The ABCs of Women in Design, Part II

Welcome to Part II of my Women in Design round-up. This segment’s ABCs will feature the letters H through P, starting with the hella fabulous Hella Jongerius!


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H is for HELLA JONGERIUS

Born in the Netherlands, Hella Jongerius has built her practice around effortlessly blending would-be opposites—high and low tech, craft and industry, traditional and contemporary. Known for her extensive research on colors and materials, Jongerius fearlessly mixes materials in bright and unexpected ways. In 2010, Jongerius collaborated with Royal Tichelaar Makkum to create a series 300 porcelain vases brightly layered with colorful historical glazes. The project, which was also interpreted as a textile design, was a culmination of experiments combining mass-produciton with ancient craft techniques starting with her Red White vase of 1997.

In 2014, Vitra released her East River chair, which features brightly, color-blocked upholstery. A fierce advocate for sustainability, Jongerius used leather on the armrests to accommodate the additional wear in this area. Designed in 2013 for the UN’s North Delegates Lounge, the original version featured wheels on the front legs for easy movability.


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I is for INGA SEMPÉ

Award-winning French designer Inga Sempé creates highly tactile pieces with strong personality and presence. Her design approach considers function and materials as intertwined—one must support the other in order for the design to be successful. Her Ruché sofa and chair for Ligne Roset (2010) exemplifies how Sempé skillfully combines functional needs with traditional materials. Named after a pleating sewing technique, Ruché softens the formal lines of the wooden frame with a draped quilted duvet. Evoking feelings of comfort and warmth, Ruché playfully dances between formal and casual décor.

Equally soft and nuanced are her Vapeur lamps for Moustache (2013). Using wrinkled Tevyk to filter light, the lamps retain their volume through the the clever use of pleating as structural support. Part design, part origami, Vapeur seamlessly blur the line between craft and industry.


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J is for GRETE JALK

Born in Copenhagen in 1920, Greta Juel Jalk opened her own studio in 1953, making her mark with her bold, modernist designs. Inspired by the Aalto’s and Eames’s, Jalk continuously experimented with new materials and production techniques. In 1955, Jalk met furniture manufactuer Poul Jeppesen and presented some of her concepts using laminate to produce rounded, sculptural shapes. It took seven long years for those designs to earn proper recognition when her GJ Bow chair won first prize in a British competition and was subsequently acquired by MoMA. Comprised of two pieces of molded laminate, the chair’s production was too complex to allow for wide distribution. Only 300 were originally produced until Lange Production re-issued the design in 2008.

Despite the limited run of the Bow chair, Jalk followed this success experimenting with more molded plywood techniques. Her GJ Nesting Tables of 1963 are considered her best-known work, but other piece such as her convertible daybed for Jeppesen highlight her ingenuity as a designer.


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K is for KAREN CHEKERDJIAN

Lebanese designer Karen Chekerdjian started her career working in advertising before moving to Milan to pursue her master’s in industrial design. Frustrated with what she thought were rigid assumptions of form and function, Chekerdjian began developing her own design language, creating pieces that could take on different functions and meaning depending on their context. “I always believed that a piece of furniture can be something more than furniture,” she explained. “It can be what you want it to be.”

Her 2012 Living Space III exemplifies this language, combining an entire living room ensemble into a single sculptural object. Made with mahogany and rattan, the piece combines a lounge chair, coffee table, stool, and magazine rack. Chekerdjian’s commitment to the sculptural volume is further demonstrated in pieces like her gold and black coffee tables (2015) and Hiroshoma lamps (2012). Despite their deceptive minimalist approach, the lamps exhibit a strong structural presence and deep conceptual resonance. Inspired by the duality of war and peach, Hiroshima explores the dichotomy of aesthetics in weapons of mass destruction—a heavy subject for such seemingly light object.


