Design Moment: ESU bookcase, 1949

US design couple Charles and Ray Eames made their name by using industrial materials for home furnishings

ESU bookcase by Charles and Ray Eames. Photograph: Vitra Collections AG

ESU bookcase by Charles and Ray Eames. Photograph: Vitra Collections AG

 

The date this Eames Storage Unit (ESU) was created is as notable as its designers. Prolific, influential US design couple Charles (1907-78) and Ray (1912-88) Eames are now famous for using industrial techniques and materials to create home furniture, and this piece reflects that aesthetic but also a mood of post-war austerity.

They used inexpensive industrial steel components – the sort used for commercial utility shelving in factories – to create the frame with criss-crossed bracing rods. How it’s made is clear to be seen, its simplicity is fully on view. It’s a surprisingly tactile piece – the mix of materials includes doors made from black plastic laminate, panels of perforated metal and Masonite (a coloured enamel-finished hardboard), and birch-veneered plywood with circular patterns in relief.

ESU bookcase by Charles and Ray Eames. Photograph: Vitra Collections AG
ESU bookcase by Charles and Ray Eames. Photograph: Vitra Collections AG

It was manufactured by Herman Miller as part of a range that included two- and three-tier cabinets and desks. The mix of storage options in a single unit is impressive, with three drawers, open shelve sections, and cupboards with doors.

Vitra now makes the ESU under licence, updating the colour scheme working with Dutch designer Hella Jongerius.