Exciting things continue to happen at the [Eames House](https://eamesfoundation.org/house/eames-house/) as part of the [Getty Conservation Institute](http://www.getty.edu/conservation/)’s ongoing conservation work. The iconic house, designed and built between 1945 and 1949 by Charles and Ray Eames (with early plans drafted in collaboration with [Eero Saarinen](http://www.eerosaarinen.net/)) holds some interesting mysteries, particularly if you like wood.\n\nIf you’ve ever visited or seen images of the Eames House living room, you may remember the floor-to-ceiling wall of beautiful golden wood that serves as the stunning backdrop for the room. The aged paneling needed study, evaluation, and treatment. But before conserving an object, you need to know exactly what it’s made of—and in this case, the type of wood was a complete unknown.\n\nI have been a fan of the Eameses since I was a child, watching the [early film by Charles and Ray Eames, *Powers of Ten*](http://www.powersof10.com/film), over and over again at the American Museum of Natural History. So when Kyle Normandin, who manages the [Eames House Conservation project at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI)](https://www.getty.edu/projects/eames-house-conservation/), asked me to contribute to the conservation of the wood paneling in the Eames House, collaborating with the [Charles and Ray Eames House Preservation Foundation, LLC](http://www.eamesfoundation.org/support/) and other GCI staff members, I couldn’t have been more pleased.\n\nAs a furniture conservator at the [Getty Museum](http://www.getty.edu/museum/), I usually content myself with working on and studying the fabulous pieces of French furniture in our collection, so working on a modern architectural icon was an exciting change of pace.\n\nPerhaps you were lucky enough to see the reassembled living room from the Eames House when it was installed at LACMA in *California Design, 1930–1965: Living in a Modern Way*, part of the Getty’s [Pacific Standard Time initiative](https://pst.art/).\n\nWhat you may not realize is that the Eames Foundation agreed to loan the furnishings in the living room so that together with the architects, [Escher GuneWardena](http://www.egarch.net/), it could take the opportunity to begin some significant conservation work on the house. The GCI’s initial role of adviser quickly expanded to support the rigorous scientific analysis necessary to conserve the house and the collection of objects inside.\n\nThe Eames House Conservation Project is the first project under the umbrella of the [Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative](https://www.getty.edu/projects/conserving-modern-architecture-initiative/), launched in March 2012.\n\n\n\n On site, for me the first order of business was to identify the kind of wood from which the paneling was made. Although a tremendous amount of information exists about the many materials used in the fabrication of the house, somehow this bit of information had been lost over the years. To identify the wood scientifically, I extracted a small sample, about the size of a pencil eraser, from behind one of the electrical cover plates.\n\nI took the sample back to our lab at Getty and used our microtome, a special tool used to make extremely thin slices of material, to cut the sample into transparent slices I could view under the microscope. By examining the cellular structure of the wood, it is possible to identify the species of wood with good precision. I’ve been doing this kind of wood identification for many years, but I never cease to be amazed at how beautiful wood can be under the microscope, and the Eames House sample was no exception.\n\n\n\n\n\n In the end, we were able to identify the wood of the paneling as a type of eucalyptus ([*Eucalyptus microcorys*](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucalyptus_microcorys)), commonly known as Australian tallowwood. This was something of a revelation, as just outside the windows, directly opposite the paneling, stands a stately row of splendid eucalyptus trees.\n\nUsing this information, the GCI project team came up with a theory that the reiteration of the row of tallowwood trees outside the living room windows may have influenced a conscious design decision—it wasn’t just a coincidence that the Eameses chose eucalyptus for the wood paneling along the living room wall.\n\nWhile there is no documentary evidence to support this theory, the eucalyptus trees were clearly of great importance to Charles and Ray Eames. The trees existed on the site when Charles and Ray purchased the land, and the trees prominently remained in early concept drawings by Charles. In fact, the final location of the house was determined in relationship to this very row of eucalyptus trees, preserving the open meadow landscape on the other side. This discovery provides new physical evidence that allows a glimpse into the Eameses’ thought process and the subtle ways they worked to connect their architecture with nature.\n\nWho could have known that looking into a microscope lens would reveal so much about the creative process and prolific minds of Charles and Ray Eames? Not I. The identification of the tallowwood was the starting point for the GCI’s efforts to conserve the other wood material at the Eames House.\n\nThat’s why I love my job. It’s always interesting to unravel a conservation mystery and collaborate with colleagues to see what the material reveals.