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A Backdrop for Life: An Iconic Home's Lesson in Architectural Humility

There is no fireplace or massive stone chimney around which furniture is arranged. Instead there are two 17-foot-high adjoining window walls that overlook mature eucalyptus trees, the meadow and, in the distance, the Pacific Ocean. A third wall is finished with birch siding because Charles Eames said he needed a material he could nail into. There is no fourth wall; this edge of the space flows into a seating alcove tucked under a sleeping balcony that overlooks the big space and into the entry hallway, which in turn looks through the kitchen to the courtyard and the studio beyond.

The character of this space lies not in the design but in the furnishings. There are, as you would expect, an Eames sofa, an Eames lounge chair and ottoman, and a few of their other chairs. But the real stars are their enormous collection of folk art and multi-colored, multi-patterned textiles, acquired from work and travel around the world. While their own designs exhibit a degree of perfection that can be achieved only with machines, they clearly celebrated the imperfection of the hand-crafted object.

The Eameses added a few things here and there over a long period. The arrangement on display was eight years in the making, according to their grandson Eames Demetrios.

By modern standards, most visitors will find the Eameses' eat-in kitchen too small, but their second-floor bedroom area, about the same size as master suites today, offers some ideas. Instead of the cavernous bedroom, master bath and huge walk-in closet that becomes a disorganized mess, the space here is compartmentalized. There are separate bathrooms and dressing areas, which probably reduced irritation between spouses. The dressing areas have closets instead of open clothes racks, which forces a certain degree of order. The sleeping area is modest and surprisingly devoid of artifacts. A sliding panel closes off an adjacent area with a table for working on midnight inspirations and a bed for grandchildren who visit.

From the Eameses' double bed, you see the leaves of the eucalyptus trees brushing against the windows, which makes you feel as though you're in a tree house. Looking straight ahead through the two-story living room, you can see the Pacific Ocean. What a way to start your day!

Although the house was intended to be a prototype, it was never replicated because builders did not adopt steel framing. Even using traditional wood framing, it was not a look other architects embraced despite their admiration of the Eameses.

But the spirit of Charles and Ray Eames lives on in every new house when the owners set aside their concerns for resale and the opinions of family and friends, and instead choose options that they want for themselves and slowly furnish rooms with things that will bring them pleasure everyday they live there.

The grounds of the Eames house in Pacific Palisades are open by appointment. For more information, see http://www.eamesfoundation.org.

Katherine Salant can be contacted via her Web site, www.katherinesalant.com.

Copyright 2008 Katherine Salant


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company