By Catherine Beaton

“Take your pleasure seriously.” — Charles Eames

The elephant enclosure at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, CC by smowblog

The elephant enclosure at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, CC by smowblog

I’m not sure when I first consciously encountered the designs of Charles and Ray Eames. It may have been in the fabulous chair display at the Vitra Design Mueseum; it was definitely by the early 00s when a number of important exhibits featured their marvellous design work in furniture, architecture, and film and I witnessed the overwhelming breadth and depth of their work. Since then, Charles and Ray Eames have become some of my design icons.

Earlier in my life the clean, sinuous lines and understated beauty of the Eames plywood chair would have escaped me (and probably did!). Now it’s one of my favorite chairs. There are two red Eames wooden lounge chairs in the living room. I love sitting in them, feeling the soft, stable curves that gently and expertly support my form. This is a chair that knows I am human, knows what I need and meets that need in a gracious, intelligent and cozy way. I feel elegant, welcome and fully accommodated when seated in my red chair!

A chair that elegantly speaks "human"

A chair that elegantly speaks “human”

And the Eameses managed to pass that magic into their other designs. In the office I love sitting in our 30-year-old Eames green-fabric aluminum group chairs. But recently I discovered a new favorite. When the De Pree Center relocated, we inherited an Eames Soft Pad management chair in well-worn black leather. When my colleagues found me seated in it for the first time, I had a huge, delighted smile on my face. It was so comfortable and supportive that I forgot all about working at my stand-up desk.

Comfy!

Comfy!

(Yes, the De Pree Center seems to have a thing for chairs! Gideon Strauss wrote about his favorite chair earlier. But perhaps we are in good company. George Nelson, architect, designer extraordinaire and long-time collaborator with Herman Miller, Max De Pree’s family furniture company, said, “Every truly original idea seems to find its most important expression in a chair.”)

While early on I may not have appreciated the Eameses’ design aesthetic, I would have immediately gravitated to their sense of play. I like to play. I love those all too rare moments when play thoroughly infuses my work; the process is fun and the results are (usually) pleasantly surprising! Doing silly, small, almost-unconscious things also brings me joy; like daily rearranging the stacks of colorful Post-It notes in the office (much to my new boss’ consternation), or rearranging the top of my coffee table by making my miniature Eames elephant chair “drink” out of an empty tea-light holder. Silly, small pleasures that can bring delight to the human heart.

Eames elephant coffee table antics

Eames elephant coffee table antics

Imagine my amazement a few days after rearranging my tabletop when I discovered an actual video of playful Eames elephants! Who would have thought that herds of plywood elephants could bring such delight as they navigated the streets and wilds of Los Angeles on their way home? (Answer: Grandson Eames Demetrios, in a beautiful celebration of a particularly whimsical Eames chair design well executed in the seriously playful spirit of Ray and Charles.) Enjoy!

What simple, silly (or not so silly), imaginative things bring you pleasure? How do you bring play into your work? With what results?

Catherine Beaton is the creative director at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and also associate editor of Fieldnotes Magazine.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email The Editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

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