Florence Knoll – American Furniture Designers

Posted on 14th October 2011 in American Designers, Furniture Designers

Florence Knoll, born in 1917 was a protege of Eero Saarinen, the Finnish American archtiect and industrial designer of the 20th century, renowned for a design style tempered  to the demands of a project.  After studying architecture at Cranbrook, the Architectural Association in London and the Armour Institute (Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago).  Her career included short assignments working for Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Wallace K. Harrison.

She formed her own business, Knoll Associates, with her husband and design partner, Hans Knoll, in 1946.  Her philosophy and architectural expertise earned her becoming a champion of world-class architects and designers, due to her concept of “total design”, which lives on and is widely used today.  The concept included an embrace of architecture, manufacturing, interior design, textiles, graphics, advertising and presentation along with an application of design principles to solve space problems, which was an entirely different approach during the ‘50s.  The couple built a furniture factory in Pennsylvania, and added dealers of Knoll’s furniture over the next several years.

Knoll oversaw the development of The Planning Unit, intended to blend space and its contents for the modern office space – by creating an inhabitable and responsive environment to every day needs of living and working.  Furniture choices, textured fabrics and a vibrant color palette became what is known as the “Knoll look”:  primary colors used against black, white and beige.  These elements addressed a simple desire for comfort, texture and color.  She and the Planning unit influenced the way the American office environment would begin to look like – departing from traditional heavily carved mahogany furniture with more modern and lighter designs.  Boat-shaped conference tables allowed people to see one another, a more inviting environment for group discussions; in addition, placement of an executive’s desk along straight angles vs. the traditional diagonal fostered a communal, open office space.

The open plan workstations are considered one of her largest contributions to office space design, as the concept offered the advantage of cost and flexibility, vs. individual private offices, a design which continues to be visible today.

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Jean Prouve – French Furniture Designer

Posted on 13th October 2011 in French Designers

Chairs by Jean ProuveJean Prouve Born in 1901 to an artistic father, Victor Prouvé director of the Art School of Nancy in France, Jean Prouve was exposed to the tenets of the school which promoted making art accessible linking to industry and social awareness.  Primarily interested in working with metals, he first apprenticed to Émile Robert, a blacksmith and then with Szabo, another metal craftsman completing his education by attending , engineering school in Nancy.

Feeling confident to go out on his own, he opened the first of several studios in 1923 producing metal art pieces such as chandeliers, wrought iron lamps and furniture particularly chairs. He did not use the steel tube technique championed by many of the modern furniture designers of this time but rather embraced the use of sheet metal. He helped to establish the Union of Modern Artists in 1930 whose main tenets focused on logic, balance and purity.

With a solid training in high quality craftsmanship and artistic, intellectual principles; his work reflected this background with intriguing yet immensely affordable and practical furniture. A self taught architect interested in industrial design, he was particularly interested in producing architecture and furniture that allowed for portability.

Ateliers Jean Prouve was opened in 1931. Successful, he collaborated with Eugène Beaudoin, Les Corbusier and Marcel Lods, architects and Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanerette, furniture designers.  The Ateliers were modern design laboratories that constantly pushed the envelope to design and produce furnishings and prefabricated buildings on an industrial scale.

During the war his business survived by manufacturing bicycles and a survival stove eventually being commissioned by the Reconstruction Ministry to provide refugee frame houses on a massive scale. This interest in affordable mobile architecture continued with his exploration of utilizing aluminum to produce sheds for Africa as well for homes, a pavilion and a façade of a restaurant. Collaborating with Jean Dimitrijevic, they designed the Musée des Beaux Arts du Havre comprised of aluminum, steel and glass winning the Reynolds prize in 1962.

As one of the most influential of modern furniture designers, he strove to maximize constructability and minimize designing simply for the sake of design. The Standard Chair, 1934 and the Visiteur Lounge were classic examples of his design ideas. The Compass desk and the Bibliotechque are examples of his playful yet practical experimentation with sparsity of form and interlocking, horizontal volumes.   The bookshelf made of pine and mahogany, was designed in collaboration with Charles Perriand.







