Furniture design: 5 women in design who shaped design – and deserve more recognition

Furniture design: We need more visibility for women *

You have probably already sat in it: in the legendary designer armchair “LC2” with the recognizable steel tube details from Le Corbusier. New research, however, revealed that the armchair (and many other pieces of furniture) were not developed by the star architect alone, but along with his wife, architect and furniture designer Charlotte Perriand. Like Perriand, many female designers have been overshadowed by their men (or men), denied access to education and funding – not to mention a lack of recognition.

Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier, “LC2” armchair, from 1150 euros, via Bauhausberlin.com

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Women * in furniture design are still underrepresented today

Although female designers have made a crucial contribution to the development of modern design, they are mentioned much (!) Less frequently than men in the history books and are displayed in exhibitions or assembled. And it’s not a problem from the past, even today the design industry is dominated by white cis men. It affects lecturers at universities, customers such as companies and institutions as well as trade fair managers. Although much has changed in recent years, women * are less likely to be found in leadership positions, as is the case in most industries.

The exhibition in Vitra Design Museum rewrites design history

Time to change that: The exhibition “Here we are. Women in design 1900 to today” at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein tells about female designers through the last 120 years and their continued struggle for equality. It thus provides a contemporary look at the history of modern design and provides food for thought for what design might be in the 21st century. The exhibition runs until March 6, 2022 – we introduce you to some of its most important protagonists.

These 5 women have shaped the world of furniture design:

Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray, 1927

Photographed by Julius Shulman, property of Greta Magnusson Grossman; J Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Eileen Grays “E.1027” board, about 653 euros, via Connox.de

Lent by Connox.de

Despite her distinctive style as an architect, Eileen Gray’s fame today is based on her furniture design. Not least because her former lover, the architect Jean Badovici, published a house built by her as her own. In the still patriarchal society of the 1920s, she still managed to celebrate great success: her table “E.1027” (E and 7 = G stands for Eileen Gray, 10 = J and 2 = B for Jean Badovici) is one of the most copied furniture from the classic modern era. As the saying goes: imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. But her other furniture design is also a hot topic: for example, one of her armchairs brought in an incredible 22 million euros at the auction of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s property ten years ago.

Greta Magnusson Grossman

Greta Magnusson Grossman in her office on Claircrest Drive, 1959

Photographed by Julius Shulman, property of Greta Magnusson Grossman; J Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Greta Magnusson Grossman’s “Grasshopper” floor lamp, around 652 euros, via Design-bestseller.de

Vitra Design Museum, photo: Andreas Jung

Architect and designer Greta Magnusson Grossman has had a unique career. She was the first woman to open a furniture store in Stockholm in 1933. This was followed by another in LA on Rodeo Drive, where Hollywood greats like Greta Garbo frequented. In addition to her successful work as an architect (she built 14 houses in LA alone), she is best known for her furniture. These can be described as a mixture of a clear, functional and minimalist style of their Scandinavian origins and the cool mid-century California lifestyle. She was recognized for her work by MoMA and even received a professorship at the University of California. It experienced another wave of meteoric success posthumously as design in the mid-century experienced a renaissance. Until the new edition of the Gubi company in 2009, fans of their pieces – for example, the iconic “Gräshoppa” floor lamp – had to content themselves with looking in antique shops and at auctions and often paying exorbitant prices. Since then, the three-legged filigree lamp has become an indispensable part of any glossy living magazine.

Ray Eames

Ray Eames at work on a model, 1950

Eames Office LLC

Charles and Ray Eames’ “ECW” chair for Hermann Miller, vintage around 3200 euros, via Pamodo.com

Indianapolis Museum of Art in Newfields

Ray Eames was an American artist and designer. Together with her husband Charles, they became icons of modern design history. As early as the 1940s, their goal was to create affordable and comfortable furniture. So they worked on the technique of deforming plywood. The furniture, such as the “ECW” chair shown above, went into series production and is still in great demand today: almost all Eames designs became a popular collector’s item. Until Charles ‘death, there were few sources and evidence of Ray Eames’ contribution to the success of the designers – her husband was too much in the interest of the media. New evidence suggests that Ray was largely responsible for the Eames aesthetic. “Your exceptionally good eye for shape and color […] often made the difference between good, very good and Eames, “write Marilyn Neuhart and John Neuhart in The Story of Eames Furniture.

Gae Aulenti

Gae Aulenti in his study in Milan, 1996

Gae Aulenti’s “Pipistrello” table lamp, about 1039 euros, via Madeindesign.com

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Despite the wishes of his parents, Gae Aulenti decided to study architecture in Milan and graduated in 1954 as just one of two women in his class. Nevertheless, she made a significant contribution to Italy’s success in product design with furniture such as the “Pipistrello” lamp produced for the manufacturer Martinelli Luce. The world’s most important furniture fair “Salone Internazionale del Mobile” still takes place there today. Unlike many other designers, she did not develop her own style. “Style means repeating the same idea and the same details over and over again. It never interested me,” she said in an interview with Norman Kietzmann. In addition to product design, she worked for architecture magazines, taught at academies, and devoted herself tirelessly to projects relevant to architectural history, such as the transformation of the Orsay railway station in Paris into a museum.

Faye Toogood

In addition to sandals, Faye Toogood has also designed a bed for Birkenstock

tom johnson

Faye Toogood’s “Roly Poly” armchair (left), in black for 440 euros, via Connox.de

DePasquale + Maffini

A contemporary position is the hugely successful British designer Faye Toogood. After writing for The Worlds of Interiors, she founded the design studio Toogood. From a sculptural cup with a bulging handle to a minimalist shirt dress, there is a wide range of exceptional items. The studio has also collaborated with fashion houses such as Hermès and realized projects for the Victoria & Albert Museum. Her most famous item is the “Roly Poly” armchair from 2014, which can be seen above: a low fiberglass armchair that, with its semicircular seat, rests on four pillar-like legs and looks like a chunky, prehistoric piece of furniture.

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