From Dorothy Draper to Elsie deWolfe, women have long been putting their stamp on the interior design world. But what about when it comes to furniture? Are there any females who ruled that world? In honor of Women’s History Month, we decided to do a deep dive into some of our favorite female furniture designers and rounded up five ladies who changed the face of chairs, tables, and everything in between. From the chic brass and bamboo-clad decor of Gabriella Crespi, pictured above, to the rainbow-hued, body-conscious chairs of Ray Eames, these are the female furniture makers you need to know!

Florence Knoll and a midcentury dining room with velvet dining chairs and tulip table
Photos courtesy of Knoll

1. Florence Knoll

Hometown: Saginaw, Michigan
You’ll Love Her Stuff If You’re:
A minimalist at heart, or a space-compromised city dweller who appreciates smartly-designed sofas and tables.
How She Got Her Big Break:
Florence joined on at her husband’s powerhouse furniture company, Knoll, as an associate in 1943. Before assuming the role of Knoll President in 1955, Florence founded several landmark units within Knoll, including the Planning Unit (the brand’s in-house interior design studio) and the KnollTextiles division.
Signature Quote:
“I needed a piece of furniture. It was not there, so I designed it.”—Florence Knoll

2. Charlotte Perriand

Hometown: Paris, France
You’ll Love Her Stuff If You:
Split your time between ogling French Modernism’s clean lines and drooling over sculptural, organic furniture. Charlotte combined both like a total pro. 
How She Got Her Big Break:
As a newly minted design grad, Charlotte applied for a job at Le Corbusier’s studio. After Le Corbusier reportedly turned her away, saying, “We don’t embroider cushions here,” Charlotte went out and designed a rooftop bar for the 1927 Salon d’Automne. Within months of its completion, Le Corbusier had realized his error and offered her a job.
Most Unusual Side Gigs:
Between stints working for Le Corbusier, Jean Prouvé, and Cassina, Charlotte undertook a multitude of one-off design projects, including the design of WWII military barracks, the commercial interiors for Air France, and several high profile ski resorts in The Alps.

Gabriella Crespi and bamboo canopy bed with wood side table
Photos courtesy of Gabriella Crespi Estate

3. Gabriella Crespi

Hometown: Sarrono, Italy
You’ll Love Her Stuff If You’re:
A new bohemian with au natural tastes (think rattan chairs and bamboo coffee tables), but you’re also powerless to resist high-end finishes like brass and chrome.
How She Got Her Big Break:
After attending architecture school and designing objects for her society friends, Dior asked to carry her goods in their Paris flagship. Soon after, Gabriella opened her own showroom in Milan. In the 1970s her fame truly took flight with her Plurimi line, a series of polished brass tables.
Most Surprising Career Move:
In 1987, at age 65, Gabriella closed up shop to embark on a 20-year meditative journey in the Indian Himalayas. When a broken hip mandated she return to Milan permanently in 2007, she took up design again and even exhibited at the 2015 Salon de Mobile!

4. Ray Eames

Hometown: Sacramento, California
You’ll Love Her Stuff If You’re:
A big believer in the classics being classics for a reason. Or said another way, you’re not the type to sacrifice function for style—hence your penchant for MCM.
How She Got Her Big Break:
After moving from Sacramento to Detroit to attend the prestigious Cranbrook Academy, Ray joined forces with Cranbrook teacher and mentor Charles Eames. Upon realizing their creative compatibility, the duo married and hightailed it to sunny L.A. There, they opened an experimental design studio that over the next thirty years they produced film, architecture, and a bevy of life-changing chairs.
Signature Quote:
“What works is better than what looks good. The looks good can change, but what works, works.”—Ray Eames

Nanna Ditzel and white Danish-style chair with blue ottoman
Photos courtesy of Nanna Ditzel Estate

5. Nanna Ditzel

Copenhagen, Denmark
You’ll Love Her Stuff If You’re:
A Danish Modern design devotee, but always wondered what would happen if a female got in the ring.
How She Got Her Big Break:
After establishing their Copenhagen design studio in 1949, Nana and her husband Jørgen Ditzel introduced the Hanging Chair in 1959. Comprised of wicker and shaped like an egg, the pod-like chair straddled the line between swing and chair. The Hanging Chair was a commercial and editorial success, allowing Nanna to continue pursuing her craft solo (and bring forth anamorphic gems like the Butterfly Chair) following her husband’s death in 1961.
Most Unusual Side Gigs:
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Nanna designed jewelry for Danish silversmith bigwig Georg Jensen. If chunky, minimalist jewelry is your jam, you’ll be all about Nanna’s sculptural, door knocker-esque baubles.

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Lead photo by  Matthieu Salvaing / OTTO


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March 6, 2019

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