Step inside the Eames House, a divine shrine unchanged since their deaths

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Step inside the Eames House, a divine shrine unchanged since their deaths
The courtyard of Eames House / Photo: Timothy Street Porter

Charlie Chaplin and Billy Wilder used to party with Charles and Ray Eames at their house in Los Angeles – and play guinea pigs to their latest chair designs. Step inside the Eames House, a divine shrine unchanged since their deaths

The bookshelves groan with Mexican masks and tribal figurines, the coffee table is choked with ornamental ashtrays and seashells, and you have to be careful not to trip over the carved wooden leopards and birds scattered across the floor.

This treasure trove of folksy trinkets might not sound like the lair of the 20th century’s most influential modernist design duo, but then Charles and Ray Eames – of whose work a vast retrospective at the Barbican opens this week – were no mean minimalists.

“It gave me great pleasure,” wrote Robert Venturi, the godfather of postmodernism, who has spent his career battling the modernist dogma of “less is more”, “that the Eameses reintroduced good old Victorian muddle in their home. The architecture of modernism always wanted everything to be clean and orderly and then along came these two, spreading their eclectic assemblages all over the entire interior.”

If Mies van der Rohe imposed rigid order on the world with his clinical creations, Charles and Ray Eames came and smothered it with patterned fabrics and scatter cushions. They humanised modernism, exuding warmth, colour and unbridled optimism in everything they produced. […]