From the Bauhaus women who bucked convention to start their own businesses to the half of partnerships that history forgot, the story of women in design is one that’s indivisible from matters of education, employment and domestic life. But the industry is not – and never has been – a man’s world, says author Jane Hall. In this extract from her new book Woman Made: Great Women Designers (Phaidon; £39.95), she highlights nine of the names to shout from the rooftops…
Formed of two conjoined pieces, the ‘GJ Chair’ is an elegant experiment in folded plywood. A piece of postwar design innovation, the chair – developed in collaboration with cabinetmaker Poul Jeppesen, and later mass produced by Lange Production from 2008 – was instrumental in transforming manufacturing processes in Denmark. Throughout her career, Jalk sought to make modern design more broadly accessible, from her editorial work at magazine Mobilia to her curatorial efforts organising global exhibitions on Danish design.
A cross between a hedgehog and small car, the joyous, polychromatic appearance of the ‘Super Lamp’ encapsulates the anti-establishment approach to design of the Memphis Group. Manufactured by Fausto Celatti, the lamp works like a pullalong toy and as such has been described as one of its more comical products.
Bedin drew the design for the lamp two years before she joined the group, and it debuted in their first exhibition in 1981. Made from painted steel sheets, it rejects the trends of the time toward functional, industrial products, instead embracing intuitive, playful motifs. Bedin’s designs have remained anti-establishment and anti-industry.
For designers in the 1960s, plastic offered a new way to create playful, unusual shapes in a multitude of electric colours. This is fully realised in Dorothee Becker’s ‘Uten.Silo’, a wallmounted organiser for household items.
Having been discouraged from studying design, she migrated to California and was inspired by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori to create the first ‘Uten.Silo’ as a wooden toy in which different shapes filled corresponding holes in a board. Her children didn’t take to it, so the design morphed into a container with a smooth, molten surface.
Born in Tehran, Mahdavi led a nomadic childhood living in Germany, the US and France. She directed influential French interior designer Christian Liagre’s studio before opening her own in 2000.
For Mahdavi, design is about joyfulness, and imbuing tradition with a playful take on the contemporary. Her design of The Gallery dining room at Sketch is saturated in dusty pink, as expressed in the now iconic velvet ‘Charlotte’ chair, whose shapely form cocoons diners.
Ilse Crawford’s furniture set for Portuguese manufacturer De La Espada, ‘Seating for Eating’, in many ways encompasses the London-based designer’s entire philosophy. Crawford is always thinking about wellbeing.
Her observational and analytical skills have led to her integration of design and academia, pioneering the ‘Man and Well-Being’ course at Design Academy Eindhoven, which she led for more than 20 years. She was the founding editor of ELLE Decoration, before leaving to establish her own design practice, Studioilse.
Mette Hay co-founded the design company Hay with her husband Rolf Hay in 2002. Having identified a gap in their native market for high-quality, accessible design objects, Hay today runs the gamut in scale from dishwashing sponges – rendered with charming smiley faces – to modular sofas. Indeed, the couple cite the iconic mid-century design duo, Ray and Charles Eames as an influence, particularly in respect to their sense of fun and use of colour.
The imaginative, sculptural quality of Turkish designer Merve Kahraman’s work is influenced by nature, mythology, and in the case of the ‘Cassini Floor Lamp’, outer space – it’s named for the Cassini-Huygens project, a joint mission to send a probe to Saturn.
A curved marble base supports the main structure of the lamp, which cantilevers to hold a white glass sphere encased in a wooden disc clad in cane, evoking the planet’s ring. Kahraman came to design unexpectedly, having first studied molecular biology and genetics before enrolling on an interior design summer school in Milan.
At first self-taught, British-based Lani Adeoye started out designing furniture and interiors for friends and family. Her design practice, Studio-Lani, draws on her Nigerian heritage, and is inspired by memories of celebratory communal events and music, including the West African talking drum.
The ‘Bata Stool’ is also inspired by Yoruba culture – bata means shoes – and the chair, while woven using traditional methods in collaboration with local artisans, has a strikingly modern shape.
Influenced by her engineer father, Serbian designer Ana Kraš is attracted to the problem-solving aspects of design.
The graphic character of her work is demonstrated in the maple wood ‘Slon Round Table’ manufactured by Matter Made – slon is the Serbian word for elephant – with a black-and-white striped tube base and a warm, earthy-hued slab on top. Kraš prototypes her ideas in three dimensions before committing them to paper and this slow, craft-based approach underpins much of her work.