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Jaime Hayon – Spanish Furniture Designer

Posted on 12th October 2011 in Furniture Designers

A fast rising star on the contemporary design scene, Jaime Hayon was born in Madrid in 1974. His training began in his birth city and Jamie Hayon - Furniture DesignerParis studying industrial design. Echoing the influence of his teenage years with his immersion in skateboard culture and graffiti art, his artwork incorporates the best of both of these worlds.  Starting in his position as a designer with Fabrica which is located in Italy and run by Benetton; he was quickly given the responsibility of being in charge of the design department. Working under the tutelage of Oliviero Toscani, he gained experience working on a wide variety of projects involving restaurant, retail and exhibition layouts as well as graphics to material design.

His work with BD on the Mail Me project provided him the confidence to go out on his own. Returning to his native country, Spain, he moved to Barcelona to initially design personal art projects; ceramics, designer toys and furniture and then to include interior design projects.

His exhibition, Mediterranean Digital Baroque in London was followed by ‘Mon Cirque’ which travelled through Frankfurt, Barcelona, Paris and Kuala Lumpur. The collection of bathroom fixtures designed for ArtQuitect drew international attention. He designed the Showtime collection for BD (Bernhardt Design) in textiles and modern furniture. The Lounger is an elegant and comfortable chair designed to satisfy both classic and contemporary tastes. He also works with several companies such as Swarovsky designing lighting fixtures, Moooi designing contemporary furniture, Camper, Bisazza, Metalarte and Lladró as a creative consultant. A more recent collection is the ‘Recontres’ collection for Baccarat of vases and lamps reinterpreted with portions of fine crystal replaced with ceramic and plastic elements.

Like so many modern designers before him, he stretches the boundaries of materials within the context of modern contemporary design marrying form and function in creative and innovative ways. Expressed in industrial design, he has been commissioned to design the interiors of hotels, restaurant and retail such as Camper footwear stores. Designing with an adventurous and bold spirit, his more recent installation of the Mediterranean Digital Baroque in Miami, showcased wonderfully imaginative “plants” in pots displaying the Art Deco tropical colors unique to the city of Miami.

With studios in Barcelona, Spain and Treviso, Italy, he currently resides in London. Despite his young age, he has already received numerous design awards and has been featured in most of the better known design publications. Invited as the guest of honor at Belgium’s Interieur Biennial in 2008, he is the youngest person to have ever received this honor.


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Isamu Noguchi – Japanese Furniture Designer

Posted on 11th October 2011 in Furniture Designers, Japanese Designers
Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi

Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi

Producing some of the most influential modern furniture designs and modern sculptural pieces in landscape architecture, Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles to Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet and Léonie Gilmour, an American writer. While his parents never married or remained living together, when Léonie brought Isamu to Japan, he was properly given the name “Isamu” which means courage.  In 1912, with his half-sister born, the mother decided to build a house that Isamu was given charge of, designing the garden and learning carpentry skills.

At the age of fourteen, he was sent back to the U.S. to attend school living with Dr. Edward Rumley throughout high school. Known as Sam Gilmour during this time, he wanted to pursue a career as an artist but Rumley thought him better suited to be a doctor. While his first exposure to working as a sculptor did not progress as hoped and he briefly considered a career in the medical field, others around him influenced him including his mother who encouraged him to follow his love of art. Taking night classes at the Leonard da Vinci Art School, he found acceptance of his talent and particularly his portrait busts whose commissions helped him financially.

Receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship, he traveled to Paris to study stone and wood cutting. There he met Constantin Brancusi who greatly influenced him and took him in as an assistant for seven months. Staying longer than intended as Asia was to be a part of his travels as well, he returned to New York in 1929. During this time he continued to create bust portraits studying various art mediums around the world.

While initially rejected for large public work art pieces through the Public Works of Art program, he produced Relief Seen from the Sky through the Federal Art Project. Traveling to Mexico, he signed a 20 meter mural entitled History as Seen from Mexico in 1936.

Returning to the U.S., with mixed success in his public art works, he survived through the anti-Japanese sentiment during the war to eventually end up in New York. Designing sculptural interlocking slabs using mixed media , the best known ‘Kouros’ in 1946, he befriended Herman Miller whose company produced an icon of modern furniture, the   Noguchi table known for its ingenius use of materials and connections. Knoll, a furniture manufacturer also produced additional pieces of Isamu’s furniture as well as lamps.

By this time he was sought after for public art pieces as well as producing set design for Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham. Winning many awards near the end of his life, he died in 1988 at 84 years old well known as a prolific sculptor.

