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Home » 8 of our Favourite Winners of the Royal Designer For Industry Award

The title Royal Designer for Industry has been held by a number of Designer Chair Warehouse favourites, including Walter Gropius, Charles Eames, Hans Wegner, Borge Mogensen, George Nelson, Antonio Citterio, Sori Yanagi and Konstantin Grcic.

The Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) is a prestigious award that was established by the British Royal Society of Arts in 1936. It has an illustrious list of past and present designers and includes those who are British citizens as well as Honorary RDI’s from across the world.

Only 200 designers may hold the RDI at any time and it is regarded as the highest honour to be obtained in the United Kingdom. New appointments are recommended to the British Royal Society of Arts by the current RDI membership who represent an ever evolving design profession that incorporates engineering, graphics, interaction, product, furniture, fashion, interiors, landscape, and urban design.

The ‘Royal Designers’ are responsible for designing the world around us, enriching our cultural heritage, driving innovation, inspiring creativity in others and improving our quality of life.

Royal Designer for Industry
1936 RDI winner, Douglas Bennett Cockerell (1870 – 1945) was a British bookbinder and author.
1936 Honorary RDI winner, Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890 –1954)[1] was an American artist and graphic designer

The Selection Criteria for an RSA Royal Designer for Industry is extensive. The individual must demonstrate the highest quality of design and have a measurable impact. The highest quality design is demonstrated through sustained excellence, design quality, ingenuity and creativity in solutions, sensitivity and empathy to users and the context of use and positive social change. The measurable impact is demonstrated by public awareness and acclaim, significant impact on public culture and heritage, improvement of quality of life, advancement in understanding, innovation and commercial intelligence.

Let’s take a closer look at 8 of designer Chair Warehouse’s favourite design luminaries who encapsulate the criteria determined by the British Royal Society of Arts.

1. Walter Gropius USA General Design 1947

1948 RDI winner, Walter Gropius (1883-1869)

Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.

Walter Gropius

Walter Gropius fought in World War One and in a single battle, eighty of the three hundred men in his unit were killed. He was wounded by a grenade explosion in 1914, survived after his plane was shot out of the sky and endured being buried alive for three days in 1918. Yet, he was able to emerge from this darkness to create a design utopia.

The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 in the city of Weimar and its core objective was a radical concept: to reimagine the material world to reflect the unity of all the arts. The Bauhaus was “the servant of the workshop” and would one day “be absorbed in it.” Gropius declared that there would be “no teachers and pupils” but, rather, “masters, journeymen, and apprentices”. He managed to attract the likes of Paul Klee, Marcel Breuer, Josef and Anni Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, and many more to his school. However, his legacy is not limited to the Bauhaus and the aesthetic it established.

The Bauhaus was shut down by the Nazi Party in 1933 and Gropius relocated to the United Kingdom, before moving to the United States in 1937. There he became a professor at Harvard and eventually, the Director of the Department of Architecture. In 1946, he founded The Architects’ Collaborative and the group rose to prominence, quickly becoming one of the most well-known and respected architectural firms in the world. In 1948 he was awarded the Honorary Royal Designer for Industry Award, in recognition of his general contribution to the design world.

An ideas man, Gropius’ deeply philosophical work revolutionized modernist design throughout Europe and the United States.

2. Charles Eames USA Furniture, Exhibitions & Interiors 1960

The most important thing is that you love what you are doing, and the second that you are not afraid of where your next idea will lead.

Charles Eames

Charles Eames and his wife, Ray, are among the most important American designers of the 20th century. Together, they are best known for their ground-breaking contributions to architecture, furniture design, industrial design and manufacturing, and the photographic arts.

Charles was born in St. Louis and attended Yeatman High School where he developed an early interest in architecture and photography. He started a degree in architecture at the Washington University in his hometown, but dropped out after just two years. A maverick at heart, he once described how classical architectural training “forces upon the young designer a system of sterile formula”. The decision to leave St. Louis proved fortuitous as it ultimately led to him meeting his future partner and wife, Bernice Alexandra Kaiser, at the Art Academy in Cranbrook.

The couple opened their famous design firm in 1943, and their mission statement was bold and simple: “We want to make the best for the most for the least”. The furniture they created was stylish, fit for purpose and would become the house style of America’s new moneyed middle class. “Recognizing the need,” Charles Eames said, “is the primary condition for design”. For forty years they experimented with their creations, implementing flexibility into their compact storage units and innovative, collapsible sofas for the home.

The couple’s own home was decorated with objects collected from their travels, films and exhibitions that seemed to create an ever-changing spatial collage. This creativity and sense of fun was also beautifully present in the Eames’ lifelong affiliation with toys. Strikingly innovative designs were present in all their work, in their home and in their many films and exhibitions.

in 1960, Charles was recognized with the title Honorary Royal Designer for Industry for his contribution to furniture, exhibitions and interiors. However, Charles always described his design process in terms of “we,” “us” and “ours”. He emphasized his wife’s role, defining their relationship as “an equal and total alliance”.

