What It Was Like to Work for Charles and Ray Eames

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Marilyn Neuhart and John Neuhart worked for the iconic designers for years and went on to collaborate on an 800-page book, The Story of Eames Furniture, about the chairs and other items that have become ubiquitous symbols of mid-century modernity today. In this short documentary from the book's publisher, Gestalten, the Neuharts -- another husband and wife design team -- describe their experiences in the Eames Office and how they researched the book. Gestalten calls it "the benchmark reference on what is arguably the most influential and important furniture brand of our time," and it certainly draws from its authors' inside perspective. 

Marilyn Neuhart, the book's author, says she hopes to "fill in the gaps" in the Eames mythology, fleshing out the contributions of other designers, "two generations" of people who worked with them. The first team came together during World War II, creating war-related items, "so that was really the start of Charles's molded-plywood career," she explains. The "design collaborative" fell apart a few years later, however, when the "promise of equal pay and equal credit ... never materialized." Others joined the group later, and the enterprise became one of the most recognizable furniture brands in the world. 

About five minutes into the video, the couple describes the multidisciplinary creative atmosphere of the studio:

John Neuhart: George Nelson maintained that going to the Eames Office was like watching people take their brains out and knead them on their desk, like dough. The way things worked normally in the office was that Charles had to kind of work his way through stuff. He'd come to you and he'd start talking about something but there were all kinds of openings that he leaves you with and you have to work your way through it. And some people couldn't work that way. They had to have it very specific, and they didn't last long there.

Marylin Neuhart: Usually when you came to the office, you came with a specific kind of skill or an area of interest -- like John was a graphic designer -- but then Charles would like throw the curve at you and his first was to do this three-dimensional do-nothing machine, which had nothing to do with graphics at that point. And he would do that with everybody. One guy came in and wanted to work on furniture, was desperate to work on furniture, his first love, and he was put in the dark room, printing! It was always like that. So it was actually like a trial by fire. You know if you made it through this trial, then you were more likely to be able to stay at the Eames Office ... The people who lasted years are these people who could just drop whatever they were doing and start off in a whole different area. 

The video was produced by Ole Wagner, Andrea Cadorin, and Fette Sans for Gestalten. 

Watch more videos by Gestalten on the Atlantic Video channel

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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