In honor of International Women’s Day, I thought it appropriate to highlight some women who have made significant impacts and contributions to the design world as we know it today. These are just a few of my favorites:
As early as 100 years ago, interior design and architecture were male-dominated fields. Eileen Gray is widely recognized as one of the first female interior designers. She also designed furniture and later went on to be an extraordinary architect. Her furniture designs are still seen today, proof that they stand the test of time! She was a trail-blazer and pioneer for women during the Modern Movement and remains a role model today. Just think of how different the world would be if men still designed everything! Women bring a unique perspective to all aspects of design, and we have Eileen Gray to thank for helping to pave the way for the rest of us.
As the Modern Movement gained popularity, many architects moved away from interior and furniture design to focus solely on modern architecture. Hans Knoll, a German Immigrant to America, saw an opportunity to provide architects with furniture that would suit their modern style. He began the Knoll firm in the late 1930’s and as the only supplier of modern furniture during that time, he saw great success. In 1943 he hired Florence Schust to undertake interior design projects that were referred to Knoll by architects. Florence was educated in design and had many contacts with some of the greatest and most influential designers of that day, and of all time. Eventually Florence married Hans Knoll, and her role at Knoll had greatly flourished and expanded. She headed up a Planning Unit and recruited modern designers (many from among her contacts) to assign their furniture designs to Knoll. Many of the modern pieces we think of today are still exclusive to Knoll, such as Harry Bertoia’s Diamond Chair, Eero Saarinen’s Womb Chair, and the ever popular Barcelona Chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe- just to name a few. Florence Knoll greatly influenced the way corporate offices and commercial spaces look today. She also designed her own line of furniture for Knoll. After her husband’s death, Florence Knoll ran the company as President. I view Florence as not only a great designer, but an incredible business woman, who essentially created and defined an entire industry.
Charles and Ray Eame’s designs are a part of everyone’s life, even though many don’t realize it. If you’ve ever wondered who came up with the design for tandem seating in airports- it was Charles and Ray. They essentially developed the ergonomic seating we all enjoy today. Before the Eames’, chairs were not so comfortable, and they definitely didn’t conform to our shapes. Charles and Ray Eams pioneered the use of molded plywood. They were commissed by the US Navy during WWII to develop splints and stretchers, and ended up figuring out how to bend plywood to any form. This discovery led to the development of their furniture designs, which are still widely popular today. Ray was a very talented artist and painter. She met Charles Eames at Cranbrook where she was studying Art and Eames was her teacher. They married and began their own design firm, where Ray’s unique style became an iconic part of Eames designs. Always looking for new materials and technology to work with, the two collaborated on many contemporary classics. While Charles was the face of their design firm, and the much bigger personality, Ray was the backbone. She graciously supported her husband and continued to pursue her creative talents and abilities up until her death. She was not one to take credit for anything and allowed her husband most of the glory. Some people might think of that as weak or even bad business. But I find it incredibly selfless that she never let her work become a bigger priority than her relationship with her husband. She made extreme contributions to the world of design as a woman.
Of all the celebrities who died in 2016, I couldn’t have cared less about most of them (and I’m a Star Wars fan!) but Zaha Hadid’s passing saddened me. She was so young and still had so much to offer the world. Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. She was born in Baghdad and later moved to London to study architecture and then began her own firm. Her designs are unlike anything the world has ever seen. Straight out of one’s imagination, she received a lot of criticism for breaking the mold and defying the conventional. Many told her that her designs weren’t even possible to build. I think a lot of people would have just thrown in the towel and gone back to designing things that look like everyone else’s designs. But Zaha Hadid didn’t. She stayed true to herself and to her work and the rest is history!
Who are some of your favorite female designers and architects?