Design Classic: Eames House Bird
By Dora Vanette / Published by Dwell
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The small decorative black bird is considered one of the most famous Eames pieces, even though it wasn't designed by Eames at all.

The story of the Eames House Bird is less a story of Charles and Ray Eames and more one of Charles and Edna Perdew. This husband and wife team from Henry, Illinois, passed on their gun repair business to their son in the 1930s and dedicated themselves to carving and painting bird decoys for hunters. A simple black bird Perdew carved around 1910 became a highly sought-after model by quite a different audience in the 1950s, primarily for its minimal shape and dark color. It was popularized by Charles and Ray Eames, who acquired one on their travels in the Appalachian mountains. The wooden bird became a center piece of the Eames living room and soon started to make an appearance in many of their product photo-shoots. It can even be seen in a 1952 cover of the Architectural Review, a solid shape among a grid created by Eames chairs.

The bird makes an appearance in the Eames living room.

Realizing the broad appeal of this simple decorative piece, Vitra has recently started reproducing them by creating 3D scans of the original. However, unlike Perdew's versions, which were mostly carved out of pine, the Vitra version is made of solid alder with a black lacquer finish and steel wire legs. Its reappearance has brought the little black bird back to many mid-century inspired homes, where it often perches on top of furniture, elegant and unobtrusive at the same time. 

The Eames House Bird is made of solid alder with a black lacquer finish and steel wire legs. Image courtesy of Vitra.

The Eames bird makes an appearance on the cover of a 1952 issue of Architectural Record.

In this Bratislava apartment an Eames bird keeps watch over the record collection.

In this Bratislava apartment an Eames bird keeps watch over the record collection.

The dining space in this Atlanta abode features two Eames House Birds and a cuckoo clock from Diamantini & Domeniconi. Photo by Gregory Miller.

The dining space in this Atlanta abode features two Eames House Birds and a cuckoo clock from Diamantini & Domeniconi. Photo by Gregory Miller.

The Eames House Bird has become a popular decorative item in many mid-century inspired homes. Image courtesy of DWR.

Dora Vanette

@doravanette

Dora Vanette is a part time lecturer at Parsons The New School for Design. She holds MA degrees in 20th Century Art History and English from University of Zagreb, Croatia, as well as in Design Studies from Parsons The New School for Design. She has written about art and design for a variety of print and online publications. dora.vanette@gmail.com

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