The Eames House. Photo: Leslie Schwartz, 2013 © Eames Office, LLC

The Eames House is an icon of Los Angeles modern architecture designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1949. The Getty Conservation Institute and the Eames Foundation have just completed a comprehensive plan to preserve the house for the next century. Known as a Conservation Management Plan, it is a strategy for the ongoing care, management, conservation, display, and interpretation of the house and its contents.

About Charles and Ray Eames

Husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames were a major design force in midcentury America, leaving a widespread legacy not only in architecture, but also in filmmaking, furniture, graphics, and exhibition and industrial design.

Ray and Charles standing on the steel frame, 1949. This widely published photo without a doubt associates the Eameses with their house, one of their most influential collaborative works. © Eames Office, LLC

Their house, nestled into a coastal hill in Pacific Palisades, was designed as part of the influential Case Study House Program, which promoted the design and construction of innovative, low-cost, prototypical modern houses that would serve the needs of postwar families. The Eames House reflects the couple’s novel ideas about materials, construction, and industrial design and provides an intimate view into the lives of its onetime occupants.

The contents of the house—artwork, objects collected from foreign travel, flower arrangements, colorful textiles, vintage toys, and Eames-designed furnishings—are a window into the Eameses’ approach to life and design. The landscaped site is part of the sensory experience through the aroma of the surrounding eucalyptus trees, the play of light and shadow on the glass walls, and views to the Pacific Ocean.

Ray and Charles Eames in the living room, 1958. The room was filled with furnishings and the Eameses’ diverse collections. The movable ladder, hooked to the exposed roof trusses, was used to hang objects from the ceiling, such as the Hans Hofmann painting, which hung horizontally for a time. Photo: Julius Shulman photography archive, 1935–2009. The Getty Research Institute, 2004.R.10

Partnering with the Getty

The Eames Foundation was founded in 2004 to preserve and protect the Eames House as it faced several conservation challenges. In 2012, after consulting with a number of experts, the Foundation partnered with the Conservation Institute to create a long-term conservation strategy.

At the time, the Conservation Institute was developing its Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative, and felt the Eames House would make an excellent inaugural project. Conserving and protecting the house for future generations is a goal of both the Conservation Institute and the Eames Foundation. Before beginning work on the Conservation Management Plan, Getty staff assisted the Eames Foundation with critical investigations and problem-solving. A multidisciplinary team of conservators, scientists, architects, and engineers was assembled to tackle diverse conservation challenges, which included:

  • Replacing severely damaged vinyl-asbestos tiles with vinyl-composite tile flooring and adding a new moisture barrier system to mitigate damage to the floor
  • Recommending a treatment for interior wood paneling that preserved its patina and added protection from ultraviolet light, and
  • Investigating how color and paint were used in the house.

Replacement floor tiles reproduced the dimensions, color, and finish of the original tiles. © Eames Office, LLC

Excavating exterior paint layers at the Eames House. Photo: Scott Warren, © J. Paul Getty Trust

In addition, a survey of the home’s architectural finishes, which will be completed later this year, was funded by a Keeping It Modern grant from the Getty Foundation.

Contractors undertaking conservation treatment on the wood paneling in the Eames House living room. Photo: Arlen Heginbotham. © J. Paul Getty Trust

The Conservation Management Plan—A Critical Tool

Cover of Eames House Conservation Management Plan

A Conservation Management Plan assesses the importance of a place and develops policies to guide decision making about the place’s use and conservation to ensure that its significance is retained and interpreted for the future.

The Eames House Conservation Management Plan offers the Eames Foundation a critical tool for managing the house based on an understanding of the importance of the Eames House, both as a major work of architecture and as a representation of Charles and Ray Eameses’ lives as designers.

Among the notable policies in the Eames House Conservation Management Plan are those intended to:

  • Ensure that conservation projects at the Eames House retain, respect, and maintain the authenticity of the original elements of the home,
  • Conserve interiors to demonstrate how the Eameses approached living and working in the space, and
  • Develop a landscape management plan for the home’s site.

View of the living room alcove in 2013, showing the rich array of materials in the Eameses’ collection. Objects remain arranged much as they were during Ray and Charles’s lifetimes. Photo: Leslie Schwartz, © Eames Office, LLC

“We want the Eames House to look as though Charles and Ray just stepped out for the day, and working with the Getty Conservation Institute has helped us clarify what the site needs in order to meet this goal,” says Lucia Dewey Atwood, director of the Eames Foundation’s 250 Year Project, which aims to preserve the house for generations to come.

Learn more about the Eames Foundation’s 250 Year Project, and how you can visit the Eames House, on the Eames Foundation website.

Generous support for the Eames House Conservation Project was provided by the GCI Council, the Dunard Fund, USA, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Vitra, Herman Miller, the Eames Office, the Ludwick Family Foundation, Nebo and hundreds of individuals.