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Warren Plattner – American Furniture Designer

Posted on 7th October 2011 in American Designers, Furniture Designers

Warren Platner, born in 1919 in Baltimore, and graduated from the Cornell University School of Architecture in 1941.  Working for such renowned and bold thinking architects from 1945-1950 such as I.M. Pei and Raymond Loewy formed his modern design bent.  From 1960-1965 he worked in Eero Saarinen’s architecture firm, which involved him working on the designs for the Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C., Lincoln Center’s Repertory Theory and several dormitories at Yale University.  Exposure and experience allowed Platner to open his own firm, Platner  Associates in 1967 in Connecticut.

Platner’s, Knoll “Platner Collection” in the 1960’s still stands as his major furniture contribution to the mid-century landscape.  The series include ottomans, chairs and tables and Platner designed both the structure and the production method.  Some chairs required more than 1,00 welds for the sculptural bases, which were constructed with hundreds of rods.  The upholstered seat was supported by a mesh steel cylinder base, reflecting both interior and exterior space.  Platner wrote, “as a designer, I felt there was room for the kind of decorative, gentle, graceful kind of design that appeared in period style like Louis XV.”  His defined the term “classic” as “something that every time you look at it, you accept it as it is and you see no way of improving it.”  This series of furniture has many times been referred in the same terms.

Among Platner’s major interior and lighting designs are evident in the Georg Jensen Design Center and Water Tower Place in Chicago.  And, another perhaps, even more famous now that it is gone, was the work done for the Windows on the World Restaurant in the World Trade Center, destroyed in the attacks of September 11, 2000.

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Eileen Gray – French and English Furniture Designer

Eileen Gray Born to an Irish aristocratic family in 1878, she was encouraged by her father to pursue her artistic interests taking her on painting tours throughout Switzerland and Italy when she was a child.

Living between family homes in London, England and Enniscorthy, Ireland, she studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art when she was twenty years old. Visiting Paris in 1900, she was exposed to Art Nouveau at the Exposition Universelle, a world fair. Deciding to relocate to Paris, she continued her studies at the Academie Julian and Academie Colarossi.

While she continued to study painting she happened upon a lacquer repair shop in Soho, London and found it interesting. Wishing to learn more about this, she moved back to Paris and began to work with Seizo Sugawara from Japan. It wasn’t until 1913 that she decided to exhibit her works which met with almost instant success.

After World War I ended and she returned to Paris from London, she designed the Bibendum chair and other accessories for a commission to decorate an apartment in the Rue de Lota. With lacquered panels included on the walls, critics responded favorable prompting her to open Jean Desert where she sold her and her friends artwork.

The Bibendum chair, perhaps one of the most recognized modern furniture designs, was intended to be included as innovative furnishings for a successful business woman who desired something new and fresh. Bibendum, named after a character originated by Michelin tires, was specifically designed for lounging including soft leather semi-circular padding over a stainless steel tubing frame. With a beech wood seat, it included rubber webbing to ensure comfort. This as well as the Serpent chair and the Pirogue Boat bed were designed to be simple and plain so as not to complete with the owners collection of tribal art. The designs of these chairs were a marked departure from her usual more traditional design. In an attempt to move with the progress of modern times she had found her artistic voice.

In 1924 she began to work with Jean Badovici in architecture designing furniture for the house E-1027 in southern France. One of her better known modern furniture pieces is the circular glass and steel E-1027 table.  Gray went on to design and furnish a home of her own designed as a living/working machine, it has become a Modernist icon. Once again, war disrupted her life and she was forced to leave the coast of France during World War II and moved inland.

After the war was over she returned to Paris but had to seek new accommodations as her old apartment had been bombed during the war. Settling into a quiet life in Paris, she eventually created a summer home from a makeshift garden shed only to live there on a year round basis. It was only near her death in 1976, at the age of ninety-eight did she return to Paris.


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Eliel Saarinen – Finish furniture designer

Posted on 5th October 2011 in Finnish Designers, Furniture Designers

Born in 1873 in Rantasalmi, Finland, Eliel Saarinen had a prolific career as a Finnish architect notable for his works of art nouveau inspired buildings and other modern furniture. Educated at the Helsinki University of Technology, he graduated to work as a partner at Geselius, Lindgren and Saarinen. The Finnish pavilion at the World Fair of 1900 was his first major architectural work earning him the stylistic name of National Romanticism.