3. Hans Wegner Furniture 1969

The 1993 Teahouse.

The good chair is a task one is never completely done with.

Hans Wegner

Hans Wegner was born in Tønder, southern Denmark, in 1914. A career in furniture making seemed predestined. He started as a child apprentice in cabinet making, attended technical college and the Danish Design School and then finished his studying at the Architectural Academy in Copenhagen. He was employed at Aarhus Hall in 1938 under the likes of Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller, before opening his own design studio in 1943 at the impressive age of just 29.

The young Wegner would go on to become prolific, designing over 500 chairs in his lifetime, 100 of which went into mass production. A few stand out, the 1949 Round Chair and the 1950 Wishbone Chair in particular. The Round Chair graced the cover of the American magazine Interiors in 1950 and was described as “the world’s most beautiful chair” and the “Wishbone” Chair of the following year established itself as an iconic piece of furniture that is as popular as ever today.

The Copenhagen Museum of Art and Industry acquired its first Wegner chair in 1942. Since then his pieces have been added to many collections, including those in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Neue Sammlung in Munich. In 1969, Wegner joined the list of Honorary Royal Designers for Industry for his exceptional furniture designs.

Alongside other Danish designers like Borge Mogensen, Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen, and Poul Kjaerholm, Wegner’s work links Denmark’s reputation for modern furniture of outstanding quality and craft skills with a domestic aesthetic that embraces modernity and human values simultaneously.

4. Borge Mogensen Denmark Furniture 1972

My goal is to create items that serve people and give them the leading role.

Borge Morgensen

Like many other designers, Børge Mogensen started as a cabinetmaker before turning to furniture design. He studied at the Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts under the watchful eye of Kaare Klint as his mentor. After completing his studies he went on to work with Klint, before being appointed as head of furniture design at the FDP Danish cooperative chain.

In 1950, Mogensen opened his own studio and became synonymous with furniture with strong and simple lines, without the aesthetics ever compromising the function of the piece. He firmly believed in the value of designing storage for the home and creating spaces for the family to take part in multiple activities at once. He strived to meet the needs of a modern home by researching the range and quantity of common objects that the average person owned and with this in mind, he created pieces that everybody could use.

He went on to create some of the most widely recognised furniture classics of the 1950s and 1960s. The Spanish Chair, Morgensen J39 Chair and the Hunting Chair are some of his most instantly recognizable designs. Mogensen was one of the boldest voices in the critical debate on furniture design. He often criticised his peers for compromising their artistic authenticity for short-sighted fashions, but always welcomed innovations that he found offered real progression.

Morgensen worked closely with interior architect and entrepreneur, Andreas Graversen, who would later become owner of Fredericia Furniture. Over the years, the two developed a strong friendship, inspired by a shared goal of creating simple, high-quality furniture with enduring aesthetic appeal. They were equally dedicated and passionate to their crafts, and their partnership was often temperamental.

Morgensen was awarded the Honorary Royal Designer for Industry in 1972, the same year that he passed away at the young age of just 58.

5. George Nelson USA General Design 1973

Good design, like good painting, cooking, architecture or whatever you like, is a manifestation of the capacity of the human spirit to transcend its limitations.

George Nelson

George Nelson’s very role in the design world was determined by some bad weather and a chance encounter. He won a place at Yale at just 16 years old and in 1924 he joined the university, with little idea of what to study. A bad storm made the decision for him – he took shelter in the architecture faculty and came across a student presentation called ‘A Cemetery gateway’ and that sealed the deal. “They were the most exquisitely beautiful and exciting things I had ever seen in my life. I fell in love instantly with the whole business of creating designs for cemetery gateways. This was when, without any further question on my part, I decided I had to be an architect”.

Considered by many as the ‘Father’ of American modernism, Nelson was a renaissance man and excelled in writing, architecture, interiors and furniture design.

Nelson’s writing was published in a range of design books and magazines, including the publication of the revolutionary book Tomorrow’s House with co-author Henry Wright in 1945. He also worked as an architect, designing an innovative home for the industrialist Sherman Fairchild. He ran his own New York-based architecture firm with William Hamby and championed the modernist ideas that had inspired him in Europe as an architecture critic. Nelson’s strength as design director was not just limited to the many pieces he designed himself, but also through the various designers that he drew into business. His connections led to collaborations with people like Ray and Charles Eames, Isamu Noguchi, Robert Propst and Alexander Girard.

Nelson’s New York City design firm, George Nelson Associates, was a multidisciplinary firm, with Nelson’s philosophy at its centre; “No design can exist in isolation. It is always related, sometimes in very complex ways, to an entire constellation of influencing situations and attitudes. What we call a good design is one which achieves integrity – that is, unity or wholeness – in balanced relation to its environment”.

