We Love This: Women pioneers of modern Nordic design
By Lena Hunter | Press photos
The six mid-20th-century designers on this list are just a few of the women pioneers of what we today revere as ‘the Scandinavian style’. Across architectural, interior, graphic, furniture and urban design, these women introduced new philosophies and shapes that have endured to this day – despite working in a male-dominated industry in which women’s creative output was systemically undervalued.
Bodil Kjær (b. 1932)
The acclaimed Danish architect, furniture designer, professor and researcher Bodil Kjær boasts a formidable portfolio of seminal work in design and academia – particularly in interior design and city planning. Though she is best recognised in pop culture for her 1960s office furniture series, she notes with characteristic specificity: “I am not a furniture designer; I am a designer of environments. I am concerned about solving problems of the kind that can be defined. I am concerned about delight and beauty rather than opulence and vulgarity.”
Greta Grossman (1906 – 1999)
Swedish-American Greta Grossman was a designer and architect renowned for her modernist furniture and lighting, the most influential of which include the characterful ‘Grasshopper’ floor lamp and svelte ‘Cobra’ table lamp. Grossman was one of few female designers to make waves in the mid-20th century architectural scene in Los Angeles. She was posthumously inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 2020.
Grete Jalk (1920 – 2006)
Danish designer Grete Jalk’s furniture, spanning chairs, tables and sofas, was characterised by functionality, simple elegance and attention to materiality. Her ‘GJ’ chair and table are contemporary favourites still in production today, and she was heavily decorated with awards, including the Lunning Prize, throughout her career. Beyond designing, Jalk edited the Danish magazine Mobilia and compiled a four-volume work on Danish furniture.
Nanna Ditzel (1923 – 2005)
The Danish furniture designer Nanna Ditzel is behind the perennially popular ‘Trinidad’ and ‘Hanging Egg’ chairs, which have achieved icon status in Nordic design history. Ever the experimenter, Ditzel’s other work included making cabinets, jewellery, tableware and textiles. She was a pioneer for women in the male-dominated design industry and was awarded the lifelong Artists’ Grant by the Danish Ministry of Culture in 1998.
Aino Aalto (1894 – 1949)
Pioneering Helsinki-born architect Aino Aalto is best known for co-founding and art-directing the Finnish design company Artek, and for collaborating on some of its most enduring designs. Her creative output spanned textiles, lamps, glassware and architecture.
Armi Ratia (1912 – 1979)
The co-founder of the Finnish textile company Marimekko, Armi Maria is a giant of Finland’s storied design heritage. Famously quoted as saying “I sell ideas, not dresses”, she fostered a spirit of creative freedom at the brand, hiring women who went on to become major names in Finnish graphic design in their own rights.
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