Group Chair is a good example. You might assume that the silhouette was the initial sketch but what drove the entire design was actually a detail.

Most people bring a fine art idea of authenticity and originality to design. The painting Guernica by Pablo Picasso, that unique individual artwork, has gone on an long trip across oceans, continents and wars to find its current place on the wall of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.

When you stand in front of it, you are standing exactly where Picasso was standing in relation to that painting, a very powerful experience and an incredibly romantic one that you cannot replicate by seeing the same artwork in a book. It is exactly the opposite of what most designers are trying to do: multiplicity is iterative design, particularly with furniture and industrial design. Most designers are trying to create an authentic experience again and again.

AN: Can you share a memory that has marked you from your childhood?
ED: A great memory in general is the experience of visiting their office. It was so thrilling, so exciting, so many good things were going on. Every time we visited there was a different activity going on. Even the walls were different because they were all placed with clamps so you can rearrange them.

One thing is that if you told anybody in the 60s or 70s that there would be such a thing as a rockstar designer, they would have laughed because it was just inconceivable. And I think Charles and Ray never worked towards becoming that, they just wanted to create good work. For my siblings and me, the experience wasn’t of having famous grandparents but having fascinating and engaging ones.

AN: What about the time when they served a bowl of flowers as desert to their guests?
ED: Architect Kevin Roche wasn’t very satisfied. But we, as children, didn’t experience that disappointment. Charles and Ray believed that if you wanted to get someone a present, you should just do it and not necessarily wait for an occasion so we would get a mysterious package in the mail now and then with letters in Ray’s beautiful handwriting.

AN: How did you decide to go into film and photography?
ED: Charles, Ray and I had a connection around filmmaking. I think the way they inspired me the most was to never give up. If you don’t believe in what you do, how can you convince others to believe in you?

Charles and Ray weren’t financially successful nor did they have the resources for the first 10 years of their career but they still managed to make films, toys, multimedia, graphics, textiles, architecture, furniture and exhibitions. They always did the most they could.

I gave a talk 5 years ago in Canada at the same place Charles had once given a talk. I found out that he had been asked the question ‘What’s your advice for young designers?’ His answer resonated in me. He said everybody has a margin in their lives and the main issue was that people going down a creative life path will squander that margin. You need to think about how you are using your time.

by Anastasia Nysten

Featured image: Charles & Ray Eames

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters From The Past #43 pages 130-133.