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Female Designers That Shaped Mid-Century Design

In honor of International Women’s Day, it seemed only appropriate to honor some of the incredible female designers responsible for much of the world’s mid-century modern furniture. Unfortunately, many of these women didn’t receive adequate credit in their lifetimes. We’re excited to honor and appreciate them today!

Ray Eames

We think Ray’s husband, Charles Eames, said it best: “Anything I can do, Ray can do better.” The duo worked hand in hand for much of their long, successful careers. Together, they are responsible for the Eames Case Study House #8, their fiberglass chair designs, and, of course, the iconic Eames Lounge Chair. However, Charles was all too often given the bulk of the credit for their joint projects. Need proof? This interview has more than a few cringeworthy moments where Ray is called the helper or the woman behind the man rather than a justified partner.

Eileen Gray

The Irish architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray is a notable figure in the world of mid-century design. In addition to collaborating on the incredible E-1027 building in France, Gray designed the iconic Bibendum chair. Well ahead of its time, the Bibendum chair was modern yet feminine.

Bibendum Chair Eileen Gray

Florence Knoll

Florence Knoll may be one of the most recognizable names on this list. It’s tough to sum up her life work in a paragraph! Among other achievements, she studied architecture, was a founding partner of Knoll Associates, and collaborated with the likes of Eames and Saarinen. Plus, she personally designed dozens of pieces of furniture, including this Florence Knoll T Angle Coffee Table with a Walnut Top.

Florence Knoll Table

Grete Jalk

The Danish furniture designer Grete Jalk has been called the woman that revolutionized Scandinavian design. In 1946, she graduated from the Royal Danish School of Fine Arts, and by 1953 she had won first place at the Georg Jensen Competition in Copenhagen. Greta’s two-piece molded plywood chair may be her most famous design, and it is a piece that lives on as an amazing product of the mid-century modern aesthetic.

Greta Jalk plywood chair

Here is another chair by Greta Yalk.

Aino Aalto

In 1920, Aino Maria Mandelin became a licensed architect in Finland. By 1924, she was working with the architect Alvar Aalto, who she married the following year. Although Aino was clearly a skilled architect and designer in her own right, many of her achievements were attributed to her husband. Together, the Aaltos were the first to exhibit the Functionalist style of architecture in Scandinavia, and they revolutionized Finnish design in the mid-century. Today, Aino Aalto is best remembered for her glass products, some of which are still being manufactured, and many of which inspired popular IKEA pieces still sold in stores. Her tea trolley design, featured below, is currently on display at MOMA in the How Should We Live? exhibit.

Aalto tea trolley MOMA

Charlotte Perriand

Perriand’s story is both thrilling and inspiring. As a fan of Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand tried to secure a place in his studio in 1927. She was rejected with the sexist assumption that she would only want to embroider cushions! Remarkably, that rejection did little to discourage Perriand. She renovated a room in her personal apartment, using modern materials like glass, steel, and chrome. That bold move helped her to eventually spend more than a decade working with Le Corbusier. Perriand wanted to create living spaces that were functional and could contribute to a better society. She was also a fearless traveler, spending time as an official advisor for industrial design to the Ministry for Trade and Industry in Japan, was trapped in Vietnam during much of World War II, created prototype kitchens for the Unité d'Habitation in Marseilles, and even designed the League of Nations Building for the U.N. in Geneva.

Charlotte Perriand Kitchen

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