Nelson’s immense contribution to design was recognized by the British Royal Society of Arts when he became an Honorary Royal Designer for Industry in 1973. He went from a young man who stumbled on the design world by chance, to a revolutionary artist of the mid-century age.

6. Antonio Citterio Italy General Design 2007

The design of a private home is the design of the client’s dream of a lifetime.

Antonio Citterio

Antonio Citterio Citterio was born in Meda, a town near Milan, Italy, in 1950. He designed his first piece of furniture at age 18 in his father’s workshop and completed his degree in architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan in 1975. While studying, he opened his own design studio at the age of just 22 and he has since proved to be one of the most exceptional designers of the 20th century.

He was awarded the title of Honorary Royal Designer for Industry in 2007, fitting for a man whose work spans the fields of architecture, industrial design, furniture design, tap & mixer, utensils, kitchens and equipment design.

Citterio is probably the most prominent architect among the world’s renowned designers. Together with his creative and studio partner Patricia Viel, he designed numerous residential and commercial buildings, apartments and hotels for the luxury brand Bulgari. He took part in a great number of international competitions. In 2004 together with other designers, he won the competition for new ideas for the functional arrangement, street furniture and security systems of Marina di Ravenna, which was presented on the occasion of the 9th International Exhibition of Architecture of the Biennale of Venice, section “Towns on Water”. Since 2006, Citterio has also taught at the Academy for Architecture in the University of Lugano in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

Citterio lives and works in Milan and he continues to reveal designs with a combination of timeless shapes and high-quality materials. His products, interiors and architectural concepts are enduring, low-key, functional and beautiful.

7. Sori Yanagi General Design 2008

Things that are easy to use survive, regardless of what is fashionable, and people want to use them forever.

Sori Yanagi

Sori Yanagi is considered the most influential Japanese furniture designer of the last century and his methods for design transcend generations.

He was born in Tokyo in 1915, to Soetsu Yanagi and Kaneku Yanagi. His father, a philosopher and critic, was the founder of the mingei (folk crafts) movement and Yanagi grew up in the company of many of Japan’s leading ceramicists and craftsmen. Yanagi received his tertiary education at the Tokyo School of Fine Art where he studied both architecture and art. After graduation, he worked in the office of legendary designers Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier, and was deeply inspired by their work. It was from this inspiration that his interests moved from painting to design.

In 1954, he founded the Yanagi Industrial Design Institute, through which he produced a prolific number of items of daily use and furnishings. Perhaps his most well-known design is the Butterfly Stool. It is described as a meeting of Japanese and Western influences and reflects the fusion of culture that occurred after World War Two. Almost 70 years later, the Butterfly Stool remains an international style icon which can be found in many major collections such as that of the MoMA, the Louvre, and Miami’s Rubell Museum.

In addition to furniture, Yanagi dabbled in the design of lighting, glass objects, cutlery, kitchenware, children’s toys, metro stations, cars, and motorcycles. Famously, he designed the torch holder and stadium seats for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

In 2008, Yanagi was awarded the title of “Honorary Royal Designer for Industry” for general design by the Royal Society of Art. It recognized him as a designer whose pieces are timelessly sophisticated, with his passionate philosophy for the incorporation of organic beauty coming forth predominantly in his work.

8. Konstantin Grcic Germany Furniture Design 2009

The chair that you find beautiful appears to be more comfortable – these kinds of considerations are what my work revolves around.

Konstantin Grcic

Konstantin Grcic was born in Germany, in 1965 and even as a child, he loved building. During his high school years he refurbished furniture, before studying cabinet making at the John Makepeace School and design at the Royal College of Art in London. In 1991, he established his own design firm, Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design. The studio develops furniture, homeware, lighting, fashion and a variety of other products for leading international brands.

Grcic’s designs are characterized by careful research into the history of art, design and architecture and his passion for technology and materials. Many of his products have received international design awards such as the prestigious Compasso d’Oro for his Mayday lamp in 2001, the Myto chair in 2011 and the OK lamp in 2016. He won two “Designpreis Deutschland” prizes from the Government of Germany, for his Chair ONE and Miura stool in 2006 and 2007 respectively. His designs also form part of the permanent collections of the world´s most important design museums such as MoMA in New York and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

In 2009 he received the title of Honorary Royal Designer for Industry for furniture design.

Grcic is one of a small group of industrial designers who use high-tech materials to develop mass-manufactured products on a global scale. The technical sophistication, geometric forms, and interesting angles make his designs classics.

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At the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibition in 1947, a young unknown Danish designer called Hans Wegner was attracting attention. His sleek forms inspired by the minimal designs of China’s Ming dynasty were fresh and radical for the time. He was approached by a furniture manufacturer who wanted to license his designs. That same manufacturer has not stopped producing the young Wegner’s designs from 1947 to this day.

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