A New Book Brings to Light the Profound Impact of Women Designers

A New Book Brings to Light the Profound Impact of Women Designers

It’s been right in front of us all along, but architect Jane Hall’s latest book makes it abundantly clear: Design as we know it would be nothing without a woman.

Since the early 20th century, women have been a steady force within the design world. However, their efforts by and large have gone overlooked, relegated to the shadows of those of their male counterparts. In Woman Made: Great Women Designers, British architect and author Jane Hall compiles outstanding works that have greatly impacted the trajectory of design, giving female creatives the attention they deserve.

Woman Made features works by more than 200 designers from 50 countries.

"The patriarchal nature of architecture, among many reasons, is why a large number of women leave the profession in pursuit of other focuses, which often lead many into other design disciplines," argues Hall. "An incredibly high number of architects featured in Woman Made started out in architecture, so it felt like an apt way to make visible even more women who have done, and are continuing to, make important work that often goes unseen across all fields of design."

Inside are a range of designs, from textiles and household items to large furniture pieces. Each is accompanied by an extended caption that provides context for the project and the designer.

The book spans designers from the early 20th century to present day, highlighting the experiences of women responsible for profound innovations. Take the modular apartments designed by Charlotte Perriand in the late 1920s, for example, which were a response to changing attitudes to family life. On a more conceptual level, Hall offers Jane Dillon’s whimsical furniture, an attempt to reclaim the home from the patriarchal gaze.

One of the most notable names in the book is midcentury designer Ray Eames, who, with her husband, Charles, created some of the world’s most iconic pieces of furniture. The Eames lounge chair, produced by Herman Miller, remains a fixture in many homes.

With the book, Hall aims to give credit where credit is due. "Women in design face the same types of obstacles that women in other professions experience," she explains. "The greatest threat is that a gender bias means we are less likely to see the work of women in comparison to their male counterparts"—which makes a work like Woman Made—a compendium of pioneers and newcomers in the fields of architecture and design—all the more important.

Woman Made: Great Women Designers is now available for preorder, and is set for release on October 13, 2021.

Aino Aalto: Pressed Glass 4644 for Iittala

Finland was one of the few countries to allow women to enter the architectural profession before the end of the nineteenth century, so when Alno Aalto graduated in 1920 from Helsinki University, women were already a fixture of the industry. She quickly found work, eventually moving to the office of Alvar Aalto, whom she had met at university and who would become her husband and lifelong collaborator. In 1932, Alno placed second in a competition held by manufacturing firm Karhula—which later merged with Iittala—for her Bölgeblick line of affordable utility glassware. Decorative and functional, the simple ribbed exterior of each piece—inspired by the effect of a stone hitting water—allows the Press Glass 4644 to be mass produced from molds in a mechanized pressing process. The piece is still in production today.

Liisi Beckman: Karelia Easy Chair for Zanotta

In 1957, Liisi Beckmann moved to Milan, establishing a successful career designing for numerous Italian design firms. Her designs, however, remain mostly invisible with the exception of the Karella Easy Chair designed for Zanotta in 1966. Its undulating form of expanded polyurethane foam covered in vinyl has become an iconic piece, inspired by the coves of Karella, the region of Finland where Beckmann grew up and the chair’s namesake.

Anna Castelli Ferrieri: Componibili Modular Storage System for Kartell

Like many young Italian designers in the early postwar period, Anna Castelli Ferrieri was heavily influenced by European architecture circles. She was the first woman to graduate in architecture from the Politecnico di Milano and founded the plastic furniture fabrication company Kartell with her husband Giulio Castelli. Many of her pieces are still in production, including the popular Componibili Modular Storage System. First shown at the Salone del Mobile in Milan in 1967, it was one of the first products made using the progressive technology of injection-molded ABS plastic, and was designed with an interlocking shape that allowed multiple components to stack.

Carol Catalano: Capelli Stool for Herman Miller

In 1999, having recently finished a large-scale, client-led project, designer Carol Catalano wanted to focus on something in-house with greater creative freedom, so she entered the International Furniture Design Competition held in Asahikawa, Japan. Requiring a full-scale prototype, she built her Capelli Stool in her garage, and it became a winning entry. Inspired by the intertwined fingers of clasping hands, the design gracefully interlocks two molded-plywood pieces in an elegant construction that requires no fastenings. A year after winning, Catalano licensed the stool to Herman Miller.