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L is for LOUISE CAMPBELL

A leading figure in contemporary Danish design, Louise Campbell combines a fun spirit with experimental materials to create distinct contemporary pieces. Campbell created Her Bless You chair (1999) as a concept piece made with a single sheet of felt and 750 sheets of gelatin to hold its structure. Soft and delicate, yet brilliantly playful, Bless You even comes with its own creation story:

“My cold fingers take out the fine pocket handkerchief. I manage to give the newly ironed square an admiring glance before putting it to work on my November sneeze. Now crumpled, it is returned to my overcoat pocket with a brand new texture. Three sniffly months later I have fumbled my way to this easy chair.”

Other pieces by this talented young designer include her Papercuts lamps of 2012, Fiducia vases of 2007, and her Folda soft of 2001.


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M is for MARIA PERGAY

Paris-based designer Maria Pergay began her career in 1956, creating elaborate metal elements used in boutique window displays. Her lack of formal training in furniture design granted her the ultimate freedom to experiment, ultimately creating innovative pieces using stainless steel. Her often playful approach to a material commonly thought of cold and hard illustrates her deep love for it—she once described steel as “sweet and not sharp.” It is with this loving approach that she created her Flying Carpet Daybed—the ultimate of furniture dichotomies. The daybed brings several words to mind… soft, sinuous, sexy… Even the name Flying Carpet conjures illusions of textiles and fantasy… One almost forgets that it is made from “cold, hard” steel. Other designs by Pergay include her Ring chair of 1968, her Safety Pin cabinet of 2005, and her Ribbon pouf of 2007.


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N is for PAOLA NAVONE

The word “anthropology” is not typically thrown around in the world of high-end contemporary design, but when describing the approach of Turin-native Paola Navone, the word is often used with abandon. Describing her career as “an unplanned trip,” Navone has traveled extensively through Africa, China, and South Asia, collecting ideas and inspiration through the colors, tastes, scents, and people she meets along the way. All of this is reflected in the bold patterns, sumptuous textures, and eclectic shapes of her designs. Often combining handicraft with industrial practices, Navone’s work fearlessly defies categorization.

Slide 1: Carve 07 chair, News 108 side table, and Black 19 side table, designed 2017-2018 for Gervasoni

Slide 2: Interiors for Phuket luxury hotel Point Yamu by COMO, 2014.

Slide 3: Tableware, designed 2013 for Crate and Barrel

Slide 4: Rafael daybed, 2019


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O is for OLIVIA LEE

Multidisciplinary Singaporean designer Olivia Lee explores the tension between the traditional and the future. After graduating from the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in 2008, she began a collaboration with Alienor de Chambrier to create a conceptual sofa for the D&AD Student Awards Competition. Made from four chairs wrapped in silk, wool, and horse hair, the Lee and de Chambrier’s project was titled Stream of Light.

“Our approach started with a re-examination of the sofa and it’s being defined as a piece of upholstered furniture,’ explained Lee. From there, they began playing with the idea of upholstery using different craft techniques including crochet, knitting, and macramé. Since this time, Lee’s work has continued to grow and evolve, winning her the distinction of Dezeen’s top 8 emerging designers in 2017.

Slide 1: Stream of Light, 2008

Slide 2: Instruments of Beauty, 2016

Slide 3: Majesty of Nature, 2017

Slide 4: Athena Collection, 2017


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P is also for CHARLOTTE PERRIAND

When it comes to influential women in design, Charlotte Perriand deserves top marks. Hers is the story so familiar to many woman, first experiencing the dismissive sexism of Le Corbusier early in her career. She ultimately won him over, only to have him take credit for most of her work. Fortunately, history is finally making amends to give her the recognition she so much deserves. Her B306 Lounge chair (1928) is considered an icon of modernist design, but did you know Perriand made a bamboo version? After being invited by the government to visit Japan in 1940, she became stranded there, unable to return home because of the war. In 1943, she relocated to Vietnam, but it was still another three years before she was able to return to France. Perriand, however, made good use of her time in the Far East, studying local materials, craftsmanship, and design. Her 1941 bamboo chaise demonstrates her experimentation with applying her modernists aesthetics to an Eastern vernacular.