Designs from the furniture listed makers below are classics that have often been copied and reproduced, and in some cases have become so ubiquitous that we overlook just how influential they really were. These furniture designers were at the forefront of their industry, so we are celebrating their contribution.
1. Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959)
Years Active: 1880s – 1950s
You may have heard the old adage that architects don’t make good interior designers. This was not the case with Frank Lloyd Wright, the father of the organic architecture movement and the eccentric designer who often insisted on designing his buildings both inside and out. Wright’s chairs have a tendency to look like huge buildings in themselves, and his style is unmistakable.
2. Gerrit Rietveld (1888 – 1965)
Years Active: 1910s – 1950s
A cabinet-maker turned architect, Rietveld was immensely popular throughout the 20s and 30s with many of Amsterdam’s landmarks having been designed by him (the Van Gough museum is just one of his creations). From the 50s to the 80s, the popularity of his designs ebbed and flowed, but his focus on simplicity, experimentation with new materials and functionality made him loved by anyone who sought to look beyond trends.
3. Alvar Aalto (1898 – 1976) & Aino Aalto (1894 – 1949)
Years Active: 1920s – 1970s (1940s as duo)
Alvar, who was an architect, is the better known of the two, but as far as interior design and furniture goes, it is his wife, Aino, who ought to take the most credit. They did work as a team, though, and it would be unfair to separate them as one was just as important as the other when it came to their work. Both were involved in a variety of design movements, from Classical to Functional to Monumentalism, and they were often a defining force behind them.
4. Hans Wegner (1914 – 2007)
Years Active: 1920s – 1980s
Perhaps the most influential Scandinavian designer and a major force behind the Danish Modern movement, which is really saying something considering how many designers came from that part of the world in the 1950s and 1960s. Wegner was a master of traditional joinery and construction techniques, and you can really feel this in his designs should you be lucky enough to sit in one. The picture below is of Wegner’s favourite piece of furniture, the ‘Ox Chair’, which comes with or without horns.
5. Greta Magnusson-Grossman (1906 – 1999)
Years Active: 1930s – 1970s
Greta Grossman may have learnt her craft in Sweden, but really made her name in the 1940s as part of the American Modernism movement. Grossman’s work became increasingly experimental in the 60s, but her designs never lost their functional qualities.
6. Charles Eames (1907 – 1978) & Bernice ‘Ray’ Eames (1912 – 1988)
Years Active: 1940s – 1970s
The quintessential husband-and-wife duo. Their Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman is still in production today (by Herman Miller) and has become one of the most sought-after pieces of furniture the world over thanks to its style, comfort and durability. An Eames Lounge Chair can often be seen in episodes of Frasier.
7. Ettore Sottsass (1917 – 2007)
Years Active: 1950s – 1980s
Sottsass wasn’t really a furniture designer until the 1980s, but his colourful and unusual works had already made a dramatic impact on industrial design in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Sottsass was (and still is in some respects) hugely radical, and elements of his designs can still be seen today in everything from Apple products to the work of furniture maker Garry Knox Bennett.
8. Gaetano Pesce (1939 –)
Years Active: 1960s – current
Pesce has experimented with a vast range of materials in his furniture designs, but, undoubtedly, it is resin that is his signature material. Pesce’s ‘Up Chair’ could well be one of the most copied designs around today.
9. Tadao Ando (1941 –)
Years Active: 1960s – current
A truck driver and boxer-turned-architect, Ando has been at the forefront of minimalism ever since the 1970s. Yet his works are still immensely complex, despite how they initially look. They are hugely influenced by Zen Buddhism and Mid-Century Modernism.
10. John Makepeace (1939 –)
Years Active: 1970s – current
One of the most influential figures of the 70s British Arts & Crafts Movement, Makepeace is still a highly exclusive furniture maker who has taken wood lamination (the glueing and layering of thin sheets of wood together to create a piece which, when bent, has high tensile strength) to new heights. Without John Makepeace, we might not have so many great British craftspeople working today.