Rossana Hu: Lan Sofa for Gan

Architect Rossana Hu and her husband and partner in practice Lyndon Neri explore what they refer to as a transitional style between old and new across continents, rejecting the idea that they represent simply a modern Chinese aesthetic. Hu embraces a synthesis between interior design and architecture, arguing for a greater integration of intellectual discourse in the former, and a more holistic approach to the latter, which she reflects in furniture like the Lan sofa. The piece blends Eastern and Western design sensibilities: The deep indigo hue references Chinese home decoration traditions while the extended fabric back component emphasizes Spanish manufacturer Gan’s history as a textile brand.

Hella Jongerius: Polder Sofa for Vitra

The Polder sofa manufactured for Vitra utilizes prolific Dutch designer Hella Jongerius’s expertise in weaving and textiles, having previously spent ten years as an art director for colors and materials at Vitra. In her book, I Don't Have a Favourite Colour, Jongerius describes the research-led design methodology she developed at the Swiss furniture company, where she combined complex, highly engineered construction techniques with low-tech traditional crafts to make products that were contemporary and long lasting. The Polder sofa, which comes in many colors, such as blues and greens, demonstrates this approach through its combination of different weaves in a low, asymmetrical form.

Mira Nakashima: Concordia Chair

Mira Nakashima dedicated her practice to a single material: wood. Her pieces celebrate the knots and idiosyncrasies found in timber, reflecting the dictum of her father, George Nakashima, that there is a perfect and singular piece of wood for each design. Nakashima inherited her father’s woodworking studio in 1990 after having worked with him since returning from studying architecture in Tokyo at Waseda University. The walnut Concordia chair was created for a group of local chamber musicians. Its flat seat and upright back allow the musicians to play exuberantly without any obstruction to bowing.

Jay Sae Jung Oh: Savage Sofa

With sweeping black folds molded into a buoyant, amorphous shape, the Savage sofa creates an unusual seat form that seems at once inviting while also entirely improbable for its material strangeness. This tension encapsulates Jay Sae Jung Oh’s design philosophy of combining the aesthetic priority of art and images with the tactility of design. The first iteration of the Savage Sofa, which forms part of a series, was made while Oh was studying at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where she noticed dumpsters often overflowing with discarded prototypes for items ranging from patio furniture to musical instruments. She collected these objects and combined them with other refuse into an assemblage of waste that she then wrapped with natural jute cord.

Faye Toogood: Roly-Poly Chair for Driade

British artist Faye Toogood runs an interdisciplinary practice working across sculpture, furniture, and fashion design. Her career path was unconventional: She first studied art history at Bristol University, after which she worked as a stylist for World of Interiors. With no formal design training, Toogood’s work does not play by industry rules—it is playful, yet deeply serious. Toogood describes her studio’s designs as "deeply human," which can be felt in the Roly-Poly chair, whose smooth, dish-shaped seat supported by chunky legs gives it a sense of refined childishness.

Patricia Urquiola: Tropicalia Chair for Moroso

"Spanish-born, Milan-based Patricia Urquiola studied under the designer Achille Castiglioni at the Politecnico di Milano—she credits her interest in designing for the everyday to Castiglioni’s own concept of "tools for living," where objects should stand the test of time, used until they wear out. Her fusion of the artisanal and the industrial can be seen in her tubular steel-framed Tropicalia chair for Italian manufacturer Moroso, where woven threads of thermoplastic polymer, polyester, or artificial leather create both pattern and structure.

Ionna Vautrin: Lamp TGV for SNCF

Ionna Vautrin makes everything from small utilitarian objects to furniture—all suffused with a sense of mischief and play. Vautrin was working in Paris with designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec when she won the Grand Prix de la Creation de la Ville de Paris for her design of the Binic table lamp, a 2010 creation. In 2011, Vautrin left the Bouroullecs to set up her own studio, and she was subsequently approached by the French national railway, SNCF, who had used the Binic to illustrate plans for the interiors of new train carriages. Invited to develop a bespoke lamp to be used throughout the rail system, Vautrin created the Art Deco–inspired Lamp TGV, named for the country’s high-speed rail service. With two shades and a rounded shape, the object perfectly synthesizes Vautrin’s belief in design as a meeting between industry and poetry.

Woman Made: Great Women Designers
Woman Made is the most comprehensive book on women designers ever published—a celebration of more than 200 women product designers from the early twentieth century to the present day.



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