Dorothee Becker, the Woman who Made tidying tasteful
In Woman Made, Jane Hall profiles the mid-century German designer whose shapely organiser still charms design fans to this day
Jane Hall’s new book Woman Made reveals the hidden, unacknowledged role of female designers. In this new title, Hall – an award-winning writer and curator, and a founder member of the architecture and design collective, Assemble – profiles over 200 female product designers from the early twentieth-century to the present day, to show just how significant a role female creators played in the making of things we buy, use and, ultimately, love.
In this book there are iconic designs, such as Lilly Reich’s Brno Chair or Ray Eames’ Lounge Chair, as well as a great many more lesser-known, though equally impressive works by less prominent figures from the past century or so.
Dorothee Becker’s designs fall part-way between these two camps; though not as famous as Reich or Eames, her striking looking plastic creation, Uten.Silo, has a strong following among the design cognoscenti, perhaps because it adds a touch of playfulness to the simple act of tidying up. That toy-like aspect was no happy accident, as Hall explains.
“Becker was self-taught, having been discouraged from studying design by her family,” she writes. “Instead she studied languages in Europe, before migrating to California with her husband, the graphic and industrial designer Ingo Maurer. “There she was inspired by the pedagogy of Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori to create the first Uten.Silo as a wooden toy in which different shapes filled corresponding holes in a board. Her children didn’t take to it, so the design morphed into a container with a smooth, molten surface, the individual ‘pockets’ reminiscent of the drawers in her father’s drugstore.
“The final design for Uten.Silo was first presented at the 1969 Frankfurt Trade Fair, financed by Becker’s husband who believed the thirty-two-pocket wall organizer—made in bright, shiny colors of black, white, orange, and red—would be a great success; which it was, until the cost of plastics shot up as a result of the 1970s oil crisis.
“Becker spent much of the rest of her career running a homeware store and designed only three other products for Maurer’s company Design M: two Perspex light shades and a vase. The Vitra Design Museum reissued the Uten.Silo in 2004.”
To see how the Uten.Silo fits in among plenty of other female-made designs, order a copy of Woman Made here.