The month of March is dedicated to honoring women’s history, and women’s design history is nothing short of iconic. This month (and always), we want to applaud women in design who have developed the forms and environment we’ve lived our lives in throughout history, as well as those who will be shaping space for years to come. When you collect, admire, and share vintage all day, you know that living leaves a mark on history, and it leaves its mark on us. This is a literal, material reality that manifests in objects and furniture.
We also know that the art and production of making furniture and decor was gatekept in past decades. While many of the following designers were linked to notable men in design, connections that lended legitimacy to their career at the time, these connections ultimately overshadowed or belied their contributions and the recognition they deserved was withheld. We present these women roughly sequentially, and you’ll notice as you scroll, the designers become more diverse… a progression that invites us to imagine the breadth of designs we missed out on historically from would-be designers hindered by gendered and racial exclusion.
On this International Women’s Day, learn more about 17 women whose designs — vintage or made now with intention and destined to last — have shaped how we live and defined eras of interiors.
Eileen Gray was an Irish architect and designer known as the Mother of the Modernist movement in architecture. One of the few women in her class at Slade, Gray hesitantly studied fine arts and painting, however, her creativity was ultimately unleashed in design. Gray’s Paris-based furniture lacquer shop was named for her romantic partner, Jean Badovici, as a woman’s name would have hindered the success of the shop at the time. Today, the Mother of Modernism is known just as much for her furniture as she is for her architectural designs, the most notable of which is the Adjustable Table ‘E1027’, whose name is a code with allusions to her partner Jean Badovici, the home Gray built for them, and Eileen herself.
Lilly Reich was a German modernist designer, Bauhaus weaving and interior design teacher, and homespun archivist (more on that later). In the 1930s, Reich developed a furniture series including chairs, tables, bed frames, and daybeds, based in tubular steel a la fellow Bauhaus alumnus Marcel Breuer. In the midst of chaos and hardships of Nazi Germany that would ultimately halt her career, Reich had the forethought to store thousands of Mies’ and her drawings with a friend. Drawing from these archives, historians have made the case that Reich’s contributions weren’t merely overshadowed by frequent collaborator Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but actively obscured. It seems likely that Reich was the main force behind some of the most iconic designs commonly attributed to Mies van der Rohe, including the ‘Barcelona’ series and ‘Brno’ chair.
Form meets function meets metal in German designer Marianne Brandt: Brandt was a designer and an artist working across many media like paint, sculpture, photo, and even metal. Brandt studied at the Bauhaus Weimar and designed the light fixtures for the Bauhaus at Dessau. At the time, metal was as male-dominated a field as design, if not moreso, but the head of the metal workshop László Moholy-Nagy saw such talent in her that he offered her the role of his assistant. She eventually took over the Metall-Werkstatt for Moholy-Nagy in 1927. Brandt’s most famous design, her 1924 tea set, was an attempt at designing for mass production, with efficiency and ease of reproducing in mind. The tea set is saluted for epitomizing the Bauhaus value of functionalism, using geometric shapes in metal to dazzling and sleek effect.
Clara Porset is a leading figure of Mexican modernism, renowned for her global perspective. Driven from her native Cuba at 40 years old for her support of a workers uprising, Porset honored laborers with her designs which highlighted regional aesthetics and traditional craftsmanship, with a Brutalist twist. Her and partner Xavier Guerrero’s entry into MoMA’s Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition was one of the first by Latinx designers accepted. Despite their joint submission, Porset’s contributions were overlooked, with all credit given to Guerrero. History has rewarded Porset’s work in recognition of her most well-known designs: multiple reinterpretations of the ‘Butaque’ chair for Luteca. The Butaque chair is a colonial-turned-Mexican-nationalist symbol, and a testimony to Clara Porset’s outstanding contributions to the male-dominated world of design.
Charlotte Perriand was a forward-thinking architect and designer arguably responsible for the timelessness of modernist design. Known for her work with Le Corbusier (who originally wrote her off when she approached him for a job), Perriand’s 1928 sketch of an adjustable chaise within a steel frame reveals her significant hand in the famous LC4 Lounge. Her modular ‘Nuage’ bookcase is an iconic and sought-after shelving system, which combined cabinets and bookcase elements and could double as a room divider for open floor plans. Perriand would love that her designs are vintage holy grails today, as she was eco-conscious at a time when mass-production was still revolutionary and it was totally uncommon to monitor the environmental impact of design.
Eames is one of the most important surnames in design, but it took decades for half of the dynamic duo Ray Eames — born Bernice Alexandra Kaiser — to be recognized. Sometimes the Eameses were misattributed as brothers, or else Ray’s husband would receive sole or disproportionate credit because, sexism. Along with husband Charles Eames, Ray lays claim to so much quintessential mid-century modern furniture, like the coveted Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman, the ‘Eiffel’ Fiberglass Shell Chair, the Molded Plywood Lounge, and more. In addition to molding plywood into functional furniture, the Eameses developed a leg splint for wounded soldiers in WWII, as funded by the US navy. This funding allowed Ray and Charles to experiment with mass production, contributing directly to the dominance of Eames furniture today.
Florence Knoll was an American designer and entrepreneur, revered as the engine of legendary furniture company Knoll. Knoll cut her teeth through the operation of her and husband Hans Knoll’s eponymous design firm, as well as high profile collaborations with well-established names like Isamu Noguchi, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, and Alexander Girard. Knoll redefined professional interiors: you can thank her for the reigning office design still to this day, a sleek and efficient modernist dream Knoll conceived of in the post-war era. Knoll’s foundational furniture series —which she executed uncompromisingly, yet humbly dismissed as “meat and potatoes,”— are nevertheless proportional masterpieces.