His interest in design also extended to unexpected items such as the Finnish markka banknotes introduced in 1922.

His interest in architecture expanded to include city planning as well working for five years on the Munksnas-Haga project and then as a consultant to the city of Budapest. Receiving a first place award for his plan for Reval in 1913, he continued his city planning efforts designing a plan for the city of Helsinki from 1917-18.

Moving to the United States in 1923, he set his sights on a plan for the Chicago lake front. He first began to teach in 1924 at the University of Michigan and then in 1925 after designing the campus of the Cranbrook Educational Community, he began to teach there. Becoming president of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1932, it is here he would meet and influence modern furniture designers, Ray and Charles Eames.

Continuing on to teach at the University of Michigan’s architecture department, the school continues to honor him until today with a yearly lecture series as well as named the A. Alfred Taubmen College of Architecture and Urban Planning after him.

Passing on July 1, 1950, he left behind an extensive legacy of important architectural works as well as his son, Eero who would become a prominent architect championing the International style. Ironically, both son and father share the same birth date.

Spoken of less are his modern furniture designs. Primarily designed for his family’s needs, the Boyschool Chair (1928) was designed for the dining hall of the boysschool at Cranbrook Academy of Arts. Typical of his designs, it included fine wood and leather with strong, uncluttered lines.

The Side Chair designed 1929-30, was used for his Cranbrook home. Of solid maple wood with a foam padded seat, the fluid clarity of line and form belies its quietly understated elegance. With a round dining room table topped with several different types of wood veneers, it made an impressive design statement.

The Blue Suite was designed for his wife’s studio in Cranbrook that included a chair, table and sofa. With an art deco inspired blue he also designed the Hannes chair, the White Suite and the Saarinen House Arm Chair group for both home and studio.

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Ernest Race chair

Ernest Race – English Furniture Designer

Posted on 4th October 2011 in English Furniture Designers, Furniture Designers

Ernest Race chairNoted for his skill in personalizing furniture design, Ernest Race was born in Newcastle and spent three years studying interior design at London’s Bartlett School of Architecture. First employed drafting light fixtures for Troughton & Young that supplied many of the leading modernist designers, he was fortunate to meet several influential modern designers such as Walter Gropius and the founder of Isokon, Jack Pritchard.

While he understood the theory of modern design and its sometimes rigorous attention to dogma he emerged as a designer more given to a freer interpretation of modern design, contemporary in nature. Unlike many designers of his time, he was not formally trained in furniture making. He instead took a more problematical approach challenging materials and construction techniques beyond what was normally expected or even seemingly allowed.

With the inclusion of hand designed textiles and carpets inspired by several months spent with his aunt in India, he opened a shop in Knightsbridge selling his designs. Successful he included white lacquered plywood furniture by Gerald Summer’s company, Makers of Simple Furniture that set off his textiles well. Walter Gropius particularly appreciated his designs and used them extensively at the Imoington Village College of 1939.

Working as a fireman during the World War I, he found a position with J.W. Noel Jordan after the war designing utilitarian, mass-produced furniture. With wood rationed only for building construction, he was required to work with a material that was not restricted. Aluminum, used for manufacturing wartime aircrafts and thin steel rods which had been used to make armaments, was available.

Perhaps as a leader of the recycling movement, his modern furniture designs were produced from raw and salvaged metals. At the exhibition, “Britain Can Make It”, he revealed his cast aluminum furniture. The BA3 chair, compromised of five basic interchangeable parts was easy to assemble and ship. His next step, capitalizing on production techniques from the war, he incorporated a technique previously used for making bomb casings to produce die-cast aluminum.

He also developed a system of a highly reflective laminated finish for table tops and sideboard walls. To hide the construction of the panels, he applied an aluminum band around the edges fastened through the use of heat-shrunk. This was an important step to producing visually lighter looking contemporary furniture pieces.

In 1951, he designed the Springbok, a steel rod framed stackable chair and the Antelope chair, with its almost whimsical appearance of an uninterrupted line drawing. Both this chair and the BA3 chair were to win him awards.

Perhaps his most intriguing was his modern interpretation of a deck chair for a shipping company. The Neptune fashioned after a Victorian steamer chair resistant to both salt water and cleaning chemicals, was unique in that it allowed for it to be folded producing a chair that was at once simple and cost-effectively able to be mass-produced.

