Art & Design Couples That Changed the World

To celebrate Valentines Day this year I'm sharing some of my favourite couples from the art and design worlds. These partnerships are behind some of design’s most recognisable trends, methods, and aesthetics. To us outsiders, these relationships often appear mysterious, with perhaps just a glimmer of their love stories told in their art and in the objects they designed together.

Hans & Florence Knoll

Florence Knoll is often credited with being the designer behind the modern corporate American office - think of those gorgeous mid century Mad Men sets. Married in the 1940s, Florence and Hans, who came from a family of furniture makers, began to produce the kind of iconic mid century pieces of furniture we all still recognise today. Florence was the design force behind their company, Knoll Associates, and continued to influence the interior design world even after Hans sudden passing in 1955. She was an Architect in her own right and practised with a philosophy of "total design," where all aspects of a scheme were considered at every scale from the building as a whole to the furniture and finishes.

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera

Their relationship is famous for it's affairs, fights and divorce (only to remarry a year later), but equally famous for the paintings it produced. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera painted each other several times during their tumultuous time together, including Diego On My Mind, 1943 and their wedding painting, Frida and Diego Rivera by Frida Kahlo, 1931. Frida was already painting when she met Diego, a famous mural artist in Mexico twenty years her senior. She went on to become a groundbreaking artist, pioneering her own style in her intensely personal paintings.

Charles and Ray Eames

Married in 1941, this pair are renowned as two of the most influential people in modern furniture design. The developed revolutionary techniques in plywood moulding and leg splints, allowing both comfortable and affordable chair to be produced. You will instantly recognise the moulded wooden shape of an Eames chair, with its plush leather cushions and reclined form. During World War Two the US Navy commissioned them to produce moulded plywood splints, stretchers and even gilder shells. They built their own home in 1949 as part of the Case Study House Program which was sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine. The design and innovative use of materials attracted architects and designers from all over and it is now considered one of the most important post-war homes in the world.

Jackson Pollock & Lee Krasner

Lee Krasner was the more famous of the two when they met whilst exhibiting at the McMillen gallery in 1942. Both abstract expressionists, they influenced each others work over the following years, with Pollock benefitting from Krasner's formal education and Pollock helped bring freedom to Krasner's work. They moved to a house in Long Island, borrowing the deposit from Pollock's gallerist, Peggy Guggenheim, in an attempt to dampen Pollock's drinking. He worked in the bin creating his famous drip paintings, whilst she had her studio in the house.

After Pollock's death Krasner continued to work but only began to receive the attention she deserved later in life.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh & Margaret MacDonald

Founding members of The Four, the iconic Glasgow School collective that pioneered Art Nouveau, Charles and Margaret contributed a vast amount of architecture and design in their home city of Glasgow. Margaret was celebrated in her day but had fallen int the shadow of her husband in more recent times. Charles himself wrote in a letter, Remember, you are half if not three-quarters of all my architectural talents. Margaret has genius, I have only talent.” They collaborated on several iconic buildings in Glasgow, included the Glasgow School of Art and Miss Cranston's Tea Rooms (both of which I visited many times whilst I lived there). In their own home they designed interiors with clear masculine-feminine divides, with dark rooms such as the dining room and light rooms like the bedrooms.

Further Reading:

- For more about Knoll furniture check out their website here

- For an in depth look at Frida and Diego's relationship try this article

- Check out the famous Eames chair here

- Reframing Lee Krasner, the artist formerly known as Mrs Pollock Rachel Cooke, The Guardian

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