"In a good old toy there is apt to be nothing self-conscious about the use of materials. What is wood is wood; what is tin is tin; and what is cast is beautifully cast." -
Ray and Charles Eames took child’s play seriously. They invented playthings, furniture, and films to spark young imaginations. Given their own ideas of fun, these toys tended to emphasize composition, structure, and building. Many of their designs embrace what kids and parents have long known: that the box an item comes in, especially if it’s a very large item, can be more exciting than the contents.
As adults designing play things for children, the Eameses found inspiration in boxes and colourful paints. In 1951 The Toy was released by Tigrett Enterprises. It offered children the chance to make their own prefabricated structure, one more colorful and flexible than Carton City.
The Toy combined thin wooden dowels, pipe cleaners, and a set of square and triangular stiffened-paper panels in green, yellow, blue, red, magenta, and black. Children could run the dowels through sleeves on the edges of the panels to strengthen them, and then attach these struts at the corners. Initially sold in a big, flat box via the Sears catalog, the Eameses soon redesigned this packaging, creating a far more elegant 30-inch hexagonal tube, into which all parts could be rolled and stored.
House of Cards originally came as two decks of 54 cards, with two slots on each side and one on the ends. The idea was to make construction of spaces as easy as possible. The notches more elegantly solve the problem of connections: no more dowels or wire frames, and no tools. Players got to choose 54 different patterns for the first deck, and 54 different photographs for the second.
The catalog for all three Eames toy products noted, “This group of toys has been happily received by parents and educators because they make available real color and real space through three construction systems of three greatly different sizes, all different and all brilliant.”
Cardboard offers an opportunity for a child’s first attempts to build and Ray and Charles Eames indeed offered a prelude to the more serious explorations of structure and material they embarked upon with houses, showrooms, and furniture. Cardboard comes into your house without designer packaging. Seeing its potential opens you up to a world in which any box contains a city and a lot of fun.
So this holiday season, keep some of those packing boxes that clutter your living room and add some paints and see what happens. Might be some serious fun.
Whether as a toy (also good for outdoor use) or as an item for children's bedrooms, this friendly-looking animal with its distinctive, huge floppy ears should make the heart of many a child (and parent) beat just that little bit faster.
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