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Marcel Breuer – German Furniture Designer

Posted on 23rd September 2011 in German Furniture Designers

As a prolific modernist architect and furniture designer, Marcel Breuer’s list of design projects is seemingly endless. Born in Hungary May 1902, he studied and was fortunate to teach at the famous Bauhaus during the 1920’s. Appointed to the head of the school’s carpentry workshop where a high level of craftsmanship and construction were stressed along with an innovative approach to materials and their use, he embraced these teachings expressed throughout his career with an interest in modular construction and clarity of form.

One of his earliest and well known modern furniture pieces is the Wassily Chair designed in 1925. This was inspired by the curvature of Breuer’s Adler bicycle handlebars and produced during the 1960’s by an Italian manufacturer.  He went on to design the “Laccio Tables” as a low side table, companion to the Wassily Chair, again incorporating tubular steel emulating the same design elements as that of a bicycle.

The “Cesca Chair” designed in 1928, based on a cantilever style which was being utilized by other modern furniture designers during this time, deviated from the usual materials and incorporated caning and wood with a tubular steel fame. It has become of the world’s most popular chairs.

Marcel Breuer, who was Jewish, was forced to leave Germany because of the Nazi’s rise to power during the 1930’s and relocated to London. Here he began to experiment with bent and formed plywood while engaged by the Isokon Company producing the “Long Chair” in 1935-36. Inspired by Alvar Aalto’s plywood designs, his design was a modification from one of his own previous designs of an aluminum framed chaise from 1932.

During 1935-1937, he worked designing houses with the English modernist F.R.S. Yorke and eventually traveled to the United States to teach at Harvard’s architecture school. While his architecture career flourished as he first worked with Walter Gropius and then eventually opening his own firm in New York in 1941, his interest in designing furniture waned. The Geller House in 1945 showcased his concept of the “binuclear house” that defined living areas as wings and the development of the “butterfly” roof that was to become a part of the modernist vocabulary.

Eventually, his interest in materials led him to adopt concrete as his signature element and became known as one of the leaders in Brutalism. He was able to design to make concrete appear to be “soft”.  His most famous example of this is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York which is where he died on July 1, 1981.




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Marc Newson – Australian Furniture Designer

Posted on 22nd September 2011 in Australian Furniture Designer

Born in 1963 in Sydney, Australia, Marc Newson works as an industrial furniture designer. His craft was learned at the Sydney College of the Arts where he specialized in sculpture and jewelry. He staged his first exhibition funded through a grant from the Australian Crafts Council in 1986 where he designed the Lockheed Lounge. While young designers usually cannot command a high price for their work, the Lockheed Lounge sold at Sotheby’s for $968,000 in 2006 setting a record for the highest amount paid for a living designer.

He moved to Tokyo working for Teruo Kurosaki of Idée and then to Paris where he designed for the Italian modern furniture manufacturer Cappelini , the “Orgone Lounge ” and the “Event Horizon” table.  In this same year he opened his own studio.

Moving again in 1997 to London where he formed a partnership with Benjamin de Haan establishing Marc Newson Ltd., he returned to Sydney where he currently is a design professor at the same school that he attended, the Sydney College of the Arts. He is also the owner and founder of a watch company, Ikepod and creative director for Qantas Airways.

It was in 1998 that he produced his first real signature modern furniture piece, the Embryo Chair”. Made from aluminum and neoprene for the seating, it is an interesting play on the rounded volumes associated with the embryo sac. Supported by three legs the front leg is passed through a widened opening emphasizing the roundness and the volume of the chair’s shape.

Already showing great talent for a wide variety of items including household items, shoes, watches and commercial interiors, he has ventured into the world of designing speedboats. As a modern designer this may seem a deviation but for him in collaboration with Gagosian, he will produce 22 boats 33’ long named Aquariva in the tradition of luxury speedboats, Riva. Consistent with modern design he is experimenting with materials that are not typically incorporated into luxury speedboats such as anodized aluminum which lightened the weight of the boat increasing its available top speed.

“Luxury in an object can be defined as it having a lasting quality rather than it being easily disposable…I have always wanted my work to be timeless.”

And so perhaps his own words come true as he was named by Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Contributing to almost 25% of the total contemporary design market, he has been nicknamed as the rock star of contemporary design.




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