Anna Castelli Ferrieri was an Italian architect, designer, and protofeminist well-known for cofounding Kartell and for her innovative use of plastics in mainstream, industrial design. Her many accolades — one of the first women to graduate Milan Polytechnic Institute with a degree in architecture, creator of the first table to be made entirely of injection molded plastics, and 1987 winner of Compasso d’Oro for the Kartell 4870 chair — have solidified Ferrieri’s impact on design history. Today, her ‘Componibili’ modular storage can be found in Euro Cloud Homes and apartments of design aficionados, whether vintage or as sold by Bi-Rite and Design Within Reach.
Cini Boeri was an Italian architect and designer, but most of all, a prominent presence in the Italian modernism movement. After graduating Milan Polytechnic in 1951, she interned for Gio Ponti and went on to work with Marco Zanuso before setting up her own design studio. She espoused that beauty came from functionalism, a principle which her creations reflected. She constructed furniture with a limited number of materials, oftentimes a single material, such as glass. Her ‘Ghost’ chair c. 1987 was comprised of a single continuous sheet of glass, molded into an arm chair. Her ‘Strips’ sofa for Arflex earned her the 1979 Compasso D'Oro award, made only of molded-polyurethane and a single cotton quilted shell. Boeri personified Milanese style and elegance with such simplicity and restraint.
Gae Aulenti was an Italian architect, artistic director of FontanaArte, and designer who was most famous for designing the opulent interior of Paris’ Musée d’Orsay. After graduating Milan Polytechnic University as one of two women in the 1954 class, Aulenti soon became a defining figure of the Neoliberty movement, a postwar design style that favored individualism and expression, a departure from reigning rationalist sensibilities. Aulenti’s career was defined by this spirit of rebellion. After masting interior design, Aulenti focused on lamps and furnishings, creating some of the most memorable and coveted pieces of all time. Two favorites: her dramatic 1965 ‘Pipistrello’ lamp that demonstrates her appreciation for Art Nouveau style details, and the ‘Tavola con Ruote’ wheeled coffee table.
Nathalie du Pasquier is a French multidisciplinary artist and designer, who holds the distinction of cofounding the Memphis Design firm of postmodern fame. In spite of her storied background in painting, fashion textiles, ceramics, print-making, carpets, furniture and object design, and more, du Pasquier is surprisingly low-profile and notoriously elusive. That said, her work resonates and reverberates with pop art passion and authenticity. There is an otherworldly, yet seamlessly referential quality to du Pasquier’s work, an effect which is exemplified by her ‘Marmo’ chair. ‘Marmo’ draws from the Bauhaus style with geometric shape and a limited color palette, but feels at home with her signature postmodern proclivity.
Patricia Urquiola is a contemporary Spanish and Milan-based industrial designer of furniture, textiles, prints, and more. Having studied with Achille Castiglioni at the Politecnico di Milano, and been named Designer of the Year many times over, Urquiola is extremely credentialed in the art of bold color, texture, play, and eclecticism. Take her ultra-modular lily pad, the ‘Tufty Time’ seating system which offers versatile seating options as footstool, chaise lounge, islands, and more. A recent collaboration with Max Mara for the brand’s Milan Fashion Week presentation drew appreciation for Urquiola’s detailed environment and the harmonious blend of the worlds of fashion and home.
Tosin Oshinowo is a Lagos-based architect, designer, curator, and entrepreneur channeling her Yoruba heritage, a global architectural perspective, and minimal style preference into a collection of brilliantly hued chairs with classic lines. After briefly studying at the Architectural Association school in London and working at architecture firm OMA, Oshinowo ultimately founded furniture brand Ilé Ilà (”House of Lines”). Oshinowo locally sources and selects indigenous Yoruba textiles and wood for frames, which is a common Nigerian production practice, but a standard that makes her process slower, more intentional. For Oshinowo, it’s a matter of staying rooted in her cultural identity. Her ‘Àdùnní’ chair is Nigerian teak wood upholstered with handwoven aso-oke cloth, boasting strong, angular arm rests and a regal, subtle wingback.
Faye Toogood is a London-based British designer and one of the sought-after names in design today. Toogood’s varied background in fine art, sculpture, fashion, editorial, and of course, furniture coalesces in her design work. She is unafraid to experiment and let materials lead her, the result of which is an oeuvre boasting myriad voluminous forms. The most recognizable of her creations is the ‘Roly Poly,’ a cartoon baby elephant of chair that’s somehow chic. ‘Roly Poly’ debuted Milan’s Salone de Mobile in 2018 and experienced near ubiquity in the homes of design fiends and influencers following its 2020 release.
Kusheda Mensah is a London-based, Ghanaian-British furniture and spatial designer. Much inspired by Verner Panton, Ettore Sottsass, and Gaetano Pesce, Mensah’s is a blobby, funky oeuvre that centers community. In this spirit, Mensah’s Mutual series features organic, soft forms which interlock like a social circle to foster IRL community. In particular, ‘The Hand’ is a friendly and inviting piece that’s equal parts daybed, sofa, and cushion, embodying Mensah’s fun and functional design ethos and proving she has grooves like Panton.
Elodie Dérond and Tania Doumbe Fines, founders of Quebec-based design studio Ibiyanε, have been praised as the new guard of design, noting their application of Carribbean and Sub-Saharan African forms and notions of comfort on their furniture. Specializing in wood carvings and constructions, each of the studio’s designs is named ‘Elombε,’ meaning “possible/imagined conversations,” in Batanga. Our favorite of the series is 010 — a hand-carved and laminated sculptural seat that brings brutalism and nature into harmony.