Born in 1934,
Reiko Tanabe (田辺麗子) is a Japanese designer and interior architect. She is one of the only woman designers known during the post-war design era in Japan. She is nevertheless a prolific designer, especially in the field of interior design.
After graduating from the Tokyo Women’s Institute of Fine Arts in 1957, she mostly designed office furniture for Kenji Fujimori’s agency. From 1959, she worked on architecture, interior design and furniture projects for the Matsuda Hirata company. She left the company in 1962 to found her own agency, specializing in interior design, particularly in offices and hospital designs.
She was a powerful and experienced woman with a true importance in design history. She became a professor of interior architecture where she studied: she focused her approach on individual creative expression like Eileen Gray (1878-1976). She also said that “universality is important. A product must not be ‘ahead of its time’ (even if there must be some that fulfill this role), but in tune with its time, and remain new after several generations. Originality in design can take a long time to be recognized. In the meantime, you have to believe in your own talent.”
Reiko Tanabe focused her practice on “Good Design”: her iconic “Murai” stool based on comfort and functionality is the perfect example. Made of plywood, it takes advantage of the technological progress after the World War II, especially thanks – or because of – the impact of the American Way of Life which change Japanese taste. She participated to the first design competition launched by the famous furniture editor Tendo Mokko in 1961 that she won thanks to this creation. The design is very simple: it based on three identical plywood parts without any metal screws; it can be also used as a coffee table. She became famous and her “Murai” stool enters in important museum collections like the one of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York from 1967. It is the perfect mix and match between modernity and craftsmanship, perfectly Japanese.
Reiko Tanabe is a leading Japanese designer who has been neglected by history because of her gender. Her contributions, both in interior architecture and furniture design fields, are absolutely fundamental: she used technologies and ideas of her time.