Advertisement for Liisi Beckmann’s Karelia lounge chair (1969) (courtesy Zanotta SpA – Italy, all images courtesy Vitra and as designated)

While some people have flourished while working from home during the pandemic, others are looking forward to a safe return to the office — especially Carol, who likes to corner you in the office kitchen and ask you about your weekend before you’ve had a proper cup of coffee. But Carol is not the only woman with a signature office style; Swiss furniture design firm Vitra is hailing women in the workplace this month, with the opening of an expansive exhibition exploring the role of women in modern design.

The Vitra Design Museum presents Here We Are! Women in Design 1900 – Today, which surveys crucial contributions by women to the fields of furniture design, fashion design, industrial design, and interior design. The four-part exhibition presents some 80 women — from the well-known to the quietly influential — and the impact of their work in the last 120 years of design. Beginning in 1900, the first part of the exhibition takes an expansive view on design, presenting not only object-makers, but also social reformers like Jane Addams and Louise Brigham, framing their work as what would now be called “social design.”

The next section moves through the 1920s to 1950s, featuring designers like Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Gray, Clara Porset, and Cartier’s creative director Jeanne Toussaint. The third part of the exhibition addresses 1950 to the end of the 1980s and seeks to demonstrate the impact of second-wave feminism on the field — for example, in the Swiss Exhibition on Women’s Work held in 1958. The final section connects to the present day and includes works by established international designers like Matali Crasset, Patricia Urquiola, and Hella Jongerius. This section also showcases experimental designers Julia Lohmann and Christien Meindertsma and introduces recent initiatives that use feminist discourse to interrogate notions of authorship, education, and recognition in design and architecture.

Designer Julia Lohmann at work in the studio.

From beautiful objects to influential movements, Here We Are! offers boundless inspiration, whether you’re looking to spice up your home office, dismantle the hegemony of the built environment, or just stock up on talking points for the next time Carol stages a coffee room ambush.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....